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Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Clark second in Lombank Trophy

1963 Lombank Trophy.Jim Clark’s first race meeting of 1963 did not go particularly well.  After several hectic weeks in the US (at Ford’s proving ground in Arizona and then at Indy, where he lapped at just over 150mph) and, before that, at Snetterton, testing the gorgeous Lotus 29 Indy prototype car, 1963 Team Lotus Factory.Jim drove back along the A11 to the Norfolk circuit  for the Fourth Lombank Trophy F1 race.  Probably at some point, I  suspect, the new Honorary President of the Scottish Racing Drivers’ Club would have been smiling at the thought of the Club Lotus dinner he’d attended a few weeks before at the Taggs Island Casino, near Hampton Court. He, Jabby Crombac and Mike Beckwith had driven one of the new Elans onto the stage and the evening had ended with Colin Chapman being spruced up in a pair of blue nylon knickers… As would become the norm for races at Snett, Jim would be staying with Jack Sears in Jack’s farmhouse near the circuit – and he would refrain, of course, from making any long-distance calls to the US.  (On Saturday, March 30, 1963, it became possible for the first time to make direct calls between the UK and the US.)

This would be the second Snetterton race meeting promoted by the circuit’s new owners – Motor Circuit Developments (the first was a club meeting held on March 17) – and therefore by John Webb, whose airline, Webbair, had become a regular part of motor racing logistics since the late 1950s.  As a journalist, manager and, as I say, race promoter, Webb would in the 1960s and 1970s become one of the most influential figures in British motor sport.  With support from Grovewood Securities, the Grovewood Awards, to name but one of Webb’s creative ideas, would eventually pave the way for today’s Autosport Awards.

The Lombank Trophy was the first F1 race of the year – a non-championship race, to be sure, but a significant one nonetheless.   Lombank was one of several London-based financial “institutions” (as investment banks were known then!) to see the benefits of motor racing sponsorship, although by a certain irony this Snetterton race would be the first since one of Lombank’s major competitors – UDT Laystall – announced their withdrawal from F1.

Today we go into internet-fed panic mode whenever teams or sponsors pull out of the sport, or change hands, but 50 years ago the usual ruptures of the winter were accepted with good grace in the belief that something – or someone – better would come along.  One thing was clear, however:  Stirling Moss’s retirement now seemed permanent (following a test at Goodwood in early May, Stirling would make the decision final) and he was busy now re-inventing himself as a team owner/team manager/Ogle Associate Director; and gone, too, were the factory Porsche and Lola F1 teams.  Although General Motors also announced a unilateral withdrawal from motor sport in early March, 1963, one of the private entrants at Snetterton (Jim Hall) no doubt read this notice with a smile.   (Even as Jim drove his BRP Lotus 24-Climax with not a little natural speed, the idea of a secret GM-supported Chaparral was formulating in his fertile mind.  Jim had raced his be-finned and be-spoilered front-engined Chaparral at Sebring the weekend before;  and many, he knew, were the ideas he could take to GM. Looking back now, and remembering for how long Jim was a fixture at F1 races, it is staggering that no-one in F1 took serious note of the winged Chaparrals of 1966-67.  Even Jim Clark’s attempt to mount a rear spoiler on his Lotus 49 at Levin, in 1968, was immediately quashed by Colin Chapman.)

Porsche’s loss was Jack Brabham’s gain:  Dan Gurney signed over the winter to drive a second factory Brabham in 1963, and John Surtees stepped from Lola to Ferrari.  (I can’t help reflecting here that Jack Brabham “lent” Big John his personal Lotus 24 to race in the end-of-season, 1962, Mexican GP, for Bowmaker Lola were by then concentrating on the upcoming Australasian Series and entered only one Lola in Mexico for Roy Salvadori.  John promptly qualified the 24 on the second row, only fractionally slower than Trevor’s Lotus 25.  Brilliant. Surtees drove most of the New Zealand-Australia series for Bowmaker Lola but his place at Sandown Park, Melbourne, interestingly enough, was taken by Masten Gregory.  Tony Maggs finished third at Sandown in the last appearance of a Bowmaker Lola entry.)  ATS, led by former Ferrari engineer, Carlo Chiti, would also be entering F1 in 1963 with drivers Phil Hill, Giancarlo Baghetti and (for testing) Jack Fairman;  and this would also be the first race for Coventry Climax since being bought by Jaguar Cars Ltd.

The Lombank Trophy race (won in 1962 by Jim Clark) was held on Saturday, March 30, at 3:00pm, with practice taking place on Friday.  Public address commentary was in the care of the excellent Anthony Marsh, the recently-appointed Publicity Officer for Brands Hatch, Mallory Park and Snetterton and the lynchpin, of course, of the Springfield Charity that still exists today.

Jim and Team Lotus had only recently lost the 1962 World Championship to Graham Hill and BRM.  No-one doubted that the monocoque Lotus 25 had been the quicker car in 1962 – but, since August, BRM’s Tony Rudd had been hard at work on his version of the Lotus “bathtub”.  Quickly, though, work at Bourne fell behind schedule.  The demands of the ’62 season in part accounted for the delay but in addition England was plagued by a ‘flu epidemic over the arctic-spec winter:  factory staff were thin on the ground and there was little or no back-up to replace them.  On top of that, BRM also began work on the radical Rover-BRM turbine programme for Le Mans.  As a result, BRM began the year with lighter versions of their reliable and very driveable P578 space-frame cars, albeit with slightly more powerful V8 engines.  They brought two to Snetterton, for Graham and for Richie Ginther, both of whom had been racing in the Sebring 12 Hours the weekend before.  Hill finished third there, sharing a Ferrari 330LM with Pedro Rodriguez, and Ginther sixth (Ferrari GTO, shared with Innes Ireland).   (These were the days of Boeing 707 intercontinental air travel, although turbo-props, such as the Lockheed Electra and Vickers Viscount, were still very much in use.)

Team Lotus entered two Lotus 25-Climaxes for Jim and his regular team-mate, Trevor Taylor but a shortage of engines (ie, one Climax V8 only!) rendered Trevor a non-starter.  Jim’s race engine, indeed, was way down on power.  Climax had planned to bring the new, 200bhp fuel-injected V8s to Snetterton for use by Lotus and Cooper but, like BRM, ran out of time.  Speaking of the Cooper Car Company of Surbiton, Surrey, Bruce McLaren flew from Sydney to the US after winning his fourth Australasian series race at Sandown Park, Melbourne with his Intercontinental Cooper-Climax – (this is a sad story, but I’ll tell it less we forget:  Bruce sold that car to Lex Davison, who raced it successfully in 1963-64 and who in turn then used it to enable the young and talented Rocky Tresise to make his career breakthrough in 1965.  Tresise died in a start-line accident at Longford with the Cooper, as did the talented Australian photographer, Robin d’Abrera;  it was Robin’s pin-sharp images that captured Bruce’s Sandown win in the Cooper for Autosport back in March, 1963) – and at Sebring raced the Briggs Cunningham Jaguar E-Type.  He finishing eighth there, partnered with Walt Hansgen.   Cooper entered only Bruce at Snetterton – again in a 1962 T60 car.   The interesting Cooper entry from Morris Nunn failed to appear;  and Jo Siffert pulled out after hitting a bank on the very wet practice day in his Filipinetti Lotus 24.

Jim, in  battle-scarred, dark blue, peakless Everoak helmet, 1965 Formula One World Championship.
was easily fastest on Saturday, lapping in 1min 44.4 in the torrential rain despite trouble starting the car (due to a lack of warm-up spark plugs).  Eventually the 25 was tow-started  into life. With Graham Hill’s BRM suffering from chronic fuel injection problems, Richie Ginther was next quickest (1min 46.8sec), followed by Bruce (1min 48.8sec), Innes Ireland in the BRP Lotus 24 and Innes’s team-mate, Jim Hall.

On Saturday the weather continued.  Snetterton became a quagmire of mud, rain, wind and spinning wheels.  There were no branded jackets back then, there was no North Face, no Timberland.  Instead, long raincoats, cloth caps and Wellington boots ruled the day. Les Leston’s racing umbrellas – each segment representing a marshal’s flag – were also at a premium.

Richie led from the line, using the superior torque of the BRM engine to full advantage, with Bruce second and Jim an initial third.  Jim quickly took second place at the hairpin – the left-hander at the end of the long back straight that runs parallel to the A11 – and passed Richie at the same place a few laps later.  Significantly, though, Richie was able to out-accelerate the Lotus.  All were running on the new Dunlop R6 but the traction advantage was with the BRMs.  Graham Hill had meanwhile flown through from the back of the grid.  He quickly passed Bruce and, now on a spray-free road, quickly caught Jim and Richie.  Jim took the lead and began to pull away – but then ran wide onto the grass while lapping a back-marker;  Richie again ran at the front.

There was no stopping Graham Hill.  Driving superbly in the rain, he passed both Richie and then Jim to win decisively.   Unhappy with his engine, and finding the 25 surprisingly skittish in the wet, Jim backed away and settled for second place.   Innes Ireland eventually finished third, although not without incident.  During his battle with Bruce, the pair of them had lapped Innes’ team-mate, Jim Hall.  Innes slipped past without problem but then, with hand signals to Hall, made it clear that he wanted his team-mate to hold up Bruce for a corner or three.  You can imagine if Fernando Alonso today suggested to Felipe Massa (running a lap behind) that he hold up Seb Vettel for 20 seconds or so.  As it was, Bruce afterwards dismissed the episode as “a legitimate team tactic”.  Such was Gentlemen Bruce.

The Lombank meeting boasted a superb support-race programme.  The World Champion was also victorious in the 25-lap sports car race with John Coombs’ lightweight Jaguar E-Type (ahead of the Cooper Monaco of Roy Salvadori, now retired from F1); Roy made up for that by winning the Jaguar 3.8 battle in the 25-lap Touring Car race, gaining revenge on Graham Hill (who fought his way back from sixth place).  Mike Salmon, also in a 3.8, finished third.  Both Normand Racing Lotus 23s (driven by Mike Beckwith and Tony Hegbourne) had looked quick in the sports car event but eventually, in the wet, had to cede position to Alan Foster’s amazing MG Midget.  It should be noted that Frank Gardner also raced the new Brabham BT8 sports car at Snetterton, winning the 1151cc-2000cc class.

I mention the Normand Lotus 23s because Jim signed over the winter to race for Normand whenever his schedule allowed.  Just such an opening would appear at the BARC’s Oulton Park Spring Meeting on Saturday, April 6.

Full report next week.

Pictures: LAT Photographic and writer’s archiveS2390001

More notes from Sepang

 

  • Adrian Sutil was stunning to watch today – a Kimi Raikkonen clone in terms of his cornering technique.  This is a smoother, more compliant Sutil than the one we saw at the end of 2012 – and even then he was very consistently quick.  The new Sutil is all that and more.  Into Turn Six he was able to arc-in a good half-a-car’s width earlier than his team-mate and secure a beautifully-straight exit.  It was no surprise to see him run top-three in both dry qualifying sessions.  It went away in the wet but that was no surprise.  A suspected broken engine seal precluded any wet-weather running on Friday and Adrian, in these early comeback races, is in any event logically going to leave a little bit of margin in the wet.
  • Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton again showed their timing and class as qualifying came to a boil.  Seb, as normal, had refrained from using the options in Q1 and consequently made the show by less than half a second.  Mark Webber looked good in Q2.  Then, in Q3, when it mattered, Seb reminded us that his prodigious success rate isn’t entirely due to his maximizing Adrian Newey’s downforce in the dry.  His was a skillfully-honed pole, under pressure, in the mist.  At AMG Mercedes, meanwhile, it was again Nico Rosberg who set the pre-Q3 pace.  Lewis would do a time; Nico would better it.  Lewis’s driving even began to look like Nico’s. Then, a little earlier than Seb, on the wet track, Lewis was suddenly Lewis again.  Beautiful little neutral zones just when he needed them.  Just the right amount of steering input versus load.  Brilliant.
  • A big hand, too, for Felipe Massa.  Felipe looked very Webber-esque on his quickest lap, flinging the F138 from one side to the other in a way that suggested he had total and utter confidence in Pat Fry’s running gear.  Felipe’s edge is ragged;  Fernando’s remains more-rounded.  They make an interesting combo now that Ferrari’s Number Two is again quick enough to win.
  • Romain Grosjean, by contrast, is very different from the driver we saw last year.  As reactive and on-the-edge as Romain is, “quietening down” was always going to lead to slower lap times.  It’s only the vee-drivers – the manipulative drivers like Kimi, Lewis, Seb Vettel, Fernando (when he feels like it), Sutil, Bottas and a couple of others – who can develop maturity without eroding away their natural pace.  No doubt Romain will soon let frustration get the better of him and will move the counterweight in the reverse direction; and that’s a good thing, I believe.  If he isn’t going to change his technique, then there’s no point in just driving slower, even if he is going to finish more races.  Above all, Romain Grosjean is a racing driver, not a professional F1 point-scorer.  Let him be, say I.
  • Over in the GP2 paddock the scene was staggeringly underwhelming.  Sweating under a giant tent, the Eu4m teams were separated only by temporary banners.  There was no access for the GP2 personnel to the F1 paddock;  there were no frills under that fan-cooled tent.  Actually, I have nothing against communal garages like this.  They used to work a treat both at Watkins Glen and Long Beach – and in Detroit, for that matter.  The Monaco car park is too big to be included in the list but Sepang could have been very different if everyone had mucked in together and decided to go “open plan”, with the fans walking down the aisles as they watched the mechanics at work.  As it was, Sepang’s GP2 paddock to my eye was just a sad attempt to look like F1’s second cousin twice removed.  The awnings were there to give the team names some prominence – but who was going to take photographs?
  • I tweeted from Melbourne that Red Bull Racing are “potentially” going to try Hitco brakes in the near future.  This is still the plan, I understand, although the rain in Melbourne and the obvious chance of rain in Malaysia has made their traditional Brembos the obvious choice in the short-term.  It is confusing for mere observers, though, because it’s now well-nigh impossible to identify brake types without close examination of the products in question.  Take the situation at AMG Mercedes, for example:  Lewis Hamilton has lost no time in persuading the team to switch from their traditional Brembos to Carbone Industrie (the brakes he raced on at McLaren) but Brembo’s Massimo Arduini told me after Malaysian qualifying that Merc had reverted to Brembos “because they are so good in the wet”.  As it happens, both Lewis and Nico qualified on Carbon Industries, so, if nothing else, I guess this just underlines how competitive the brake battle has become.More about that in next month’s F1 RacingIMG-20130323-00680

Notes from the Sepang paddock

  • After the beauty of the AGP 60th anniversary celebrations at Albert Park, it’s a shame that not more is being made of this being Sepang’s 15th F1 birthday. I know it’s not a major milestone but, so far as modern supercircuits go, Sepang has done well to get this far. It has none of the carnival atmosphere of Melbourne; it’s hot and debilitating; but it does boast some incredible corners and it does have the Malaysian government full-square behind it, despite relatively small crowds. Personally, I love Sepang. I just wish the weekend as a whole had a bit more AGP-style gift-wrapping.
  • Speaking of great corners, I spent Friday watching our aces through the very quick left- and right-handers they call Turns Five and Six. I’m particularly fond of this section because there are about three different solutions to the problems posed by high-speed changes of direction. You can really lean on the right rear as you go in, then ask a lot of the car as you pivot it back to the left rear for the dive into the right-hander (as Mark Webber, Romain Grosjean, Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez were doing); you can compromise the left-hander a little and move the car way over to the left for the right-hander that follows (as Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button were neatly doing); or you can ride a very narrow line of perfection by finding the tiniest of “neutral” zones for the change of direction between the two corners (as Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Adrian Sutil were doing).  The last group also tucked in a little earlier to the apex of the right-hander (Turn Six), thus shortening the corner.  All this in a flash of a second – but easy to see from the elevated vantage points both on the inside and outside of the corners.  Best through this section? Kimi, by a car’s width or two, although Lewis never really looked as though he was on the absolute limit.
  • Then it rained.  For the second race in a row, plaudits must go to Sauber’s new signing, Esteban Gutierrez, who looked very relaxed and supple in the semi-wet. There was about a five minute period of reasonable consistency, weather-wise, in FP2, and Gutierrez for this little cameo was right up there with Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso.   He was fastest, indeed, on my stopwatch. Romain had a big moment at the aforementioned high-speed esses but – unlike Melbourne – Esteban kept it all nicely on the island.  Sauber didn’t have the greatest of days in the dry (fire extinguisher and cracked exhaust issues) so this should have cheered them at least for ten minutes or so.  Also impressive in the wet (as in Melbourne) was STR’s Jean-Eric Vergne.  Unlike Kimi (who should know better) JEV also kept his car nicely to the right-hand side of the finishing straight all day whilst accelerating through the gears.  Kimi, for some strange reason, was running diagonally across the straight over to his braking point for Turn One.
  • It was good to see Daniel Riccardo juggling a trio of tennis balls as he walked to his garage this morning.  I’m sure most F1 drivers are able to juggle if they put their minds to it, but it’s not often you actually see the skill in motion in the F1 paddock.  Ross Cheever, the mega-quick American, was also a serious juggler and we know that both Lewis and Nico are mono-cyclists of some repute.  Then there’s Kimi.  I’ve seen him balancing a motionless mountain bike for well over a couple of minutes.  Again, I’m sure he’s not alone.  Why don’t we organize some sort of “circus” day for the F1 stars?  It’s one thing to see them plying their skills at 280kph.  It would be quite another to seem them displaying their co-ordination, balance, timing and eyesight in ways that we can all understand.
  • I may be wrong, but I suspect – I say I suspect – that still nothing has formerly been done about the pre-race national anthems.  Certainly it looked to be the usual shambles in Melbourne.  The AGP Corporation, like all organizing bodies, went to great lengths to execute the anthem with a local singing star and with suitable respect for their country – “Please be upstanding for the National Anthem of Australia”, said the circuit PA – but the F1 world, from what I could see, just went on about its business on the starting grid, sucking drink bottles, looking at watches (sorry, “timepieces”), checking tyre warmers, downloading data and generally milling around.  There was no observance whatsoever, in other words, of the local national anthem.  Can it be that hard for the F1 industry to set itself a new standard of behaviour?  We can’t expect the drivers to stand to attention – or even sit to attention if they’re already in their car – but why isn’t it de rigour for each team to nominate a representative to stand to attention at the front of the grid whilst the anthem is played?  Is the opening anthem any less important than the post-race podium anthems?  Pre-race, the TV cameras could pan along the row of uniforms, rugby-style, and commentators could stay quiet for a minute whilst the anthem is respected.  It would be a poignant, respectful moment.  A moment that at present we don’t have.  And that, I think, is wrong.

Anyway, time for dinner.  I’m staying at an amazing hotel called the Golden Palm Tree.  Our cottage is on stilts;  the water shimmers beneath us; and the circuit is but a 40-min adventurous ride away in a battle-scarred Proton. This weekend the locals are due to set fire to elaborate paper decorations they’ve been keeping specially for the occasion.  Should add nicely to the general heat and haze.    As I say, I love Sepang.S2360003

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

The Racer’s Edge

TRE_1920x1080Welcome to The Racer’s Edge – your weekly, live, F1 chat show brought to you in association with F1 Racing magazine. You can watch it either here or on our host YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/peterwindsor); on both locations you will find a countdown to the next live show and on the YT channel you will in addition be able to watch previous episodes on-demand. Here we will be featuring comments and updates from some of the show’s regular guests, including Craig Scarborough, Rob Wilson, Enrique Scalabroni and the journalists at F1 Racing. The show will be based from May onwards at a new studio at Haymarket Publishing in Teddington but we’ll be on-the-road, too, starting Wednesday, March 13, when we’ll be broadcasting to you live (on YouTube) from the offices of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation in Melbourne, Australia. A week later we’ll be live from Malaysia.

Already the season is looking mouthwateringly close. You may like to take a look at the latest edition of F1 Racing for your full guide to the season;  it’s a big read, so give it some space. At some point you may come across the  preview feature I wrote (before the recent tests started in Jerez and Barcelona).  Twelve months ago I opted for Fernando Alonso to win the championship, so, this year – rather than stating the obvious (which is that both Fernando and Sebastian Vettel naturally have great chances to win) – I’ve gone for the new Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton. I know many people are expecting him to be ultra-quick in 2014, when the new engine regulations come into play, but I think he’s also in great shape this year, too. I could be wrong, of course – I was last year, by a point or seven! – but there you are.

My column in F1 Racing this month is about how certain races – the Australian and French Grands Prix, to give but two examples – belong on the F1 calendar – and in the next edition of the magazine I’ll be analysing the driving styles of the 2013 F1 drivers and why some of them – but not all – will be well-placed to take advantage of this year’s Pirelli tyres.

I hope you enjoy the new show. You’ll be able to post live comments on Twitter (#trelive) and send in questions to our Facebook wall (www.facebook.com/theracersedgetv). For now, I hope I make you all envious with a shot I took this morning from Newport Beach, Sydney.  Call it  “dawn of the new season”.

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