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Archive for the tag “Jackie Stewart”

Goodwood 2015: a personal album

Ingliston Interlude

Jim Clark had been impressed by Jackie Stewart from the moment he saw him drive.  Jackie hailed from Glasgow, Jimmy from the Borders; Jackie’s family ran a garage, Jim’s ran a farm: the differences were pronounced. In common, though, was their love of driving nice racing cars on the absolute limit. Quite what defined that limit, in their respective minds, is still an open question: Sir Jackie today remembers Jim saying very little to him about how he actually drove. “You knew, with Jimmy, when to push and when not to push,” he says. “He always gave me the impression that he didn’t want to talk about the very precise details. They were private to him – and I respected that. Of course we talked about cars and racing in general and strategy and those sorts of things…but Jimmy always kept a little bit in reserve. That was his nature.”

Their friendship blossomed in 1965. Jackie also became a familiar face at Sir John Whitmore’s Balfour Place apartment and in so doing opened Jim’s perspectives to a very different way of life. Jackie, even then, was both fashion- and financially-sophisticated. Jim was less so. The interesting thing, looking back, is that Jackie had no doubt about how to solve the high-earner’s tax problems: he would move to Switzerland and operate as a pro racing driver from that one, central base. Jim, despite his friendship with Jackie, continued to do his own thing with his own, local advisers. He would take the complicated option of moving his “goods and chattels” to Bermuda while residing for a full racing season in Paris.

By the mid-1965, Jackie had also finished second to Jim at Spa, Clermont and Zandvoort: the magazines were calling it a “Highland Fling” and referring to “The Flying Scotsmen” in the plural. None of this troubled Jim.  On the contrary, he was delighted for Jackie – for that was his nature. Jim had persuaded Colin Chapman to give Jackie a quick F1 outing during practice for the 1964 British GP and Jackie had stood-in for Jim in the Rand GP later that year. With Jim’s Indy win paving the way for drivers like Jackie also to race in the States, motor racing north of the border had never looked healthier.

Thus the two friends attended a race meeting at the new Ingliston circuit in Edinburgh on July 25 – in the time between the Dutch and German GPs (at the vortex of what was already a breathlessly intense season). Already well-known to Jim as the site of the Royal Highland Showground, the new circuit was made up from in-field and perimeter roads. It wasn’t long or too demanding – but it was another motor racing circuit for Scotland.  In many ways it was a product of Jim’s success.

The race meeting itself, organised by the Scottish Motor Racing Club, was relatively low-key, as you would expect.  Jackie would have been interested in Bill Stein’s Ecurie Ecosse Tojeiro while Jim would have had a laugh with his old Normand team-mate and fellow F2 competitor, Mike Beckwith, who raced spectacularly at Ingliston in his Elan.  The Rover-BRM turbine “hoover” was on-hand, fresh from Le Mans, for Jackie to demonstrate with Jim alongside him (!) and Jim, ever the man of detail, performed the start-line duties for the Guards Trophy event, stop watch in hand, flag accurately poised. It’s also worth noting that both Graham and Gerry Birrell raced on this day at Ingliston – both were quick and destined for greater things – and that Jock Russell was much in evidence: the irascible Scot would later buy Jim’s 1966 US GP-winning Lotus 43-BRM.

Click on the first image to open this short gallery of the Ingliston Interlude.


Five in a row for Clark

30133 1965DutchGPZandvoort, Holland. July 18, 1965. Dutch GP  Jim Clark’s amazing 1965 season continued unabated. Following his victories in the Silverstone-Rouen double-header, Jim returned quickly to London for Wednesday’s British Racing Automobile Club (BARC) function at the Grosvenor House hotel.  Olympic Gold Medallist, Mary Rand, presented a special award to Jim for his Indy 500 win – but by this stage of the year it could just as well have been for his F1 success. He’d missed Monaco to win at Indy but he’d won every other GP of the season, plus the Tasman Series. Little was the time for relaxation, however, for the next day Jim flew to Zandvoort, Holland, for the Dutch GP.  Jim headed the times on Friday, when the winds blew, and qualified second on Saturday in perfect conditions.  Again, though, the new 32-valve Climax engine proved unreliable, obliging Clark to switch to the 16-valve spare car for the race. Thanks to British Pathe, we can now take a short look at the Dutch GP in the following video. Note a young Clive Chapman near the start, pensive in Mike Spence’s helmet and goggles. Win No 27



Clark in an orbit of his own

Note: with the exception of the Month of May at Indy, all of Jim Clark’s 1965 season – from East London, South Africa through to the Belgian GP at Spa – can be read on one post (entitled “Jim Clark’s epic 1965 season”). The four weeks at Indy have all been posted separately – and we will be doing so for the remainder of this year. All can be found under the category “Jim Clark’s 1965 season”. We take up the story as Jim prepares for the French Grand Prix…

Clermont-Ferrand, June 27, 1965. French GP (Grand Prix de l’ACF) After Spa, Jim was finally able to spend a week in Scotland. The changes were dramatic. On the back of Jim’s Indy win – and of his most recent success in the F1 car – the Border regions seemed to have gone motor sport-centric. And with Roger Clark – no relation! – also winning the Scottish Rally over the same weekend as Spa, the two Clarks were in much demand. Jim allowed TV cameras on the farm; Edington Mainsentertained the famous Indy commentator, Tom Carnegie, together with his American film cameras and cameramen; added a postscript with Graham Gauld to Jim Clark at the Wheel; and welcomed Colin up in the Borders, reminding him, as he always did, to look for the “red roofs” on the farm barns when lining up the grass runway near Edington. There was also an approach from Hollywood: with John Frankheimer well advanced with pre-production for MGM’s upcoming movie, Grand Prix, starring James Garner, Jim was approached by Warner Bros and Brookdale Films about lending his name to a rival F1 film starring Steve McQueen. Day of The Champion was to shot primarily at the 1966 German GP and possibly after that at Oulton Park. Jim agreed to the proposal.

Racing-wise, there were other details to finalise. There was talk about running the Indy Lotus at Reims, ostensibly as a demonstration but also in an attempt to break the lap record there; thankfully that fell through due to a lack of starting money. Then came an idea to run the 38 at Silverstone, before the British GP. Jim quite liked this idea but again it came to nought: Ford, the new legal owners of the car, decided it would be of more use at the New York World’s Fair. Eventually Chapman signed a relatively lucrative deal to run a 38 in two Swiss hill-climbs at the end of August. Jim liked the sound of that. He’d last competed up a hill at Rest-and-be-Thankful back in 1958.

Too soon, it was back down the A1 – to London in the Lotus Cortina – first to Cheshunt, to go through the accounts with Andrew (now more complicated than ever due to the Indy win), and then to nearby Panshangar Airport to fly with Colin, Sally and Mike Spence to Clermont Ferrand. The glorious mountain circuit – home of Michelin – had never before staged the French GP. Now it was to play its role in F1 history as the “mini-Nuburgring”.

Upon arrival at the low-key Clermont airport, Jim and Colin were drawn to a crowd outside in the car park. Cameraman and newspaper journalists were in abundance, all focused on one man.

And, for once, it was not Jim Clark.

“That’s Yuri Gagarin!” said Colin, fascinated. “Come on. Let’s go and say hello…”

The Russian cosmonaut, at that stage on a USSR-sponsored world tour in honour of his 1961 orbit of the earth and other exploits, quickly appreciated the stature of Clark and Chapman. He invited them, indeed, to a reception being held that night in Clermont’s civic centre. Colin and Jim looked at one another, worked out that they could easily drive to their hotel in Charade later than night, and agreed to attend.yuri-gagarin-timeS1420011

The evening sparkled. Jim and Yuri spoke through interpreters and quickly formed a bond: Jim was as fascinated by the space programme as Yuri was by the Lotus racing cars.

Then, later, the group of four set off in their rented Peugeot for the race hotel. Colin drove, with Sally him and Mike and Jim in the back.

Suddenly, in the middle of a slow, innocuous corner, the Peugeot swerved and lurched down a bank. “Is everyone all right?” gasped Colin as the car came to rest, windscreen shattered. “I think I’ve strained my thumb…”

Jim, uncoiling himself in the middle of the front seat, where he’d landed, replied in the affirmative. As did Mike, who had squashed up against the back of Colin’s seat.


“I’m ok but I think I’ve cut my head or something,” she said, looking at the blood on her blouse and hands.

Jim looked across and began swaying from side to side. Then he fainted at the sight of the blood.

Eventually the Peugeot was pushed back onto the French road. The hotel was found; Sally was treated by a doctor in the dead of night; and Colin promised the medic a pit pass for the weekend in return for keeping the incident away from the media.

Despite a few light-hearted jibes from Jim about his suit being ruined, Sally recovered well enough to perform regular timing duties in the pits at Clermont. Colin’s thumb, however, remained a race weekend talking-point…

Jim showed no signs of the incident when practice began on Friday. Of far more import was the failure of his 32-valve Climax engine out on the circuit: Jim hitched a ride back to the pits, straddling the engine cover of John Surtees’ V8 Ferrari. As a result, Chapman decided to concentrate on the 1962-built R6 two-valve chassis (still in Lotus 25 form) rather than the 1964-built Lotus 33B R11.

29578 1965FrenchGP Jim qualified the old car on the pole, his 3min 18.3sec lap shading Jackie Stewart’s best for BRM by a mere half-second. Ferrari qualified three and four, with Lorenzo Bandini again controversially racing the faster flat-12 car and leaving the V8 for Surtees; and Denny Hulme, who had subbed for Dan Gurney in the International Trophy and at Monaco, celebrated his second Championship GP start by qualifying an excellent sixth for Brabham (and quickest on Friday). His compatriot, Chris Amon, would dominate (until a puncture intervened) the 1972 French GP at Clermont with the Matra V12, but gave clear indication seven years earlier of what was to come by qualifying a brilliant eighth in the evergreen Reg Parnell Lotus 25-BRM.

As he had done on several occasions since 1964, Jim wore a white handkerchief over his face for this race: stones and rubble lay trackside. The Dunlops and Goodyears of the time were stiff enough and strong enough not to be hugely puncture-prone but there was a real risk of being injured by the local flint. Best place to be, of course, was out in front….

A brass band and a shower of Michelin balloons lit up the grid as heavy clouds assembled on the horizon. Morning rain gave everyone déjà-vu but then out came the sun over the Auvergne as the 2:00pm start time appraoched. Jim anticipated the Toto Roche twitch but Lorenzo nearly lost the Ferrari as he floored the flat-12 in first. With clear air behind him, Jim Clark thus set off for the first of 40, daunting Clermont laps – a potential race time, in the dry, of some 2hrs 10min.

29579 1965FrenchGPJim’s lead over Lorenzo at the end of his opening lap was 3.5 sec; by lap two, with Jackie now in second place, he was ahead by six seconds. And so it went on. Perfect poetry in motion. Twin high-level chrome exhausts (rather than the 33B’s low, wide-spaced exhausts) distinguished Jim’s car on this occasion; otherwise, it was 1965 at its Jim Clark best: by half-distance, with Jackie still second, Jim was leading by 14 sec; by the end, heading another one-two for the Scots, Jim’s winning margin was nearly half a minute. John Surtees finished third after a quick pit stop (and after Lorenzo shunted in the closing laps!), and the brilliant Hulme was fourth after dropping as low as 14th on lap one. Overall, though, it was another consummate Clark performance. Pole position. Led from start to finish. Fastest lap.

And with not the hint of a whisper about what had transpired on the Thursday…Win No24; images: LAT Archives

Here are two short videos from the race, courtesy of British Pathe and British Movietone News. Apologies for the way the Pathe video has obviously been speeded-up. That’s also Jochen Rindt shunting the works Cooper-Climax (not Lorenzo in the Ferrari); and you can see Chris Amon briefly in the Parnell Lotus 25 after being lapped by Jackie Stewart’s BRM. The second video, the Movietone News film, has only recently been uploaded to YouTube and contains some excellent footage from the race

29705 1965FrenchGP


Weekend of a Champion: F1 in the raw

S2550025There have been very few F1 films like Weekend of a Champion – films in which one of the world’s best directors has been invited inside our sport to do with it what he wills.  Roman Polanski played the role of that director at Monaco, 1971.  He met Jackie Stewart socially, he became captivated by the man’s aura…and so he made a film about him.  At Monaco.  Over a race weekend.

The result, in my view, was brilliant.  We see Jackie and Helen Stewart in their hotel suite, chatting about Jackie’s shaving or his lack of appetite.  We see the always-cool Editor of l’Equipe, Edouard Seidler, walking down the famous Monaco hill with Jackie and Helen, pulling at his ever-present Gitanes.  We see Francois Cevert, wide-eyed and barritone, asking Jackie about gear-change points and ratios.  We see Yardley BRM stickers on the toolboxes of the Tyrrell mechanics.  We see Jackie talking about that famous gear lever knob with the ever-dour Roger Hill.  We see all the details that the TV feeds then – as now – never show(ed).

Weekend of a Champion was this week re-screened at Cannes (where it won an award in 1972) because it has been re-mastered and added-to.  We reach what we think is the end…but instead we see Jackie (now Sir Jackie) and Roman, in the same Hotel de Paris suite, 42 years on.  They talk about Jackie’s sideburns in the film, and about Jackie’s fear, that day back in 1971, that race day would be wet.  “The Goodyears were just so much slower than the Firestones in the wet around there,” says Sir Jackie, reminding you that not once in the original film does he speak badly of Goodyear, despite the frustrations.  They talk about the terrible death-rates of the time and Roman, quite rightly, highlights the “success” of Stewart’s campaign for safety.

Mostly, though, they have a laugh.  And this is what is so memorable about Weekend of a Champion.  Stewart, in what he now looks back as a “very trendy” time, comes over in situ as the lithe, nimble, athlete-superstar that he was.  “That is why I made that film,” Polanski told me last night.  “I made it because Jackie was this amazing driver who was also so articulate, so lucid.  He is the film.”

And so you watched the reactions of some of the guests.  I sat behind Damon Hill, who was seeing the extensive footage of his father for the first time.   “It was a bit scary seeing my Dad in that form but I loved the film.  Just loved it,” he said afterwards.  Alain Prost, too, was captivated.  “Just amazing.  It reminded me of my early days in F1, when things were also changing so quickly.”  Allan McNish, too:  “You can see why Jackie is who he is.  Even then, he was so much more than just a racing driver…”

I cornered Jackie afterwards and pursued some details:

“Nice to see that NAZA race suit again.  And the lovely Westover shoes…”

“Och no.  They weren’t Westovers.  Everyone thought they were.  You know what they were?  Hush Puppies.  I needed a bit of extra sole support because I always walked on my toes and I was beginning to have problems.  Everyone at the time said you had to have very thin-soled shoes for maximum feel but it was like the gloves:  I started to wear gauntlet gloves with much thicker palms with flame resistance.  Didn’t change my feel at all….”

“Why were you so on edge that weekend?” asked McNish at the star-bedecked post-film party.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a blood imbalance that would become a duodenal ulcer in 1972.  I wasn’t sleeping well.  I was tetchy.  You can see it when I get annoyed with that photographer before the start.  That shouldn’t have happened. It was a sign that things weren’t right.”

We had a laugh about the famous scene in which Jackie and Roman, on the inside of the entry to Casino Square, watch F3 practice.  “Now he’s got it all wrong,” says Jackie, pointing to John Bisignano (who sportingly would say a few years later, “that was the end of my racing career!”).  “But he’s ok.  And so is heHe knows doing…”

“Do you remember who that was?” I asked.

“No.  Who?”

“ Looked like James Hunt.”

This is the film’s most prominent feature – its exposure of the warts as well as the laughs.  It is a reminder that F1 was, and is, a never-ending movie, a 24-hour, 365-day TV show in which all the players must, and should, co-operate.  Certainly this was Stewart’s philosophy of the time.  I loved, too, the post-race Gala.  Jackie and Helen are there with Princess Grace (looking much more like Grace Kelly than the podium photos ever allowed), with the Prince, with Ringo Starr and others – but so, too, are many of the other drivers of the day – the guys who hadn’t won in the afternoon.  Pedro Rodriguez.  Jo Siffert.  Graham Hill.  Jacky Ickx.  Ronnie Peterson.

“When I see that film, I just think of the romance of it all,” said Allan McNish, walking back in a late-night drizzle to fetch his car.  “They were all at the post-race party.  That was lovely to see.”

Weekend of a Champion will be re-released soon in France by Pathe and in other regions thereafter.  This latest version was Co-Produced by Mark Stewart Productions. 

Geoff Sykes – Australia’s “Mr Motor Racing”

File0012Warwick Farm, the Tasman Series…and the cream of the world’s F1 drivers. It all came together in a golden age of Australian motor racing. Too quickly, though, it was over. The Farm was for the most part replaced by a housing estate; the Tasman became a championship too far. Geoff Sykes – dapper, under-stated, respected by all – rode into a motor-cycle- and aviation-oriented retirement.IMG_0002

Recently I was asked by the Australian Dictionary of Biography to write a brief profile of Geoff Sykes.  This was my attempt to do him justice:

Geoffrey Percy Frederick Sykes was born on September 6, 1908, at Beresford Manor Cottage, Plumpton, Sussex, England.  Percy Robert Sykes, Geoff’s father, was both a gifted wood-worker and the first Headmaster of the Chailey Heritage school for the disabled in Sussex, assisting disadvantaged children to forge their place in society.  The eldest of three children (his sister, Marjorie, was born in 1910, his brother, Reginald, in 1913), Sykes was educated at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, to which he travelled each day by moped and then by train, thus ensuring that he was licensed to ride a moped from the age of 12.  Upon leaving school, he was apprenticed to British Thomas-Houston in Mill Road, Rugby – an electrical engineering industry leader. Certified as an electrical engineer in August, 1929, he then joined the Department of Works, where he was seconded to a number of public buildings, including Buckingham Palace.

Sykes married Margaret Rose White (a friend of his sister’s) on September 1, 1939.  They had three children – Robert (born April 28, 1943), who worked for the British Council abroad and is now retired;  Richard (born May 25 1945), who would study engineering and work for Ricardo, Tickford (where he was involved in the engine design of the Ford XR6) and TWR before joining Cosworth and subsequently Mahle Powertrain; and Julia (born August 15, 1948), who attended the Arts Educational School in London and taught dance for much of her career.  She was subsequently appointed Secretary of two branches of the Imperial Society for the Teachers of Dancing.

Motor racing very quickly became a passion for Sykes.  He regularly attended pre-war race meetings at Brooklands; he loved riding motor-cycles; and he competed in hill-climbs and trials with his open-topped Wolseley Hornet two-seater.  Sykes was an active member of his local motoring club, the Brighton and Hove Motor Club (BHMC), and during this period also met John Morgan, who was then Secretary of the Junior Car Club.

At the outbreak of war, Sykes applied for a transfer first to the Air Force and then to the Army (which he would have joined at the rank of Major) but The Air Ministry instead commissioned Sykes to top-secret electrical engineering work, concentrating on the guiding of damaged aeroplanes to bases throughout England using the Drem lighting system.  On one occasion, in the early dawn after the Luftwaffe’s bombing of Coventry, the aeroplane in which Sykes was flying was mistaken for the enemy.  Despite considerable shelling, Sykes and crew survived unharmed.

Sykes worked in various management positions in the immediate post-war period before joining the Electrical Drawing Office at the Ministry of Works. Simultaneously he fostered his love of cars and motor-cycles with the Junior Car Club. The JCC amalgamated with the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club in 1949 (under a new name – the British Automobile Racing Club, or BARC), thus enabling Sykes, who by now had been elected Chairman of the BHMC, to work for the man who would become his mentor – John Morgan.  A brilliant organizer and promoter, Morgan quickly established his reputation in British motor racing circles – and from 1954 did so with Sykes by his side.  As the club’s Assistant General Secretary, Sykes, charming and mild-mannered, was an obvious counterpoint to the no-nonsense Morgan, the club’s General Secretary;  and, as motor racing burgeoned in the 1950s, it did so in concert with the BARC’s growing stature.  (It should also be noted that Sykes’ second wife, Meris Chilcott Rudder, also worked for the BARC at this time, married to the aviator, Jim Broadbent.)

His life changed dramatically when Mrs Mirabel Topham, owner of the Aintree horse-racing circuit in Liverpool, contacted the BARC in 1953 to discuss the design and construction of a motor racing circuit.   After a number of meetings to discuss the project, she wrote to Morgan to say that she wished to go ahead but insisted that Geoff be the one she dealt with on a day-to-day basis.  Under Sykes’ direction, the Aintree circuit was completed in 1954 and would go on successfully to stage the British Grand Prix on five occasions – 1955, 1957, 1959, 1961 and 1962.  At many of these meetings – and at the early Grands Prix – Sykes officiated as Clerk of the Course.

In 1959 Sykes received a lawyer’s invitation to attend a meeting with the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) to discuss the design of an Australian version of Aintree.  Unbeknown to Sykes, Sam Horden of the AJC had mentioned his motor racing circuit concept to the pre-eminent British Formula One private entrant, Rob Walker; and Walker, impressed by the organization at Aintree, had had no hesitation in recommending Sykes.

Sykes travelled by BOAC Comet to Australia for a three-week fact-finding tour, beginning in December, 1959.  Staying at Tattersall’s Club in Elizabeth St, he rang Meris Rudder, who had moved to Australia following the death of her husband and had bought a small flat in Kirribilli below the north-east pylon of the Harbour Bridge. In a matter of three hours, using Meris’s living room table as a flat surface, Sykes drew what was later to become the Warwick Farm motor racing circuit.  Few changes were made to the original design (which included two Aintree-inspired crossings of the horse-racing circuit).S2290005

That first draft – described by Meris at the time as looking more like a Picasso than a motor racing circuit – is today the property of Richard Sykes.

Sykes returned to Australia permanently in June, 1960, when work promptly began on the new circuit.  Thanks mainly to Sykes’ planning and organizational expertise, the new facility was finished in an astonishing six months.  The removable Tarmac sections for the two temporary crossings were designed and built by de Havilland (Australia) Ltd;  and the design overall of the 2.25-mile circuit combined fast corners with a series of ess-bends, a double-apex, negative-camber left-hander over the lake and two tight corners – Creek Corner hairpin at the end of Hume Straight (which was parallel to the Hume Highway) and a right right-hander by the AJC Polo field.  The three grandstands on the pit straight were as used for the horse-racing (as at Aintree).   The circuit was noteworthy at the time for its large expanses of grass and for its white railing (from the horse-racing track).   It was thus so far ahead of its time in terms of safety that Sykes felt obliged to try a “no-spinning” rule in 1964, arguing that this would be the equivalent of the trackside hazards that characterized other circuits throughout the world.  Given the dangers of motor racing in the 1960s, it is remarkable that not a single driver or spectator was killed at a Warwick Farm race meeting.  (One driver lost his life in a testing accident.)

The first Warwick Farm race meeting was held on December 18, 1960, and was followed soon afterwards, on January 29, 1961, by a major international race meeting that featured a 100-mile event for F1 drivers and top locals.  In 110 deg F (41 deg C) heat, 65,000 spectators watched Dan Gurney, Graham Hill, Innes Ireland, Jack Brabham and the eventual winner, Stirling Moss, give the new circuit, and its organization, a massive vote of approval. Moss declared the circuit’s layout and organization to be the equal of any venue in the world.  Warwick Farm was an instant success.

Sykes, who habitually wore light chino trousers, suede shoes, white shirt, club tie or cravatte, sports jacket and cloth cap, was also a man of great artistic talent and attention to detail.  He personally designed the badge of the circuit’s new club, the Australian Automobile Racing Club (the AARC, instigated in July, 1961), together with the circuit’s support merchandise, including the programme covers, posters and car stickers, nominating a local artist, Peter Toohey, for much of the artwork.  The AARC was from the start a small but extremely efficient operation, featuring Sykes as the General Secretary; John Stranger, formerly of the North Shore Sporting Car Club, as Accountant and Secretary of the Meetings; and Mary Packard as general administrator.  They were later joined by a young school-leaver, Peter Windsor (Press Officer).  The AARC was originally based at 184 Sussex Street, Sydney, but moved to the site of a former Bank of NSW, on the corner of Sussex and King streets, on June 24, 1967.

As one of the few locations in Australia where you could “talk motor racing” and read the latest publications from the UK (Motoring News and Autosport), the AARC offices quickly became a Mecca for both famous racing names and rank-and-file club members.  The AARC staged four to five major race meetings at Warwick Farm per year, including the February international, three or four club meetings (on a shorter circuit that looped back to the Causeway after the first corner) and numerous members’ film nights – these providing the only opportunity for motor racing enthusiasts in Australia to see the latest images from overseas.

On February 10, 1963, Warwick Farm hosted the Australian Grand Prix for the first time.  Again run in extremely hot conditions, it was reported in Autosport by Sykes himself, who wrote, “Race week was a busy one from a social angle, and there was for the first time in Sydney an atmosphere of Grand Prix fever… On Thursday the AARC put on their second annual cocktail party with an attendance of 550, and regrettably had to turn down almost 200 would-be attenders….both Stirling Moss and Graham Hill gave brilliant dissertations rather than speeches…Graham Hill also had his Datsun Bluebird towed away from outside Geoff Sykes’ office – it costs £4 10s to get it back in Sydney!…The meeting was voted the best so far at Warwick Farm, and all the officials did a magnificent job to keep everything going like clockwork under such trying conditions – full marks to all those with the thankless jobs.”

Sykes and his New Zealand counterpart, Ron Frost, initiated a new Tasman Cup in 1964, taking the Antipodean summer international series to even greater heights.File0047  As the promoter who had the unique respect of the major F1 teams and drivers, Sykes travelled to Europe each year to negotiate their appearances (a trip usually timed to allow Sykes to indulge his love of aircraft at the mid-July Farnborough Air Show).  Sykes and Jim Hazleton helped the great Scots driver, Jim Clark, learn to fly at Bankstown airport in 1965;  and the AARC would go on to own several light aircraft for the use of its members – a Cherokee 140 (registration VH-ARC), a Cessna 172 (VH-ARA), a Cherokee 180D (VH-ARD) and latterly a Beechcraft Sundowner (VH-ARF).  Sykes also flew his own low-wing Thorp T111 Skyscooter out of Bankstown, registration VH-DES.

Due to the long time they had spent apart on different sides of the world, Geoff and Margaret divorced in September, 1966.  Four weeks later Geoff married Meris Rudder.

kb-alfa.jpgWarwick Farm staged the Australian Grand Prix on four occasions –  1963 (won by Jack Brabham); 1967 (Jackie Stewart); and 1970 and 1971 (Frank Matich).  Sykes introduced the extremely popular, and affordable, Formula Vee cars to Australian motor racing (two Vees and a Formula Ford were owned by the AARC for the use of club members); pioneered the concept of the club race meetings and practice days; and, in the 1970s, was also one of the key figures behind the choice of production-block Formula 5000 cars for Australia’s premier single-seater category. The AARC continued to promote successful and well-attended national race meetings through to July, 1973, when the AJC decided that the land used for most of the motor racing circuit should be sold for property development.   Sykes and the AARC (primarily through the work of Mary Packard) then assisted with the promotion of club race meetings on the smaller Warwick Farm circuit (through to October 28, 1973) and then at Amaroo Park (through to November 30, 1986).  Living with Meris in the original Kirribilli flat, Geoff in his retirement spent much of his time with bikes and cars:  he enjoyed restoring historic motor-cycles and riding his vintage Velocette; and, following a succession of white, automatic Triumph 2000s, drove a yellow Alfa Romeo GTV.

After several years of battling a heart condition, Geoff died on April 12, 1992, at Royal North Shore Hospital, North Sydney.S2290004

Captions from top: Jim Clark drifts the Gold Leaf Lotus 49 through the Warwick Farm Esses during practice for the 1968 International 100; Geoff takes Colin Piper’s new Suzuki for a quick spin around the Warwick Farm paddock; the Farm circuit changed not at all from Geoff’s original sketch; Jim Clark (left) and Jackie Stewart share a laugh.  The “chair” is Graham Hill’s new F2 Lotus 48, the background is the Causeway lake; Kevin Bartlett dances through Leger Corner in the Mildren Alfa; and (above), the AARC cloth badge

Photos: Paul Hobson, Colin Piper

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