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Archive for the tag “Warwick Farm”

Santa Catalina is awaitin’ for me…

11-30-2013_112Australia Two 060I’ve talked quite a lot on the show, and on these pages, about the excellence that was Warwick Farm – about Jim Clark learning to fly over at Bankstown aerodrome, just up the road, and about how he and Graham Hill used to land their Cessnas on the Farm’s polo field before jumping into their Tasman Lotus.  The Farm was the epitome of those two simple words –  “motor racing”.  It was a case study in slick organization (courtesy of Geoffrey Sykes);  it was a circuit that combined fast corners with slow, rhythmic esses with a double-apexed, negative-cambered left-hander; and it was all about green grass, fluttering flags, a hot Australian sun and the smell of high-octane fuel.  Give me the Farm and you’ll give me my lifeblood. Read more…

Australian interlude

As some of you will know, I  was raised in Sydney, Australia, where, looking back now, the sun usually shone, the air was scented by eucalyptus and Warwick Farm was the heart and the soul of motor racing in all its forms.  I grew up in the knowledge that, every summer, I would see a bunch of F1 drivers competing in the International 100 and that, in between times, I would see five national race meetings of extraordinary quality.  Drivers like Frank Matich, Leo and Ian Geoghegan, Greg Cusack, Kevin Bartlett, Niel Allen, Bib Stillwell, Johnny Harvey, Spencer Martin, Max Stewart, Brian Foley, Peter Manton, Norm Beechey, Allan Moffatt and Bob Jane were my “national” heroes;  Sports Car World, Modern Motor and Racing Car News were my regular fare.

Then there were the F1 drivers in their Tasman-engined F1 cars. 

I still find it hard to capture accurately what motor racing was like back then.  Was it the way the Warwick Farm paddock was laid out, by the lake, with the marshalling area opposite the huge grandstands?  Was it the colour- and word-perfect attention to detail of the Australian Automobile Racing Club (AARC)?  Was it the relatively safe circuit layout, designed by the immaculate Geoff Sykes?  I know not the answers, even now.  All I know is that it was motor racing.  Nothing, since, has compared. Not even Monaco on a good day.  Not even a packed Brands Hatch.  When I was at The Farm, first as a young kid, smuggled into the paddock area in the boot of a car owned by a marshal who worked with my Dad, then as a marshal myself and finally as Press Officer, I was at one with the world.  Flags would flutter in the breeze.  Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, sun-tanned and shirtless, would laugh their famous laughs.  Then the sun would set, the beer cans would pour and, over the PA, they would play The Long and Winding Road.

I have lots of photos from that era.  Some I took with a black-and-white Kodak Box Brownie.  Then, in 1967, I bought a half-frame Fujica. The quality from both was not great, but for me that didn’t matter.  I had captured the moment, cut a slice from time. That was all I needed.  I had been there, seen it happen.07-16-2013_0

Kevin Bartlett, in blue Nomex, sits on the front wheel of Alex Mildren’s 2.5 litre Tasman Brabham-Climax.

The Mildren team was a mid-1960s staple at The Farm.  The cars were always painted yellow; Glenn Abbey, the team’s Chief Mechanic, was a master.  Kevin’s car control was superb.  To this day I’d put him up there with Le Mans winners and GP2 front-runners. He could balance an Alfa GTA on the outer extremities of opposite lock through Paddock Bend and then in the next race glide the Tasman Brabham through Homestead with fingertip precision.  That’s actually the Mildren Alfa GTZ behind the Brabham;  and there, in the background, smiling, is Fred Gibson, whose yellow lightweight Elan (shown here, not Mildren yellow) was both gorgeous and very fast.07-16-2013_11 I don’t recall its inside front wheel touching the road very often.  I know you think the cars in the background have not been parked with FOM-like precision but that’s what I liked about The Farm: it was neat but natural and retained lots of grass.  Note the Mini Cooper S and the two Holdens. You were in one of two sectors back then:  the Mini brigade or The Rest.

And here’s a shot of said Alfa GTZ lined up and ready to go.  The genius that is Frank Matich is on the pole in one of his first races with the big Elfin sports car he developed in 1966;  Alan Hamilton, who always seemed to have access to exotica, is in the middle of the front row in his Porsche Spyder; and KB is there in the Alfa.07-16-2013_4 Two lovely, white Lotus 23Bs fill the second row (I think driven by Frank Demuth and Niel Allen) and on the outside of the third row you can see David McKay’s famous Ferrari 250LM, driven by Spencer Martin. From memory, Hamilton jumped this start by a mile and was leading by about 100 yards when the flag dropped!  This is a typical Warwick Farm scene:  packed grandstands, perfect weather, stunning collection of cars and drivers.

My last picture today is one I’ve always treasured.  I watched the 1965 International 100 from the spectator bank at Creek Corner.  Jim Clark won the race in his green and yellow Lotus 32B-Climax, with Frank Matich a brilliant third in the Total Team Brabham.   All was right with the world.  Then came The Moment:  as one, the crowd jumped the wooden fences and swarmed onto the track, there to greet the winner on his parade lap.  I remember standing there, hot and sweaty, so nervous that I could barely breathe.  I was going to see Jim Clark!  He was going to be driven right past me, mere feet away!

The white Sprite shimmered into view.  I could pick out the light blue overalls of the winner, black hair glistening in the afternoon sun.  Who was that next to him, though, in  the red-and-white checked shirt?  I was mystified.  I didn’t know whether to line up the camera or to keep peering at the slowly-approaching car, trying to identify The Other Guy.  Then suddenly it hit me:  Mike Spence!  Mike Spence!  Jim Clark’s F1 team-mate.  He hadn’t raced at The Farm that day. I didn’t even know he was in Australia.  In a panic, I raised my camera and fired.  The result wasn’t very pretty.

It was, though, The Moment.07-16-2013_40

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

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

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