…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

Archive for the tag “Bruce Mclaren”

Bruce’s first for McLaren

Fifty years ago – on Saturday, January 11, 1964 – Bruce McLaren not only won his home Grand Prix at Pukekohe, near Auckland, New Zealand, but also opened the single-seater account for his brand new team – Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd.  Driving his creatively-engineered lightweight Cooper-Climax, Bruce recovered tenaciously from a slowish start, passed Jack Brabham to take the lead and then parlayed a late-race shower into the victory margin he needed.  To commemorate this historic win, I’ve voiced-over a hithertoo silent piece of footage from the race:

Blank 47

“There were plenty of things you could do back then…”

1976 Canadian Grand Prix.Alastair Caldwell (right, with headset, talking to James Hunt at Mosport, in 1976) is our guest this week on The Racer’s Edge – which means that at last we can sit him down and talk to him in outrageous detail about those early days at McLaren, about Bruce winning his first race in a car bearing his own name – and about the tricks they used to play back in 1976, when James Hunt fought Niki Lauda all the way to the Drivers’ World Championship.  We also catch up with Charlie Kimball, the son of the former McLaren and Ferrari Design Engineer, Gordon Kimball.  Last Sunday, Charlie won his first IndyCar race (with Chip Ganassi Racing) Images: LAT Photographic; TRE Production: Knockout TV in association with F1 Racing

Uniquely, Jim finished second

As Jim Clark’s 1963 season continues, we head to the NurburgringSCE

Bruce McLaren journeyed to the Nurburgring, for the German GP, in a Sunbeam Rapier road test car (arranged and co-driven by his secretary, Eoin Young).  In the days when standards, and tastes, were more in tune with real life, Bruce described the Rapier as “surprisingly fast” and “very comfortable”.  He would have cause to repeat his descriptions, post-race, in ways that he could never have imagined.S2620006

As in 1961 and 1962, when they had raced as team-mates in John Ogier’s Essex Racing Team, Bruce McLaren and Jim Clark stayed at the Lochmuhle hotel in Altenahr for the 1963 F1 race.  There’s no record of exactly what they specifically ate that weekend, but Bruce had said this about their stay the previous year:  “They serve some of the best food in Europe at the Lochmuhle and, as Essex were paying the bill, most of us stuck to four large courses, such as lobster or that delicious oxtail soup, followed by a quick chicken and mushroom entrée or pate, then an exotic steak, grilled with oranges and tomatoes or a wine sauce.  Jim generally managed to fit in a grilled trout, probably caught an hour earlier in the river by the hotel.  For a small man, it was amazing how much he could stow away!”S2620002

Jim, Peter Arundell and Trevor Taylor attended Huschke’s Sunday night party in Solitude and thus Jim and Trevor left at a leisurely hour for the autobahn thrash up to the Eifel hills on Monday.  Jim was thirsty for a win on the circuit that for him represented the greatest of all tests of drivers’ skill.  He had first raced there in 1961, in that Essex Aston with Bruce, and had quickly learned the circuit in Bruce’s 3.8 Jag.  Then, two months later, he had finished fourth in the German GP in the Lotus 21.  That race will forever be remembered as one of the finest hours (or two and a half hours!) in the career of Stirling Moss – but Jim’s fourth place, in his first full season, nursing a brake problem in the spare car (after a big practice accident), should never be under-rated.  From then on, Jim had a Monaco-like relationship with the 15-mile circuit:  he was always quick, always its master – but the circuit, in turn, always found a way of throwing him a joker.  Whilst leading the 1962 1000km race easily in the Lotus 23, Jim became nauseated by an exhaust gas leak from a loose manifold.  And at the ’62 German GP, whilst focussed on de-misting his goggles, he forgot to switch on the fuel pump just before the start.  He recovered to finish a brilliant fourth.

Now, with four World Championship victories behind him, and that new lap record at Solitude, Jim was returning to the Ring with the Lotus 25 in its latest, delectable, form.  Of course he could be worried about suspension failures and the like over the switchbacks of the ‘Ring; he knew that Cedric Selzer and the boys were, too. He trusted them, though; and, ultimately, he had to trust Colin Chapman.

Jim began Friday practice with his race Climax engine from Solitude;  and, continuing that Solitude connection, a driveshaft broke (again) as Jim was preparing for a quick lap. He thus finished the session third-quickest behind John Surtees in the works Ferrari and Lorenzo Bandini’s old Centro Sud BRM. Cedric Selzer and the boys fitted new driveshafts during the lunch break in the Team Lotus lock-up garage in the paddock quadrangle. Bratworst anyone?

Then, in the afternoon, it rained on the main part of the circuit (but not in the pit area). In a nice counterpoint to 2013, all the drivers nonetheless ventured out. Jim was quickest, slicing his 25 through the mist and standing water in 9m 44.0sec. Surtees was second and Ritchie Ginther third in the factory BRM. Overnight, Jim asked for an engine and gearbox change.  Oh yes, and how about leaving reverse out of the ZF ‘box on this occasion, just as a safeguard against any further selection issues?  It’s one thing to hold the car in gear through the Masta kink;  it’s another to do so over a blind brow at the Nurburgring…

It was dry, but overcast, on Saturday, which meant that now was the moment for The Lap.  The 25 felt taut on exploratory looks around the North and South Curve loops; the new engine, mated to the new ZF, seemed strong. Jim lowered himself in.Peakless Bell, Dunlop blue overalls, Leston string-backed gloves, Westover shoes. No seat belts.

The new engine faltered.  It coughed, irritatingly, as Jim left Pflantzgarten for the long roller-coaster straight at the finish. And it wasn’t just a question of losing a second or two:  the baulk killed his acceleration run through third, fourth and fifth gears.  There was no telling how much time he had lost.

Still, though, he was on the pole: that was the quality of the lap. 8min 46.7sec – the fastest ever recorded at the Nurburgring. 20645Without that mis-fire (or whatever it was), he could easily have been in the 43s. Surtees, looking consistently quick, was second-fastest; and third – amazingly – was Lorenzo in the old BRM. It was at about this time that Jim’s long-lasting friendship with Lorenzo was born. Graham Hill, always a threat at the ‘Ring, rounded out the four-car front row; and Bruce was on the inside of the second row in the Cooper, ahead of Ritchie and Jack Brabham. Dan, again wearing a white, Clark-like, peak on his Bell for this race, had nothing but engine trouble with his Brabham. Was Solitude but a dream, he must have been asking?

Wally Hassan, of Coventry Climax, was present at the ‘Ring (on the third anniversary of the V8’s appearance) and suggested the usual remedies:  plug changes, fuel injection clean-outs.  In the quadrangle, as they all sat and stood around, and as the mechanics worked flat out, Jim’s engine sounded perfect.  Fingers were crossed for tomorrow.20737

The start I encourage you to watch on the German TV video below.  Drivers shuffle in their cockpits;  officials wave hands and twitch flags.  Some of the slower cars begin to creep.  Not Clark. The 25 stays rock-solid still.  And then – bang!  Jim releases the clutch against revs, the rear tyres smoke and he is gone, soaring into an immediate lead…

His start, indeed, was exactly as he planned it:  “I decided that a fast start was absolutely vital,” he would say later to Graham Gauld, “because, with all its twists and turns, the ‘Ring can be tricky for anyone trying to overtake, particularly in a Grand Prix car.  So when the flag dropped I departed as quickly as possible…”

It wasn’t to last.  As Jim selected third gear – and this can just be seen on the video – his engine hesitates again, just as it had on his pole lap.  “Surely I haven’t oiled a plug on the line?” he thought, fearing the worst.  Jim had specifically started the engine only a few minutes before the off to prevent just such a problem.  Now, as he focused on the first left- and right-handers and then on the run down back behind the pits, he could see the pack surging nearer in his mirrors. All around the lap he lived with the problem.  Ritchie Ginther went past in the BRM – then Surtees.  The engine would feel as if it was on seven cylinders – and then suddenly it would go onto eight, mid-corner.

In time, of course, Jim began to maximise what he had – “but my progress was erratic, to say the least,” he would say later.  “I developed a whole new system for going around the Nurburgring on seven cylinders.  This was completely spoiled on occasion because I would arrive at a corner I knew was flat-out on seven cylinders and set the car up.  Then the eighth cylinder would come in with a bang and there would follow an exciting second or two as I sorted the car out.  What a difference that one cylinder makes when you have committed yourself to a line with what you thought was a seven-cylinder motor car!”

For the most part of the race Jim was able to keep the Ferrari of John Surtees in sight; indeed, as can be seen in the videos, he was on some parts of the circuit able to re-take the lead – for John, too, was fighting a mis-fire of his own. Usually the Ferrari ran on six clear cylinders;  occasionally it ran on five.  Surtees was up there with Clark, allowing for the intrusions, fighting with the car.20799

And, towards the end, he was able to pull away, for Jim began to feel his gearbox tighten.  On this occasion Jim would settle for second place – the first and only second place he would ever record in a World Championship Grand Prix.  It wasn’t a question of “driving for points” because of “the championship”. It was simply a question of “bringing the car to the finish”.  He did so – 1min 20sec behind John.  Afterwards, the engine problem was traced to yet another dud spark plug.

It was in many ways a momentous race, marked for eternity by highs and lows. John Surtees, the former mult-World Motor Cycle Champion, had now won his first Grand Prix; for their part, Ferrari had scored their first victory since that dark day at Monza, in 1961. Ferrari’s other driver, Willy Mairesse, had meanwhile been seriously injured when he lost his car at Flugplatz; 20687Bruce McLaren had crashed heavily when his Cooper broke a rear wishbone (as distinct from the front suspension that had cracked in practice!);  Bruce had been thrown out and knocked unconscious but further, serious, head injuries had been prevented by his new Bell Magnum.  Chris Amon had broken a couple of ribs when the suspension also failed on his Parnell Lola.  Lorenzo was out early after a shunt with Innes Ireland’s BRP but had still done enough to earn himself a works Ferrari drive at Monza (in place of Mairesse).  Amon, Jo Siffert and Jo Bonnier could all have finished fourth but for mechanical dramas. (Dan Gurney, who also retired his Brabham, can be seen briefly in the German TV feed, standing by the Rob Walker Cooper after it retired with a “broken chassis”); at the end, fourth position had been taken by a German (Gerhard Mitter) and his old Porsche (shown on the video near the podium); Jim Hall had again driven extremely well to finish fifth; and third, after leading and spending most of the race holding his BRM in gear, was another American, Ritchie Ginther.  Over 350,000 paying spectators attended this German GP – even though a Gerhard Mitter-type result was about their greatest expectation;  for these were the days when people watched because it was their national Grand Prix and because these were the best drivers in the world, regardless of nationality.20684S2630002

20666All the drivers – or those who weren’t in hospital – attended the Sunday night celebrations at the Sport Hotel. Jim visited Bruce in Adenau, where he was relieved to find him in reasonably good spirits, and left the victory proceedings early, for he was racing at Brands Hatch the following day in Alan Brown’s Ford Galaxie. Bruce regained consciousness in his hospital bed, completely unaware of how he had got there.  “I was a bit shocked at first,” he said later, “because all around me in the same ward there seemed to be people with bashed heads and banged-up legs.  I had this awful suspicion that I had caused all the carnage…”  He hadn’t – but he had been very lucky. While Bruce’s wife, Pat, drove back to the UK with the Australian driver, Frank Matich (who was staying with the McLarens in Surbiton whilst building up his new Brabham for the 1964 Tasman series) Bruce, resting comfortably in the rear seat of the Rapier, his leg in a precautionary plaster, was chauffeured back to the coast by Eoin Young. It was then but a short hop across the channel in a BUA (British United Airways) Bristol Freighter, with Bruce staying on board the Rapier while Eoin re-fuelled in the cabin. Eoin then drove Bruce all the way to Kingston hospital, where his plaster was quickly removed.  “After that crash at the Nurburgring I thought hard about my future,” Bruce would later say.  “I had once promised myself to give up racing after my first big shunt.  I realize now that that would have been the worst possible thing I could have done.  If you are ever going to look yourself in the eye again, it’s essential to go straight out again and have a go…”

Even though Bruce would lose his life in another accident, at Goodwood, in 1970, I think these words would have been fully-endorsed by his friend, Jim Clark.

Captions, from top: John Surtees in the “V5” Ferrari leads Jim’s “V7” Lotus 25 around the Nurburgring; Sunbeam Rapiers were all the rage in ’63!; the Lochmuhle Hotel – still there today and still trout-worthy; despite yet another engine mis-fire, Jim Clark took the pole with a brilliant lap in the Lotus 25; in the days when former champions were regularly welcomed at races, former Mercedes F1 team-mates, Stirling Moss and Juan Fangio, had fun in a 230SL convertible.  That’s  Jim Hall’s fifth-placed BRP Lotus 24 on the right of the paddock quadrangle;  Surtees glides the Ferrari around the Karussel; Willy Mairesse is stretchered to an ambulance after his Flugplatz shunt.  This sort of scene was all-too-regular at the Nurburgring;  Bruce McLaren was running his Cooper right up with the leaders before his big accident.  And then there was that awful moment:  Bruce’s team-mate, Tony Maggs, draws on a cigarette while journalists and team people hover nervously around the Cooper transporter, awaiting post-race news on Bruce’s condition.  Note the Team Lotus truck on the right. Images: Grand Prix Photo; LAT Photographic; Peter Windsor Collection

Clark brilliant at Aintree

18303.tifJim Clark’s 1963 racing schedule now begins to gather real pace.  The back-to-back early-season European non-championship F1 races behind him, Jim returns to the farm for a couple of days before driving the 225 miles down to Liverpool for his third non-title F1 race of the season, the Aintree 200. (Jim will drive approximately 40,000 road miles in 1963.)  At Edington Mains there is always farm work with which to keep abreast but in addition there is plenty of racing-related admin, the relevant papers of which he files in his red leather desk folder.  A good example of Jim’s meticulous attention to detail can be seen in his correspondence with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although the Team Lotus entries and surrounding paperwork are handled by Andrew Ferguson and – for Indy, 1963, also by David Phipps, the tall photo-journalist who had become a close friend of Colin Chapman – Jim receives a personal letter from the Speedway’s Henry Banks, inviting him to take part in an upcoming race at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Bearing in mind that the FIA inter-change between drivers licenced to different sanctioning bodies was a brand new thing in America, Henry’s letter to Jim, detailing an “all-comers’” race on April 28, in retrospect seems logical.  The exact description of the event – “a 300-mile race for American-manufactured cars in the improved touring category (or what would later be known as NASCAR’s Yankee 300!)” – obviously catches Jim’s attention because his written reply is as follows: “Unfortunately, like Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham, I am flying back and forth between Europe and America at the moment and on that particular date we are scheduled to race at Aintree here in Britain…”

As he sits at his desk, Jim also takes stock of his upcoming schedule.  Hectic travel is of course not new to him:  early in 1961 he competed in three New Zealand internationals before embarking on his European season – and he had finished that year, and begun 1962, with four South African races, an outing at Daytona in a Lotus Elite and then a one-off race in a Lotus 21 in Sandown Park, Australia.  What now lay ahead, however, takes him into new territory.  Following Saturday’s Aintree 200, Jim and Colin will fly immediately back to Indy via Chicago (Jim’s third trip to the States since January).  There they will continue to run the Lotus 29s at the Speedway before returning on May 7, with Dan Gurney now joining the group, to race at Silverstone in the Daily Express Trophy meeting.   Then it will be back to Indy again, this time for qualifying, before flying back for the Monaco and European GP on May 26.  (Assuming Jim qualifies on the first weekend, that is:  if rain intervenes, or they run into problems, Jim would then have to miss Monaco in order to qualify at Indy on the second weekend.)  Following Monaco, he, Dan and Colin will then fly back to Indy for the race the following Thursday (Memorial Day).  Jim will then drive to Mosport to race in the Players 200 two days later, catch a Toronto flight to London that night and race at Crystal Palace, in the Normand Lotus 23B, on June 3 (Whitmonday).  Nor will there be a break after that, for the Belgian GP at Spa is scheduled for the weekend of June 7-8-9.

Jim takes all of this merely as part of his job.  Comets and Boeing 707s make flying more fun than it had been in the turbo-prop days – and economy seats are relatively wide and relatively long.  You can actually sleep on a trans-Atlantic flight – and the immediate necessity to have to drive a racing car does away with jet lag.  Beyond that, Jim’s parents had never wanted him to race.  Now, with this sort of schedule, and with reasonable chances ahead of him for some good results, he can at least justify racing as a profession from which he can earn a living.

Aintree is bathed in sunshine on Friday, April 26 – and Jim, running the Lucas fuel-injected Lotus 25, feels as good in the car as he had at Pau and Imola.  Compared with the carburettored 25 of 1962, the fuel-injected 25 provides a more useable power band, particularly at low revs. The new short-stroke Climax engine can also be revved higher, additionally enhancing torque and power. The biggest talking-point in the Team Lotus truck is actually of the ZF gearbox and the ongoing problem of the thing jumping out of gear (a subject Colin Chapman prefers his drivers not to mention to the press!).  The root cause of the issue is that the ZF was basically a four-speed gearbox adapted to take an extra cog. The welds, reduced to a minimum, habitually came away from the spline.Trevor Taylor’s car occasionally runs a strong, heavier Colotti five-speed gearbox but Chapman does not want to compromise weight on the number one Clark car. He continues to work away with pencil drawings whenever he has a spare moment but an ultimate fix will not achieved until new ZF gearboxes, with the selector mechanism on the side of the gearbox, are fitted for 1964.  For now, Jim spends so much time wondering if the 25 is going to jump out of top that he begins to develop a one-handed driving style, steering with the left hand and holding the car in gear with his right. Jim also has reservations about the new Dunlop R6s. He hadn’t liked them at Snetterton, where the 25 had felt more skittish than at any time in its life – and he had used last year’s R5s (based on the older D9 and D12 tyres) at Pau and Imola.  He would do so again at Aintree but Dunlop are keen to try a new version of the R6 at Silverstone in two weeks’ time.   (Talking about Snetterton, Jim is a little surprised to see Denis “Jenks” Jenkinson write in the latest edition of Motor Sport that Graham Hill had won in the wet there because “Jim Clark was out of practice, Hill having raced in Australia and New Zealand over the winter.”  So Jim’s endless testing of the Lotus 29 hadn’t counted?

Jim is easily fastest on Aintree Friday, loving the circuit on which he had won the British GP in 1962 – and the 1962 Aintree 200 (in the Lotus 24:  he had also been quick in the wet at Aintree in 1961, before the Lotus 21 blew an oil pipe.). Strangely, though, he looks unfamiliar in the Lotus 25 on Friday, wearing, as he is, the older, 1961-spec, smaller-eyepiece, goggles he’d last worn at Zandvoort in 1962.  For race day, Jim switches to his customary wide-lens Panoramas (with black tape across the top-third of the lens).  Still he wears his trusty, stone-nicked dark blue, peakless Everoak.1963 BARC 200.

Despite the unchanged R5s, Jim’s pole time had been 1.2 sec faster than his fastest practice lap at the British GP the previous July. Jack Brabham is second, 0.8 sec slower in his 1962 BT3, but non-starts when his Climax engine throws a piston late on Friday. (This failure has the knock-on effect of delaying the completion of Dan Gurney’s new Brabham for the Daily Express Trophy, ensuring that Dan will remain a frustrated spectator after the long flight over from Indy. It is probably because of some of these dramas, and because Dan had initiated the Lotus Indy programme in the first place, that Colin Chapman will have no compunction about lending Jack Brabham a Lotus 25 for the Monaco GP a few weeks later.)

Graham Hill, who at Aintree is still in his 1962-spec BRM, is 0.8 sec quicker than he’d been the previous July – but slower than Innes Ireland, who is very fast in the Goodwood-winning BRP Lotus 24-BRM. Ireland qualifies third, Hill fourth and Ritchie Ginther fifth, equaling his team-leader’s time in the second BRM. Trevor, again in gearbox trouble, will start from the inside of the third row in the carburettored Lotus 25.

What should have been a Clark walkover under leaden skies on Saturday turns out to be one of the best races of the 1963 season. The record crowd at the famous Grand National venue can hardly believe it when Jim Clark’s hand goes up at the start and the field swarms around him.  With the 25’s battery completely flat, Jim is totally helpless. Ted Woodley and the boys push the car over to the pits, fit a new battery – and the car starts perfectly.  Jim leaves the pits even as the field is well into its second lap.

Clark drives brilliantly in these early stages but clearly the car still isn’t right.  A fuel-injection-related mis-fire comes and goes.  Trevor, meanwhile, is running fifth and looking good.18316.tif

On lap 16 Colin Chapman thus makes the sort of decision that even the most hardened of Team Principals always dread:  he pulls in both of his drivers and instructs them to swap cars. (I spoke only a couple of days ago to Anita Taylor, Trevor’s sister, about this. “Trevor was only too ready to oblige,” she said. “Of course he wanted to win. He was also a friend of Jimmy’s, a colleague, a huge admirer. If Chapman thought it was best for the team, Trevor went along with it. He was that sort of man.”)

It is a beautifully-orchestrated manoeuvre.  Jim comes in first and is ready, waiting, as Trevor screams to a halt. Out jumps Trevor and quickly Ted Woodley swaps seats. In slides Jim. He has the rear Dunlops alight before Ted is even clear of the car.

So Jim Clark is now in Lotus 25 Number 4 and Trevor in Lotus 25 Number 3. Out in front, Ritchie Ginther gives best to Graham after taking an early lead; Innes is third, followed by Bruce McLaren in the new 1963 Cooper 66-Climax.

Jim Clark then produces a supreme display of class driving, perfectly-balancing the carburettored 25 through Aintree’s medium-speed corners, blipping the throttle on the slow ones to keep the revs in the useable band. He works his way back to an eventual third place.  His lap times are consistent to within tenths; his fastest lap – a staggering 1min 51.8sec – is 0.6 quicker than his pole time and a full 1.8sec quicker than his pole lap at the British GP in ’62.  This in a car with the 1962-spec, 175bhp engine.

Afterwards, Jim says simply this:  “I really enjoyed this race – even though I didn’t win it;  I enjoyed it more than a number of the Grand Prix events I was to drive during the season.”

Graham Hill wins Aintree (from Innes Ireland, Jim/Trevor, Ritchie, Bruce, Chris Amon in the Reg Parnell Lola and Trevor/Jim) – wins his second F1 race since clinching the championship only four months before; and Graham wins the Saloon Car race, too, again heading the Jaguar 3.8 battle featuring Roy Salvadori and Mike Salmon.  Jack Sears wins his class in a Ford Cortina GT;  Sir John Whitmore wins the Mini division;  Roy Salvadori leads home Innes Ireland in the big sports car event (Cooper Monaco, Lotus 19); our friend Mike Beckwith wins his class with the 1600 Normand Lotus 23B;  Pete Arundell and Paul Hawkins head the 1100 Lotus 23 class; and Denny Hulme, a new rising star from New Zealand, brilliantly wins a wet Formula Junior race in the new Brabham (from Frank Gardner, Pete Arundell and Mike Spence).

With no vested interest other than as a guy who loves motor racing, Bruce McLaren has this to say about Denny’s win:  “For a driver who professes not to be particularly good in the wet, I thought fellow-New Zealander, Denny Hulme’s win in the works Brabham FJ was very good.  For a couple of years he ran his own FJ Cooper as a privateer with very little outside assistance, and he did much better than anyone expected.  18297.tifHe is now being trained in the Brabham tradition by building, working on, and developing his own car.  He works in the Brabham racing shop under Jack’s watchful eye and his fine drive in the rain at Aintree was the result – his first really big win for some time, and a most convincing one at that.”   No surprise, really, that Bruce would sign Denny to his McLaren F1 team some five years later.

And, about Jim Clark’s performance at Aintree, Bruce is unequivocal: “It is interesting to note the way that Jim Clark is taking over the Moss role in motor racing.  After practice at Aintree on the Friday, a certain well-known driver said to me, ‘I’m very pleased with my car – very pleased indeed.  I’m only half a second slower than Clark’.  There was a time when the proud phrase ‘only just slower than…’ just had to refer to Stirling Moss.”

Note:  driver-swapping would continue through to 1964, when Jim took over Mike Spence’s Lotus 33 at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

Images:  LAT Photographic

Captions Top: Jim Clark dances with the throttle in Trevor Taylor’s carburettored 25. Middle: Jim in the early phase of the race in his own, fuel-injected 25. Bottom:  Denny Hulme made his name by winning the wet Aintree FJ race 1963aintree200   

Sunday, February 10, 1963

The Australian Grand Prix at Warwick Farm, nr Sydney, Australia…

We drove to The Farm in our Morris Cowley, me in shorts, long socks and short-sleeved shirt, my Dad in his point-to-point attire, complete with cloth cap and shooting stick.  White-coated marshals directed us to our car park, nodding approvingly at our “Reserved” label and at the little cardboard grandstand tickets that hung from strings tied through our buttonholes.

I jumped from the car, taking in the smell of crushed grass, barbeque and beer.  I sprinted over to a programme seller.

“One please.  How much?”

“Two and six.”

“Dad?  Do you have two and six?”

The programme was printed on glossy, white paper.  I was there.  It was happening.  It was the Australian Grand Prix.  Warwick Farm.  Sunday, February 10, 1963.

I scanned the entries:

Car No 1: RRC Walker Racing (Dvr Graham Hill) – Ferguson

Car No 2: Bowmaker Racing Team (Dvr John Surtees) – Lola

Car No 3: Bowmaker Racing Team (Dvr Tony Maggs) – Lola

Car No 4: Ecurie Vitesse (Dvr Jack Brabham) – Brabham

Car No 5: Scuderia Veloce (Dvr David McKay) – Brabham

Car No 6: BS Stillwell (Dvr Bib Stillwell) – Brabham

Car No 8: Ecurie Australie (Dvr Lex Davison) – Cooper

Car No 10: Bruce McLaren (Dvr Bruce McLaren) – Cooper

Car No 11: Alec Mildren Pty Ltd (Dvr Frank Gardner) – Cooper

Car No 12: Bowmaker Racing Team (Dvr Jim Palmer) – Cooper

Car No 14: Scuderia Veloce (Dvr Chris Amon) – Cooper

Car No 15: J Youl (Dvr John Youl) – Cooper

Car No 16: Independent Motors (Dvr Tony Shelly) – Lotus

Car No 17: Total Racing Team (Frank Matich) – Elfin

…and so on.  I knew nothing about practice days back then, nothing about how the grid had been defined.  From our seats, though, high up in the grandstands, a good 500 yards from the circuit, Dad’s old binoculars (actually my grandfather’s and therefore the pair that had seen service in Burma) allowed me to watch the new World Champion, Graham Hill, climb from his dark blue Ferguson even as the starting grid began to take shape.  I was shocked by the dark patch of sweat that ran from top to bottom of his light-blue one-piece overalls.  I was in the shade, munching my Mum’s sandwiches, dipping into our Esky for a quick gulp of iced water;  the drivers were out there, under a torrid Sydney Sun, sweating and drinking water even as they sheltered beneath Les Leston umbrellas.

And there – on the left! – there is John Surtees, the driver on pole position.  He seems to be putting ice or something inside his helmet.  And next to him is Bruce McLaren!  They appear to be laughing about something.  They’re chatting and joking and pointing to something down at the other end of the grid.   In car number 5, David McKay, our local hero, sits quietly in his Brabham.  Amazingly, he is starting third, alongside Surtees and McLaren.  And what’s that little red car – number 17?  Ah yes.  That’s another local.  Frank Matich.

“It says here in the paper,” interjects my Dad, “that Matich was fast enough in practice to start fourth but will be moved further down the grid because he’s only driving a 1.5 litre car.   Sounds as though he did a jolly good job.”

F. Matich.  Total Team.  I would remember the names.

It was a long race – 100 miles of non-stop heat, noise and action.  The “something at the back of the grid” turned out to be Jack Brabham, starting his new turquoise-coloured car in amongst the also-rans after numerous problems in practice.  It was Jack, though, who drove emphatically through the field, winning the AGP for the Dowidat Spanner Trophy.  Surtees finished second after a late-race spin, ahead of Bruce, the excellent David McKay, the polished Bib Stillwell and the press-on Graham Hill in the Ferguson.  I couldn’t undertstand, back then, why Graham’s car looked so different from the low-line Lolas, Coopers and Brabhams.  I didn’t appreciate four-wheel-drive back then, even if front-engined cars seemed to fill most of the motor racing books I’d been lucky enough to read.

Afterwards, when the packed race-day schedule was over and the shadows were longer, we walked across the track to the paddock area.  My exhilaration left me breathless.  “There’s David McKay!”  “And look Dad!  Over there!  There’s Bruce McLaren!”

“Be quick now, Pete.  We must get home.  Mum’ll be waiting for us.”

“Can’t I get an autograph?  Do you think they’ll mind?”

“Of course, but remember to be polite.  Don’t interrupt and remember to call him ‘Mr McLaren’.”S2270028

I was but a nine-year-old.  The Beatles had yet to enter my field of perception, as had Jim Clark.  I knew nothing of the F1 World Championship that would follow this short series of Australasian races;  I read only the monthly Australian motoring magazines, for at Swains or at Angus and Robertson’s there was little else to study.

I had discovered, though, a world that stretched my imagination to new heights, to new limits.  That world seemed untouchable – but somehow I had to follow it.  From Sunday, February 10, 1963 onwards, school-bound though I was, I could think of little else.09-13-2010_22


Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: