The 2012 running of the Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport was held March 18-20 at the 4.445 km (2.762 mile) Phillip Island Circuit in Victoria, Australia.
Several anniversaries were celebrated at this year’s Phillip Island Classic, south of Melbourne, Australia. In addition to five hundred local cars there were overseas entrants from USA, UK, Denmark and New Zealand. The southern hemisphere’s largest historic race meeting, the Classic was shortlisted in the International Historic Motoring Awards in 2011. Organised by the Victorian Historic Racing Register, with the Mini Club of Victoria, practice is held on Friday, March 18th followed by 47 events over two full days of racing in eleven separate categories.
The 60 years since Ferrari’s first World Championship saw Tipo 500 F2 chassis 5 (0480) brought out from the Donington (UK) collection and on track each day. This 2-litre car gave Alberto Ascari nine straight victories and both Drivers’ Championships in 1952-3. It won 10 of its 11 starts, missing a clean sweep when the Italian was in the 4.5-litre Ferrari at Indianapolis.
Closer to home, it was 40 years since the first of the late Peter ‘King of the Mountain’ Brock’s nine victories at Bathurst in the Holden Dealer Team Torana XU1. Across the track from the pits in the new Expo Centre with four Toranas and other HDT cars were contemporary Valiant Charger and Ford Falcon touring car racers. Commemorating 60 years of Lotus’ Grand Prix history was the company’s new range of road cars. Alongside were a variety of significant vehicles, including a Lancia Aurelia B20 and a Shelby Cobra 289.
Due to local noise restrictions, “Start Your Engines” was at 9:00 am and from then on the track stayed active through until 5:00 in the afternoon. Many of the 500 entries took advantage of the Regularity runs, where drivers attempt to match their nominated time over four laps. Bugattis mixed it with Shelby Mustangs. Steven Byrnes showed his consistency with a win and two 4th places in his 1966 Alfa Romeo GTA Corsa. The former Group C (1973-1984) and Group A (1985-1992) touring cars had full grids. Milton Seferis and Craig Bowring had their older Holden Commodores giving the newer cars a hurry-up. Carey McMahon (1989 Nissan Skyline HR31) and Toby Stapledon (1989 Commodore) each had a win in the two races each day.
Cross-Tasman rivalry was as strong as ever in Formula 5000 but there was competition from further afield in this hugely popular category. In addition to the 10 New Zealand cars, US visitors Scott Drnek and Eric Haga were in the Surtees TS8 and Lola T190, UK visitor Greg Thornton had his Chevron B24 and from Denmark came Philip Lewis’ Matich A50. James Davison gave the locals something to crow about when he took the chequered flag in the third race from Kiwi Steve Ross, winner of the other three. Andrew Robson was second four times with another Kiwi, David Abbott close behind.
On Saturday afternoon when racing was over, members of the GTR and XU1 Club arranged their Torana road cars on Pit Straight behind two of the Brock racers for a photo shoot. When the Toranas headed back, ten of the 24 Formula 5000 drivers wheeled out their mounts to do the same.
The historic touring car category (pre-1972) is always hotly contested. Frazer Ross was unbeatable in the over 3-litre tourers. His 1968 Mustang showed the way to Tony Hubbard’s 1967 Camaro, Darryl Hansen’s 1969 Mustang and Darren Collins’ 1969 Camaro. In a class of his own was five-time national champion John Bowe. His 2.2 Porsche was snapping at the heels of these four all weekend. The XU1 Toranas in the field, giving two and a half litres to the V8s, didn’t have the legs down the long Pit Straight, but Scott Slater and Andrew Williams led many of them home. In the under 3-litre group, Jason Humble had it all to himself in his Mazda RX2, with all four wins, from the similar cars of Phillip Woodbury, Bill Attard and Bob Sudall.
Formula Ford driver Mark Samson (Van Diemen FR 89) took home 2 wins and the ‘Driver of the Meeting’ trophy. The other wins went to Jonathan Miles (Reynard 82) and Tim Blanchard (Van Diemen RF 88) with Andrew McInnes (Van Diemen RF89) in the first 3 all weekend. Roger Ealand’s Koala FJ was the first of the Juniors home except on Saturday morning when he was second to Kim Shearn’s Lotus 20 FJ.
The other monoposto Ferrari on track had less displacement but slightly more technology than Ascari’s. Guido Belgiorno-Nettis has his pair of ’80s F1 racers well and truly sorted. Paul Stubber’s March 81C led him home on Saturday morning in the combined Formula Atlantic, P, Q and R race but the turbos in the ex-Johannson 156/85 took over for the other 3 races. Robert Tweedie (Elfin MS7 Repco) won each time in the Q category from Simon Gardiner’s Lola T460/560. Of the Atlantics, Sean Whelan (Ralt RT4) and Peter Warren (March 80A) led three quarters of the combined fields home, Whelan taking 4th outright in both of Sunday’s races.
By necessity, Australian motorsport in the early days had grids of ‘Aussie Specials’, using whatever engines were available. They were out in force in the J, K and L (up to 1960) events. Nick McDonald made it 4 from 4 in his Holden-powered Ausca, Ken Bedggood’s 1960 Lola Mk1 keeping him honest. US driver Stevan Dana came to grips with the track early, his invited Elva BMW Mk7S taking three 4th places.
Group S is a popular category and entrants were split into two fields. In the combined Sa (up to 1960) and Sb (1961-69) races, Stuart Jackson found his Austin Healey 3000 Mk1’s limits, especially coming down from Lukey Heights into the right-hander at turn 10. It worked and he came away with four class wins. Of the newer cars, the Shelby GT350s of Chad Parrish and US driver Scott Hackenson shared the outright honours, managing keep a hard driving Don Thallon (’67 Corvette Stingray) at bay.
The later Sc cars had their races to themselves. On Saturday Perry Spiridis (De Tomaso Pantera GTS) had to use all of his 5.8 litres to stay in front of Geoffrey Morgan’s Porsche 911 with half the Ford’s engine capacity. UK visitor Andy Newall (Ginetta G10) claimed 3rd in front of Michael Byrne’s impressive drive in the 1.5 litre Lotus Seven S4. These four repeated the performance in their afternoon race. Sunday morning’s race was red-flagged when the Porsche of Bryan Taylor rolled several times after a coming together with Paul Sabine’s Corvette. Thankfully both drivers escaped serious injury but less so Taylor’s car. In the afternoon race Newall and Byrne moved up to take 2nd and 3rd behind the Pantera.
Historic racing down under is competitive and this was borne out several times. The Formula Fords had their offs and on Saturday UK driver David White was thrown from his 1953 works Cooper Bristol GP onto Pit Straight, resulting in broken bones and was airlifted to hospital for repairs. Quick action by the flag marshals, medical, fire and rescue crews kept the incidents’ consequences to a minimum. For them, the scrutineers and other officials, drivers and pit crews, motorsport enthusiasm is shown in commitment and perseverance. The Phillip Island Classic runs like the well-oiled machines out on the circuit that make it such fun.