NZ Classic Driver
PHILLIP ISLAND CLASSIC FESTIVAL OF MOTORSPORT
MARCH 11–13, 2022
The drive south-east from Melbourne to Phillip Island sets the tone for the Victorian Historic Racing Register’s Classic Festival of Motorsport. Many enthusiasts take the opportunity to give their special cars a run to the Island, while car clubs form displays along the vast area that runs the length of the main straight. I arrived behind a beautiful 1957 AC coupé in company with an Aston Martin DB4 and a pretty Fiat 124 Spider.
The festival is held from March 11–13, and as Monday is a public holiday, competitors don’t have to pack up late on Sunday to rush back to work the next day. This all made for a relaxed weekend, with three days of sunshine on Phillip Island’s 2.75 miles of flowing race track, in a truly picturesque setting with an ocean backdrop – the perfect place to blow away the Covid-19 blues.
There were no international cars this year due to shipping difficulties, and sadly no Kiwis, with or without cars, but 450 entries provided interesting fields across ten categories, from Australian favourites – the 5-litre V8 Touring Cars – through to a field of 56 Formula Fords. This huge field included a number of overseas drivers; Richard Tarling, Joe Ahrens and Brian Soule from the UK, Gislain Genecand from Switzerland and Xavier Michel from France. These visitors did battle with the locals for The Perkins Cup, named to honour the Australian Perkins brothers, Larry and Terry, who both won the Australian Formula Ford title in the 1970s before going on to further success in Europe. Chris Davison, the principal of Ecurie Australie, was heavily involved in arranging for the overseas drivers to race – his team entered six cars, four of them for international drivers.
The internationals acquitted themselves well in Sunday’s twopart Perkins Cup race. In the race for older cars (1970–1984) Gislain Genecand took victory in a Reynard FF84 ahead of two Australian cars, an Elwyn and an Elfin driven by Steven Willing and Nic Bennett respectively. New Zealand-born Grant Walker finished sixth in the same car that he used to win the New Zealand championship in 1975. In the Perkins Cup race for cars from the mid to late ‘80s, local Victorian driver Jonathan Miles won in a 1989 Van Diemen.
Larry Perkins and his son Jack were at the Island to race Holden Commodores in the 5-litre touring car races. Following his successes in Europe, Larry Perkins became a local legend in touring cars and the 71-year old, six-time winner of the Bathurst 1000 was enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of historic racing. Jack outpaced his father over the weekend, but not by much, scoring a win plus a couple of seconds and a third. Larry’s best was fourth, with seventh his lowest place.
The single-seater event for cars from the ‘70s through to the ‘90s
was dominated, as expected, by Guido Belgiorno-Nettis in his Ferrari 156/85 turbocharged F1 car carrying Michele Alboreto’s number 27. But the race also provided the fascinating sight of famed racing car designer Malcolm Oastler in a Ralt RT1 dicing with a Reynard 92D, a car he designed. After following the Reynard for a number of laps, Malcolm edged his 1600cc Ralt past the three-litre car.
I spoke with Malcolm after the meeting and commented on him passing the Reynard, he replied, “yes, and it looks just as good in the rear-view mirror!”
Malcolm told me that he had owned the Brabham BT24 that Denny Hulme used to win the 1967 Formula 1 championship.
“I bought it in 2011 when we were in England from the sons of the bloke who bought it in 1968. I had it for a couple of years, drove it up the hill at Goodwood and then sold it. I had planned to do historic races, but I realised that it wasn’t really the thing for me and I couldn’t bring myself to be welding seat-belt brackets inside of the chassis and cutting Denny Hulme’s roll hoop off and putting my one on there. It was a beautiful thing. It was an emotional decision when I bought it. It was one of the most beautiful cars of that era. With all the exhausts tucked in — the cigar-shaped thing, a lovely shape, and magnesium rim wheels, balloon tyres and megaphones out the back — just gorgeous. The guy who acquired it is an Austrian and he’s got a thing about Jochen Rindt and he bought it because Jochen Rindt drove it in the first race of the ’68 season.”
One single-seater and sports car category catered for a wide range of cars from Formula Juniors right through to a 6-litre Lola T332. Despite a large number of Brabhams in the field, it was a local product in the form of an Elfin 600 twin-cam that took the chequered flag, driven by Nicholas Bennett. In another case of the son outperforming his father, Nic’s father Laurie finished fourth in the same model car. Keeping the Elfin honest in each race was one of my favourite cars, the Brabham BT30 driven by Andrew Robson. This car was originally raced by Englishman Alan Rollinson, who I was fortunate to spend time with when he visited New Zealand in his Formula 5000 days. I spoke with the owner, Noel Robson, who told me that this car had been in Australia for many years and he was fortunate to be able to purchase it when his son Andrew wanted to retire from his Lola T330 F5000. The sister Irish Racing Cars team car belongs to South Australian Sean Whelan, it’s the ex-Tommy Reid car that Sean imported from England. Unfortunately, Sean didn’t make the trip across the border so, unlike last year, we couldn’t watch these two attractive cars racing together.
An Australian car also headed the small Formula Junior contingent in the form of Noel Bryen’s Renmax BN1. Two Lotus 18s, a Brabham BT6 and an Elfin FJ represented this small capacity group. As he has for the last few years, Grant Walker was racing the Jim Richardsowned Lotus 18.
Where were the Formula 5000s? That’s a good question. The drivers/owners had asked for their own race as they had a goodsized field, but the VHRR organisers decided that they couldn’t accommodate the request, so sadly the F5000s stayed away.
By Sunday evening there were a few sunburnt faces and lots of smiles as the Victorian Historic Racing Register had once again staged an impressive and successful historic event, this time without the Covid restrictions that banned spectators in 2021. Perhaps in 2023 we will be able to welcome some Kiwi cars and drivers to share the fun.