Report and photos by Vince Johnson
The Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport was held 18-20 March, 2011 at the 4.445 km (2.762 mile) Phillip Island Circuit in Victoria, Australia.
With around 500 entries contesting 46 races and regularity time trials over the weekend it’s no wonder the Phillip Island track status stays hot all day long. Mid-day demonstrations in the 15 minutes lunch break gave no respite for spectators but nobody seemed to mind. The Phillip Island Classic 2011 celebrated anniversaries for 40 years of Ford’s Bathurst-winning XY Falcon GT HO, 20 for Nissan’s equally successful GT-R, half centuries for England’s Mini and Jaguar’s E-Type and 60 years of Porsche in Australia.
Klaus Bischof and his team from Germany can be relied on each year to bring priceless examples of Porsche’s racing history to the Island for some healthy exercise. The iconic ‘Moby Dick’ Porsche 935 shared track space during the demonstration laps with the Porsche 962 that Derek Bell, Hans Stuck and Al Holbert drove to victory at Le Mans in 1987. Keeping them company were the Stuttgart museum’s 1969 Targa Florio winning Porsche 908-02 and the Porsche Type 718 RS60 Spyder that won the 1960 Daytona 24-Hour race outright.
The operative word at this meeting is ‘Classic’ and they stretched back to the first ever Grand Prix. The 4-cylinder engine in Anne Thomson and Wallace McNair’s Darracq GP, all 14.25 litres of it, took the Le Mans connection back 105 years. It had powered Louis Wagner’s similar car at the Sarthe circuit in the 1906 French Grand Prix. At Phillip Island Classic 2011 it ran all weekend, in Thomson’s capable hands, in the Regularity events and during the demonstrations. With a history including success at the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup and in Malcolm Campbell’s first Bluebird, the engine is now back where it belongs. The New Zealand pair located a contemporary Darracq frame, running gear and other parts to recreate the racer.
Peter Giddings was back at Phillip Island Classic for the 2011 edition. His 250F Maserati #2501/2523 was in good company. Tom Price had #2525 with him and Jeffrey O’Neill brought #2527, but these three irreplaceables weren’t there just for looks. They set the scene for the opposition in Groups J, K & L, coming home 1-2-3 in Saturday morning’s race. David Reid’s Holden-powered Faux Pas made up for its DNF though, with a second and two firsts in the next three races, showing the thoroughbreds what a local is capable of, and earning David the ‘Driver of the Meeting’ trophy. On Sunday morning, when 11 cars from the Darracq to the Alan Jones championship-winning Williams FW07 were lined up for photos, the Maseratis shared front row with Ron Townley’s 1948 Lago Talbot.
In the afternoon the International Challenge Race for Groups Q & R and Invited cars saw the Lolas and Porsches battle it out for 20 laps, with John Briggs in the South Australian built Veskanda taking the honours from Jamie Larner, Ralt RT2 and Bert Skidmore, Lola T286.
Racing was hard all weekend, with damage and injuries thankfully light. Historic Formula Ford races are always well contested and on Saturday John Van Leeuwen came off worse for wear while trying to avoid Brendan Jones’ spinning Reynard.
Arguably the most beautiful F1 car ever built, Lou Sellyei’s Gurney Eagle saw action in the Group O and M races, placing 6th from 40 entries in Saturday morning’s race in the hands of Bert Skidmore. Aaron Lewis in the 1969 AAR Eagle T2G crossed the line 5th in race 4 on Sunday afternoon. These two had shared the limelight side by side in the morning’s start line photo shoot. Sharing track space in the same races with the pair of Eagles was Chris Wilson’s Mk1 Ford GT40. Chassis #1018, it started its career with Shelby American in 1965 as a reserve car. It achieved celebrity status the following year when Shelby drove it as the first car across a newly opened stretch of the Santa Monica freeway and it was used as a camera car during the filming of John Frankenheimer’s movie ‘Grand Prix’. The car has returned to its roots however, winning 11 from 13 races, and its class every time, in the Le Mans Classic between 2002 and 2008.
In Group A, the exhausts of Corey McMahon’s Nissan Skyline and Craig Neilson’s Mitsubishi Starion kept the track warm into turn 4. Locked brakes were the order of the day over Lukey Heights down into turn 10. Now in his 70’s, John Mann celebrated his final outing in his 289 Mustang with a 2nd and two 3rd places from four races. Not quite the age of the Darracq, 80 years young and 63 years a racer, Murray Carter drove the XE Ford Falcon that he ran in the 1983 Bathurst 1000 in the four Group C races.
In the display hall across Gardner Straight from the pits were the Bathurst winning Fords, Holden Toranas from the New South Wales GTR and XU1 Owners’ Club, restored Minis, the Aston Martin DBS used by Australia’s ‘James Bond’ George Lazenby in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and Roger ‘The Saint’ Moore’s Volvo P1800. Steve Pike of Marsh Classic Restorations had his reconstruction of the Healey Streamliner that had reached 192mph at Bonneville in 1954. Its 240 bhp supercharged 100S engine has taken Pike’s car to 149 mph at Bonneville in 2009 and 189 mph at Lake Gairdner, South Australia last year.
When the last race was run, the track opened late on Sunday afternoon to let the transporters out. The hundreds of volunteers from the Victorian Historic Racing Register and the Victorian Mini Club, medical crews, the competitors and their teams, sponsors and spectators cleared the track and gathered at locations all around the Island. Winding down after an event like the Phillip Island Classic takes time.
(See Phillip Island Classic 2011 – Complete Results)
Phillip Island Classic 2011 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture and description)