Tas­man turn­ing point

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motor Sport Flashback - Left: Lawrence: “Work­ing out what ped­als to press in what or­der” Be­low: Cover of Tas­man Seriesm emoirs1967– 1971 by Michael Clark and Bill Pot­tinger

Gee, we were spoilt — from the Grands Prix (GPS) at Ard­more, start­ing in 1954, we’d been treated to evoca­tive ma­chin­ery: Fer­raris, Maser­atis, and the ex­traor­di­nary V16 BRM, then Coop­ers and Lo­tuses. As time went on, we went from see­ing cars that were a cou­ple of years old to the cur­rent mod­els, and, bet­ter still, some were pur­chased by lo­cals and so stayed. Prince B Bira was a big name to have been at­tracted for 1955, but not even Si­amese roy­alty could com­pare with Stir­ling Moss, who ar­rived a year later, and he was a reg­u­lar from 1959 un­til the sad early end of his ca­reer. Moss, Jack Brab­ham, and our own su­per­star Bruce Mclaren were dubbed the ‘Holy Trin­ity’ and these three alone were re­spon­si­ble for draw­ing a large per­cent­age of the huge crowds that couldn’t get enough of this ex­cite­ment — from Ard­more, just south of Auckland, to Tere­tonga on the out­skirts of In­ver­cargill.

A trav­el­ling cir­cus

There wasn’t a cham­pi­onship — merely a cir­cus that headed south via Levin and Wi­gram. In Jan­uary 1961, we had vir­tu­ally the en­tire grid from the 1960 US GP, with the no­table ex­cep­tion of the Fer­raris. Just as our races were run in Jan­uary, the Aus­tralians fol­lowed, and it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore a cham­pi­onship was or­ga­nized. In terms of time­lines — the last GP at Ard­more was in 1962 (won in mon­soon con­di­tions by Moss), the first GP at Pukekohe was in Jan­uary 1963, and the first Tas­man Se­ries race was run at Levin in Jan­uary 1964 — 55 years ago this month. The win­ner was Denny Hulme, at that point not a For­mula 1 (F1) reg­u­lar, while com­pa­triot Mclaren would win the New Zealand GP and then go on to take the in­au­gu­ral Tas­man Cup.

Jim Clark

Jim Clark first raced here as a rel­a­tive novice in 1961, and looked noth­ing spe­cial. How­ever, by the time he re­turned in 1965, he’d been world cham­pion once and fin­ished run­ner-up on de­but in the In­di­anapo­lis 500. He’d also taken over from Moss as ‘the man’ and, like Moss, had proven his abil­ity to jump into any­thing and do won­ders. In 1964, he’d been Bri­tish Tour­ing Car cham­pion in a Lo­tus Cortina and footage of his wheel-wav­ing an­tics re­mains a Youtube favourite over half a cen­tury on. He wasn’t the only world cham­pion in the field in 1965 — there was Amer­i­can Phil Hill, plus name­sake English­man Gra­ham Hill and, as ever, Brab­ham. Add Mclaren to that list and it was clear that the Tas­man Se­ries was be­ing taken very se­ri­ously.

Jim Clark and oth­ers

Clark won the first of his three Tas­mans in 1965 but was pipped by fel­low Scot Jackie Ste­wart in 1966 when Bri­tish Rac­ing Mo­tors (BRM) en­tered the cham­pi­onship — the quan­tity of F1 driv­ers wasn’t there, but any field with Clark, Gra­ham Hill, and Ste­wart ob­vi­ously oozed qual­ity. For the only time dur­ing the ’60s, Mclaren, Hulme, and Amon were all ab­sent in 1966. There was still no Bruce or Chris in 1967, but Denny was back and strug­gling with the Brab­ham-repco, giv­ing no hint of the won­drous things that the com­bi­na­tion would achieve on the world stage in the months to come. BRM was back, but af­ter its dom­i­na­tion in 1966, this time it was well beaten by the steamroller that was Clark and Lo­tus. We had all of the trio here for 1968 — Mclaren was an un­fa­mil­iar sight in a BRM; Hulme, as reign­ing cham­pion, in a For­mula 2 (F2) Brab­ham; and Amon, who the Scud­e­ria had en­trusted with the first works Fer­rari to be sent to this part of the planet. Mex­i­can Pe­dro Ro­dríguez was Mclaren’s team­mate, Bri­tish brew­ing heir Piers Courage had an F2 Mclaren, and Bri­tish­based Aussie reg­u­lar Frank Gard­ner looked a shot with a V8 Alfa Romeo–pow­ered Brab­ham.

Jim Clark again

But, to be 1968 Tas­man cham­pion, they all had to beat Clark’s Lo­tus with a 2.5-litre ver­sion of the Cos­worth V8 that, af­ter mak­ing its F1 de­but the pre­vi­ous June, was al­ready the en­gine to have. Amon ran him close, but Clark pre­vailed and, in tak­ing his third Tas­man, was also, sadly, win­ning his fi­nal cham­pi­onship, for he was to die in the April of that dark year of 1968.

If the end of the Tas­man Se­ries, as we knew it, was im­mi­nent, then there was lit­tle sign of it from the en­try for 1969 — both Lo­tus and Fer­rari dou­bled their ef­forts with twocar teams, while Courage re­turned with an op­er­a­tion over­seen by a highly am­bi­tious young en­tre­pre­neur called Frank Wil­liams. And Gard­ner was back with a more pow­er­ful Alfa V8 be­hind a more modern chas­sis. Back­ing up Amon in the se­cond Fer­rari was Derek Bell, who, in decades to come, would be­come a leg­end of long-dis­tance sports car rac­ing, while the Lo­tuses were chauf­feured by reign­ing world cham­pion Gra­ham Hill and a young Aus­trian dubbed the fastest man in F1 — Jochen Rindt.

MICHAEL CLARK GETS MISTY EYED AS HE THINKS ABOUT THOSE DAYS WHEN SOME OF THE RE­ALLY GREAT NAMES OF MO­TOR SPORT EN­TER­TAINED US HEREIN OUR OWN BACK YARDS

pole — Rindt was 20 sec­onds adrift at the end, and Courage com­pleted the GP podium. Chris: “A lot was ex­pected from Hill and Rindt be­cause they had so much more power, which is cru­cial at Pukekohe.” On lap two, the Aus­trian had a se­ri­ous go and took the lead on the back straight. Amon sat close to the back of the Lo­tus, plan­ning his move — brak­ing later and later. On lap 17, Rindt slid wide at the hair­pin, and the Kiwi was through and re­mained in front for the next 41 laps. Amon won at Levin a week later, but the wide open space of Wi­gram re­ally suited the Lo­tus, and Rindt led home his team­mate with Amon third. On the last Satur­day of Jan­uary, Courage pre­vailed at Tere­tonga over Hill and Amon, but, when the Kiwi won the Aus­tralian GP in early Fe­bru­ary, he’d as good as sewn the ti­tle up. Amon didn’t just win the Tas­man cham­pi­onship 50 years ago — he cleaned up, win­ning four of the seven rounds and both GPS in the process. It was Amon’s only ti­tle for Fer­rari in what turned out to be the fi­nal cham­pi­onship be­fore New Zealand and Aus­tralia em­braced For­mula 5000.

For­mula 5000

The days of fields with cur­rent F1 driv­ers, of­ten with a world cham­pion or two, ended with the ar­rival of For­mula 5000 (F5000). It was a chang­ing in­ter­na­tional scene, and even if the orig­i­nal Tas­man for­mula of ‘up to 2.5 litres’ had been re­tained, it is doubt­ful that we’d con­tinue to get the cream of the crop here. The num­ber of world-cham­pi­onship races was in­creas­ing and the big­ger bud­gets in F1 (via spon­sor­ship, mean­ing the end of teams run­ning in their tra­di­tional colours) meant more test­ing in Europe was prefer­able to splitting re­sources and send­ing a squad of guys down un­der for a cou­ple of months. It was great while it lasted, but, like all good things …

F5000 at its best was fan­tas­tic, but the crowds never quite re­cov­ered from the days when the su­per­stars came here to play.

Jim Palmer

Some­one else was miss­ing from the top ta­ble in 1969: lo­cal bench­mark Jimmy Palmer. Af­ter years of be­ing top res­i­dent Kiwi, Palmer had de­cided not to re­place his F2 Mclaren af­ter he’d won his fourth Gold Star ti­tle. That meant that not only would some­one other than the Hamil­to­nian win the 1968/’69 Gold Star but also that they would do it with­out hav­ing to beat the vastly un­der­rated and mod­est KJ Palmer. Fur­ther, there would be a new name that would take the much-sought-af­ter hon­our of be­ing first New Zealan­der home in the GP; some­thing that Palmer had achieved on five oc­ca­sions, the last four be­ing con­sec­u­tive. He’d fin­ished as high as third in the GP three times, third in the Lady Wi­gram Tro­phy twice, and was fourth in the over­all Tas­man Se­ries in 1965 and ’66.

If this isn’t enough raw in­for­ma­tion, then what about the names that he shared podi­ums with over those re­mark­able six sea­sons through the ’60s? John Sur­tees, Mclaren, Hulme, Brab­ham, Gra­ham Hill, Clark, Ste­wart, Amon, and Courage — that’s a to­tal of 12 world ti­tles … The pro­posal to race a Fer­rari Dino in 1967 fal­tered at the last hur­dle — he tested it in Italy, and his big­gest re­gret is that his mum left the cam­era in the ho­tel, mean­ing that no pho­to­graphic proof of the test ex­ists. Had the car come here, Palmer is in no doubt that it would

have been a se­ri­ous con­tender, but when the Mclaren was sold, so ended the open-wheeler ca­reer of the most suc­cess­ful and dom­i­nant driver that we’ve ever had on the lo­cal scene.

Alan Crocker

In Oc­to­ber 1970, eight brave young men faced the starter for New Zealand’s first race in a cat­e­gory that was tak­ing the world by storm — For­mula Ford. The win­ner that day was David Ox­ton, while the first per­son to crash in a New Zealand For­mula Ford race did so on the back straight. His Lo­tus 20B was the old­est car in the race, hav­ing started life as a For­mula Ju­nior. To­day, it’s worth a small for­tune, but in 1970 it was a re­dun­dant relic. Its young driver was Hamil­to­nian Alan Crocker, but he was un­de­terred — and he’s still at it. These days, he still races an old For­mula Ford — but now they’re all old — in the French se­ries for the his­toric 1600cc Kent en­gine cars.

For­mula Ford started in Eng­land in 1967 and quickly spread like wild­fire across the globe — Aus­tralia adopted it in 1969, and we fol­lowed suit a year later. In Jan­uary 2019, the His­toric For­mula Ford group — with new spon­sor SAS — has or­ga­nized a 50th an­niver­sary se­ries, start­ing over the week­end of the Leg­ends of Bathurst fes­ti­val at Hamp­ton Downs, mov­ing on a week later to Taupo, be­fore wrap­ping up over Auckland An­niver­sary week­end back at Hamp­ton Downs. The pa­tron for the cel­e­bra­tions will be none other than Mr Ox­ton, who re­mains a staunch sup­porter of the cat­e­gory in all its ver­sions.

So, why hold an an­niver­sary now, when the half-cen­tury since that first race isn’t un­til Oc­to­ber 2020? Well, young Crocker, these days domi­ciled in Lon­don and still a front run­ner af­ter all these years, is bring­ing seven friends with him com­pris­ing Team Europe: an Ir­ish­man, an English­man, a Dane, a Dutch­man, a Swede, and two Swiss. Add to that an Amer­i­can, Phil Har­ris, a Us-based Kiwi, and an Aus­tralian, and there are the mak­ings of a wor­thy cel­e­bra­tion with at least one of those found­ing eight young men still scrap­ping away. I say ‘at least’, be­cause, at the time of writ­ing, there are still hopes that Oxo may be per­suaded to dig out his race suit.

Denny’s Brab­ham

It’s just over 50 years since Denny Hulme was made Sports­man of the Year for win­ning the World Cham­pi­onship, and Kiwi race fans will have fingers crossed that Scott Dixon will be sim­i­larly rec­og­nized when the Hal­bergs are handed out in Fe­bru­ary. The Brab­ham Denny won the ti­tle in, BT24/2, was sold to South Africa in early 1968 and re­mained there — much of that time in a mu­seum — un­til the mid 1990s, when it re­turned to Eng­land. In 2011, the then-owner found the cock­pit a lit­tle too snug, and, prior to the car be­ing run up the hill at Good­wood, a shake­down was re­quired — what to do? On hand was Lawrence Wilkin­son, a Kiwi work­ing in F1, and so, by be­ing in the right place at the right time, Lawrence be­came the se­cond Kiwi to slide into the cock­pit of BT24/2.

For­tu­nately, un­like Jimmy Palmer in Italy in late 1966, these days, there are cam­eras ev­ery­where, and the lucky Lawrence has proof of what would be a deeply mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for any­one with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the sport’s his­tory — but even more so for a Kiwi like Lawrence, know­ing full well that the last time Denny sat in that car, it was in Mex­ico City in Oc­to­ber 1967 and he’d just been crowned world cham­pion.

Af­ter years of be­ing top res­i­dent Kiwi, Palmer had de­cided not to re­place his F2 Mclaren af­ter he’d won his fourth Gold Star ti­tle Be­low: The F2 Mclaren was Jim Palmer’s last Tas­man mount

On hand was Lawrence Wilkin­son, a Kiwi work­ing in F1, and so, by be­ing in the right place at the right time, Lawrence be­came the se­cond Kiwi to slide into the cock­pit of BT24/2

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