MO­TOR SPORT FLASHBACK

THIS MONTH, MICHAEL RE­MINDS US HOW THE RE­MARK­ABLY CON­SIS­TENT EN­TRY-LEVEL FOR­MULA FORD PLAYED SUCH A BIG PART IN THE RAC­ING CA­REERS OF SO MANY YOUNG KIWI RAC­ING DRIV­ERS

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS -

The start of some­thing

In July 1967, the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany was rid­ing the crest of a very large wave — the Mus­tang had been a great suc­cess on both road and track, and, ev­ery­where you looked in mo­tor rac­ing, the blue oval was to the fore. In late May, a Ford-pow­ered car had won the In­di­anapo­lis for the third year in a row, and, in mid June, Ford again de­feated Fer­rari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In be­tween these two feats, the Ford-badged Cos­worth DFV had won on de­but in the Nether­lands. Corti­nas were in­vari­ably the thing to have in ral­ly­ing, while the Fal­con Sprint was still win­ning in the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship.

And, if all that wasn’t enough, Ford gave its name to a new cat­e­gory of rac­ing at the bot­tom end of the lad­der. Open­wheeler cat­e­gories have a limited life — For­mula 5000 was in­vented in Amer­ica in 1968, and, by the end of 1976, it had been ditched; the much-loved For­mula Ju­nior cat­e­gory ar­rived in 1958 and forked off into For­mu­las 2 and 3 at the end of 1963; and, while For­mula 1 (F1) has been around since 1947, it has taken many and var­ied turns over these past seven decades.

En­try level

For­mula Ford, how­ever, has stayed re­mark­ably con­sis­tent since the first-ever race on July 2, 1967, at Brands Hatch in south-east Eng­land in the county of Kent — ap­pro­pri­ately, Ford’s code name for the en­gine cho­sen for this new en­try level of mo­tor sport.

The suc­cess of the cat­e­gory lay in its sim­plic­ity — com­bine a mildly tuned pro­duc­tion en­gine with a space-frame chas­sis, mini-f1-looka­like body and road tyres, and you had a cat­e­gory that, all of a sud­den, in­tro­duced open-wheeler rac­ing to a whole new group of po­ten­tial par­tic­i­pants.

For­mula Ford has played a ma­jor part in pro­duc­ing top rac­ing driv­ers since Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi went from For­mula Ford to F1 Grand Prix win­ner in the space of what seemed at the time to be a mat­ter of months. He heads the fol­low­ing im­pres­sive list of world cham­pi­ons, Indy­car cham­pi­ons, and Indy 500 win­ners, who all cut their teeth in For­mula Ford — names like world cham­pi­ons James Hunt, Jody Scheck­ter, Ayr­ton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Michael Schu­macher, Damon Hill, Mika Häkki­nen, and Jen­son But­ton — and then there’s our own Scott Dixon, three-time Indy Rac­ing League (IRL) cham­pion and win­ner of the 2008 In­di­anapo­lis 500.

Kiwi driv­ers

Count­less New Zealand driv­ers used For­mula Ford to ad­vance their ca­reers, in­clud­ing Craig Baird, Dave Mcmil­lan, Steve Millen, David Ox­ton, Greg Mur­phy, Brett Ri­ley, Mike Thack­well, Shane Van Gis­ber­gen, Fabian Coulthard, Jonny Reid, Mitch Evans, and Richie

Stan­away. And then there’s Grant Campbell, aka ‘Mr For­mula Ford’ in New Zealand — one of only five dou­ble cham­pi­ons and still at it in his early 60s!

Six months prior to be­ing crowned world cham­pion, Denny Hulme tested a Lo­tus For­mula Ford pro­to­type. It was, in fact, the only time he ever drove a Lo­tus, and he stated that he’d “en­joyed it greatly”, but when Stir­ling Moss tested one in the rain at Brands Hatch and ex­pressed his gen­uine en­thu­si­asm, the cat­e­gory looked to have ev­ery­thing go­ing for it.

In Au­gust 1967, Gra­ham Hill (al­ready a world cham­pion and Indy 500 win­ner) tested a ‘Ford’ and a For­mula Vee for The Sun­day Times, and de­scribed the lat­ter as a “fun car”, but con­sid­ered the For­mula Ford as a “se­ri­ous step­ping stone to faster ma­chin­ery for the young­ster de­ter­mined to break into mo­tor rac­ing”.

Half a cen­tury later, For­mula Ford keeps on keep­ing on. Our lat­est tier-one cham­pion, Liam Law­son, is even im­press­ing the Aus­tralians in their For­mula 4 cham­pi­onship, and his men­tor, Kenny Smith, be­lieves the Pukekohe 15-year-old is ev­ery bit as tal­ented as Scott Dixon was at the same age.

The quest for a triple crown

In men­tion­ing Scott Dixon, we must be thank­ful that he sur­vived that hor­ror crash in the In­di­anapo­lis 500 well enough to race again the next week­end. I don’t re­call see­ing a big­ger ac­ci­dent from which the driver walked away. Prior to the race, I had stated in an in­ter­view on Ra­dio Sport that my ideal re­sult would be for Scotty to win from Fer­nando Alonso in the clos­est fin­ish in the 101st ver­sion of ‘the 500’. The Spa­niard ac­quit­ted him­self so well that his for­mer Mclaren team-mate Lewis Hamil­ton raised the ques­tion of what level of depth is there in Indy­car if a ‘rookie’ can go, qual­ify on the sec­ond row, and lead for a num­ber of laps. There were var­i­ous re­sponses, but the best I heard about was from Tony Kanaan, an Indy­car cham­pion and for­mer Indy 500 win­ner. He is quoted as say­ing, “What can I say? The guy [Hamil­ton] com­peted in a twocar World Cham­pi­onship last year and was sec­ond, so I don’t think he can say much.

“It was a plea­sure to have Fer­nando here. He is hum­ble, not like some of his col­leagues who were mak­ing com­ments this month.” Alonso did not re­turn a pa­paya-coloured ‘Mclaren-en­tered’ car to vic­tory lane — he was cer­tainly in con­tention, but his Honda let go on lap 180 of 200. He leaves un­fin­ished busi­ness, and it re­mains to be seen where he takes his tal­ents next year.

So, Gra­ham Hill re­mains the only man to have won the Indy 500, Le Mans, and the World Cham­pi­onship — which is what I thought this ‘triple crown’ was un­til I read ‘the Monaco Grand Prix’, not the world

ti­tle — ei­ther way, the English­man is still the an­swer.

Mclaren — the movie

The Roger Don­ald­son–di­rected doc­u­men­tary Mclaren had its New Zealand pre­miere on the last Tues­day of May. It seems some peo­ple got a bit con­fused and ex­pected it to be the dra­ma­tized movie that was pro­moted at our first A1 Grand Prix race at Taupo in Jan­uary 2007. Right from when Don­ald­son first ap­proached me in early 2015, this was al­ways in­tended to be a doco. By ne­ces­sity, it is a dif­fer­ent sort of doc­u­men­tary to Senna, given the dearth of footage back in Bruce’s day, but how ex­tra­or­di­nary is it that it was kicked off when it was?

Sadly, three peo­ple who fea­ture so promi­nently in it — Bruce’s widow, Patty; Chris Amon; and Phil Kerr — all passed away be­fore it was fin­ished, so, too, Tyler Alexan­der, one of the first me­chan­ics, while old footage of in­ter­views with Eoin Young was used, as he passed away at about the time plans were per­co­lat­ing. The re­views have mostly been very favourable, with words like ‘in­spir­ing’ and ‘emo­tional’ reg­u­larly used.

I’ve even heard sug­ges­tions that it will serve as an ed­u­ca­tional tool for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Ki­wis — as Dan Gur­ney says, “Bruce had the abil­ity to think big — and yet re­main so ut­terly mod­est and laid-back about his ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ments.”

Farewell, Mr Lola

The founder of the Lola Car Com­pany, Eric Broadley, died in May 2017 aged 88. A trained ar­chi­tect and quan­tity sur­veyor, he started com­pet­ing in his self-built car in 1956, and, af­ter im­press­ing against such ri­vals as Lo­tus and Arthur Mal­lock’s U2, en­quiries came from as­pir­ing cham­pi­ons for their own ‘Broadley Spe­cial’. There are two the­o­ries as to how the name of his com­pany came about. The most widely be­lieved is that it was in recog­ni­tion of a pop­u­lar song at the time, What­ever Lola Wants, but the other, pos­si­bly more in­trigu­ing pos­si­bil­ity is that Broadley had al­ready de­tected Colin Chap­man as his prime op­po­si­tion, and wanted a name that would come be­fore Lo­tus in al­pha­bet­i­cal lists. Ei­ther way, the first pro­duc­tion Lo­las rolled out in 1958 — a year af­ter the for­ma­tion of Arthur Mal­lock’s out­fit and the first Crossle. And al­though Chap­man was a cou­ple of months younger than Broadley, Lo­tus had al­ready been on the scene for a few years.

Prior to the ar­rival of For­mula Ju­nior into the UK in late 1959, small-ca­pac­ity sports cars were an es­tab­lished prov­ing ground for young tal­ent, and the best of

them all in 1958 was the Lola MKI, and more or­ders flowed in. There were two such Lo­las that resided in New Zealand in the day, and these were driven, at var­i­ous times, by such as Barry Cot­tle (a two-time NZ Sports Car cham­pion with a 1.2 Lo­laCli­max), Ivy Stephen­son, Johnny Ri­ley, Irvine ‘Red’ Daw­son, Doug Lawrence, and David Ox­ton.

Broadley’s next car was al­ready out of date the day it first raced — this be­ing a For­mula Ju­nior car of great beauty (per­haps next to the Maserati brothers’ OSCA, the best-look­ing ever front-en­gined ju­nior) — and any read­ers who at­tended the first Grand Prix at Pukekohe in 1963 may re­mem­ber one of these front-en­gined Lo­las be­ing su­perbly con­ducted by John Histed.

Lola pro­duced a rear-en­gined ju­nior and was also com­mis­sioned to build an F1 car for 1962. It was in a ver­sion of that car that John Sur­tees won the 1963 New Zealand Grand Prix, and it wasn’t the last time a Lola tri­umphed here. A turn­ing point for Lola was its beau­ti­ful MKVI sports car — it was pow­ered by a 289 Ford V8, and be­came the cat­a­lyst for Ford’s sem­i­nal GT40 and the best Lola to date — the T70.

At a time when F1 cars had nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 1500cc mo­tors, big-en­gined sports cars were hugely pop­u­lar. Bruce Mclaren had no­ticed this, and, in­vari­ably, the cars early Mclarens had to beat were Lola T70s. John Sur­tees won the first CanAm for Lola in 1966 be­fore the ad­vent of ‘the Bruce and Denny Show’. This year was also a good one for Lola in North Amer­ica — be­fore the first-ever Can-am race, Gra­ham Hill had won the In­di­anapo­lis 500 in a Lola, and more wins at the Brick­yard fol­lowed. When For­mula A was in­vented in 1968, Lola pro­duced the T140 and fol­lowed it with the T142, T190/192, and T300 be­fore rolling out the T330 in late 1972. By 1974, the T332 was the class of the field, and it re­mains so in his­toric For­mula 5000 rac­ing.

Al­though For­mula Ford started in 1967, Lola didn’t get in­volved un­til the early ’ 70s — ini­tially, with a short-wheel­base lit­tle de­vice, but then came the T340/342, which went as good as it looked. The T440/540/640 mod­els fol­lowed, and all had their share of suc­cess. Lo­las were the cars to have when For­mula 5000 gave way to the ‘re-hashed Can-am’ se­ries in 1977 — and, in 1978, a Lola be­came the first car to win the Indy 500 with the tur­bocharged ver­sion of the Cos­worth DFV.

Over the years, F1 was an area Lola steered clear of — un­less it was com­mis­sioned by a client. This hap­pened at ir­reg­u­lar in­ter­vals, but, in the late 1990s, af­ter suc­cess in For­mula 3000, and, given the on­go­ing de­mand for its Indy cars, Broadley de­cided it was time to tackle the big time. Sadly, it was un­der­funded; poorly ex­e­cuted; and, in short, a bad de­ci­sion.

The con­tri­bu­tion Lola made to mo­tor rac­ing was enor­mous — it started be­fore the likes of Brab­ham and March — and out­lived them all. Build­ing rac­ing cars is a pre­car­i­ous busi­ness. The per­son who owns the com­pany that makes the world’s fifth-best clothes dryer prob­a­bly has a very nice life — buys a new car when they want, be­longs to the best golf club, and lives in a nice house; the per­son who owns the com­pany that makes the fifth-best For­mula car is prob­a­bly wait­ing for the re­ceivers to turn up at any mo­ment.

Build­ing pro­duc­tion rac­ing cars is not for the faint-hearted — some cars are fan­tas­tic for a short pe­riod, then fade with­out a trace (like the briefly dom­i­nant For­mula 3 Group Rac­ing De­vel­op­ment [GRD] cars of 1972), while some — like Van Diemen — ruled For­mula Ford but never made the break­through to For­mula 3. Lola lasted a long time, and that was al­most en­tirely down to Eric Broadley — his cars won the Indy 500 more than once, won in CanAm, For­mula 5000, and ev­ery­thing down to For­mula Ford. His like will not be seen again. Rest in peace, Mr Lola.

The His­toric For­mula Ford groups are strong in both the North and South Is­lands — there isn’t a bet­ter bang for your buck in clas­sic mo­tor rac­ing

New Zealand’s ‘Mr For­mula Ford’ behind the Swift in which he won his sec­ond ti­tle and in front of a paint­ing of his 1978/’79 ti­tle-win­ning Ti­tan MKIX

Scott Dixon crash — Indy 500

Reign­ing New Zealand For­mula Ford cham­pion Liam Law­son and his men­tor Kenny Smith (photo: Michael Clark)

Gra­ham Hill in the 1966 Indy 500–win­ning Lola

Mclaren pre­miere: with Bruce’s first me­chanic Wally Will­mott and film pro­ducer Roger Don­ald­son (photo: Char­lotte Clark)

Kiwi Chris Atkin­son wasn’t dream­ing — he re­ally was about to share this MKI Lola at Good­wood with owner Robin Long­don in 2010

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