Sandown Park, Melbourne; 4th – 6th November 2016
Some, including Pat Barford and Ian Phillips did it the hard way and undertook the 3000 km crossing of the Nullarbor Plain by road. The Drakes drove up to North WA, while Bob Birrell and Jim, the Juggins’ and Bassons headed South to Margaret River. Come Wednesday 2nd November, and Mair and Duncan left tropical Port Douglas for the cooler climes of Melbourne, greeted by Bill Hemming, and headed straight for Bill and Debs’ delightful Victorian house, at Bright Beach. We had a 10-minute turnaround before driving on to Jeff Brown’s house in Toorak; Jeff being the master designer of the online entry system FJHRA and CAMS use. He and Annie have an eclectic house of art, models, cars and other memorabilia. We were also joined by Travis Engen.
Thursday and it was off to Elfin Heritage, run by Bill Hemming, in a Fiat 500, to collect the Heritage transporter with Elfin FJ and FVee, then to Brian Sala’s to collect the Elfin MR8 F5000, and a long chat with Gavin Sala recounting the convoluted histories of FJ Lotus 18’s 760 and 795 in Australia. Also a chance to view Phil Seggatt’s BT6 FJ period ‘copy’, dissembled in the Sala workshops, and thence to Sandown Park: The facility is somewhat a mixture of our Sandown Park horse race track in GB and Aintree. The motor course runs around the horse track, but with no Melling crossing as in Aintree. Much the same as in the Tasman days of the ‘60’s but with additional and sharper ‘chicanes’ instead of a lengthened main straight or hairpin after Turn 1. Sadly, the track is sold for housing and there are only three years left on the leaseback before the bulldozers move in.
Thursday was just unloading (and no testing) and was again under the masterful control of Dave Innes. Additions to the field since Barbagallo were David Reid in his Cooper T59, with some assistance from Graeme Noonan, fellow Cooper 500 owner, (which Duncan drove at Philip Island in 2008), Don and Jeanette Thallon in the MRC 22, and HK resident Grant Craft in the newly restored ex Denis Lupton/Jim Russell, then Ian and Nick MacDonald, and finally Graham Brown Brabham BT2, FJ-3-62. Also the UK container cars were now fully piloted with John and Kitty Chisholm arriving from the UK for the Gemini MK II (and camera, respectively); Erik Justesen and friend Ole from Denmark for the U2 Mk2, later joined by his brother and girlfriend Anita, also taking pictures; and from Mexico, Greg Thornton (with wife Anthea, and mother) where Greg had been on the HF1 podium – for his bright red Lotus 20/22.
No shows were Mike Rowe with Koala (still gearbox-less in the WARM container) Brian Searle (present himself with wife Anne) and the Panther FJ; and Tony Simmons’ Brabham BT15, which should be ready for Eastern Creek.
Thursday evening, and all the FJ contingent gathered for a most enjoyable open evening and BBQ at Elfin Heritage, Bill Hemming also giving an interesting talk on Gary Cooper and the history of Elfin, at one point in time, the second biggest racing car manufacturer in the World. Not only a variety of Elfin’s over its long history, but Bill also has a fascinating memorabilia collection as well.
Friday was free practice, with an early start and three sessions for the Juniors – Strangely, as it was part of the meeting, there were no times published. Duncan had engaged the services of Bob Juggins (Absolute Race Engineering) for the weekend, and Bob had reengineered the drive shaft, replaced at Barbagallo, and left Duncan to filling his notebook over the weekend. First session was track learning – sadly, John Chisholm, straight off the plane, completed but one and a half laps before the drop box broke terminally. The only spare that he did not have with him! Duncan clocked a 1m 51.44s – Pat Barford was out in the Lola Mk2, this time, with Ian Philipps on mechanic’s duty, when not searching out for an Elfin Catalina on drums to take home to the UK!
Second session, and Bob Birrell was increasingly uncomfortable in the little Wren, and clutch problems soon intervened, before a whole team of worker ants, Dave Innes prominent as usual, descended on the car, but parts were needed and it would not be until after qualifying that the car would be back together again. Duncan reduced his time to 1m 48.08.
Duncan skipped the third session, and headed for the Trams. It had kindly been arranged for a choice of the 5.30 or 7.30pm session on an Historic Tram Restaurant touring the tramways of Melbourne. It was terrific fun, with formal dinner, wines and liqueurs all included, waiters in full ‘penguin’ dress, one giving us an extempore baritone performance, and views of historic Melbourne. Shearns, Hemmings, Watkins’, Rabagliatis, Doug Elcomb and John Rowe were amongst those on the first session. Drakes, Strauss’, Thorntons (including Mum!), and Normans amongst those on the later one, which included a stop for ‘wandering’ and did not ‘dock’ until around 11.30pm.
Saturday morning was an early briefing in the Main Grandstand, and then qualifying. 26 cars took to the track, only Birrell and Chisholm missing. Greg would have the advantage of track practice, with both a F5000 Chevron and a Titan Mk10 in other races, but even so, was a significant 1.5s faster than Chris Drake in the drum braked Elva 300, although Chris managed to spin at T4 in front of Duncan, both coming to a complete halt. David Reid (T59) found old/cold tyres a bit uncomfortable and spun out of T2 on both outlap, and the next. Greg’s 1m 23.83s was going to be hard to beat, with Marty Bullock (27) only a fraction behind Drake. Kim Shearn (20/22) had electrical problems, poor Doug Elcomb broke his clutch, which involved disassembling the whole of the rear end of the Dreossi, but local engineering facilities were to get them back on the grid for R2. Erik Justesen, too, was in trouble, suspecting a head gasket, but decided to ‘run and see’. Dave Innes had a cracked weld on one driveshaft in the 27, which was welded up by some guys at the track, while fourth place man Grant Craft, first time out in the rebuilt BT2, only managed 4 laps before missing a gear and pitting to inspect a suspected buzzed engine. Duncan improved to 1m 45.46s.
Race 1 was not until mid-afternoon. Startline dramas saw Erik Justesen break his diff on the line, and David Reid engaging 1st and 2nd gear together, breaking the fork, and John Rowe (18) right behind only being able to stop with less than 1cm to spare – and with no reverse, unable to extract himself! First came the SC yellow, and with the grid blocked, the red flag – the unfortunate Don Thallon (MRC) was caught out by the yellow, overtaking in error, with a 30s grid penalty in R2 to come. The restart was less dramatic, Bob Birrell still having clutch problems and eventually getting away from the pit lane.
Marty had made a terrific start from the first grid, but this time it was Chris Drake ahead from Marty and Thornton, followed by Noel Bryen (Rennmax) and Dave Innes, and Bill Norman (Lynx). Greg was on a charge and had taken Marty on lap 2, and Chris drake had to give way on lap 3. Grant Craft (BT2) had also made a great start up to 4th, then battled with Noel Bryen, changing places, but a spin sent him back to 14th, recovering only to take Bruce Edgar (Elfin) by the end of the shortened race. Bruce Edgar having fallen back from a great battle with Phil Foulkes (20/22) and David Watkins (Elfin), was joined on the line by Kim Shearn, working through the field from his back of the grid slot. So Greg ran out the winner, from Marty, Drake and Noel Bryen.
Last lap dramas for J.R Mitchell (18) who lost three places on the run in to the finish when the gear linkage broke. Max Pegram (Gemini II) was clear front engined winner, while Duncan, again reducing his lap times, this time to 1m 43.87s and keeping the Stanguellini in sight!
First prizegiving was a slightly disorganised affair – firstly the Trophies were still in the office!! – but Margaret Ealand made the best of it, especially at the sight of the flag above with Roger’s picture on it. Indeed, Bill Hemming’s tribute to Roger appeared in full in the race programme. John Ampt, star Ausper and Alexis FJ driver in Europe and Australia in period, and a double winner in FJ at Winston and again at Sandown Park itself, in 1962/3, also graced the podium. At least congratulations and interviews were given by Margaret, John, and the top three, Greg, Marty and Chris.
Saturday night was another super evening for all the FJ contingent, this time a formal dinner with waitress service, at Peter Strauss’ lovely house, in the underground garage, with Ferrari’s, ISO and Bentley as backdrop, the Jaguar E Types being relegated upstairs for the evening. Peter and Jane were also kindly hosting the Drakes, Bob Birrell and Jim Clark as house guests. FJ facebook and/or website pictures set the scene, – And Duncan, it was quail not whale!!
Sunday morning, and another early race, R2. Late work by Bob Juggins and others had replaced Erik’s diff, Doug Elcomb was all repaired, so only David Reid and John Chisholm were permanently absent, although Jeff Brown did not arrive for this race in his BT28. Marty again made a flying start and led by 0.4s on lap 1, but Greg was past again while Chris Drake slipped up on lap 3, and the race ran out with no change in position, although Bill Norman was showing his true form in the Lynx and was sniffing at Drake’s tail with Dave Innes (27) behind him. Noel Bryen and Grant Craft (BT2) had a battle royal throughout the race, Noel just falling back: Noel having to start each race with a push start after the starter motor destroyed itself in early practice. Erik (U2) worked through from the back to take the front engined lead on lap 4 from Max Pegram, while Duncan again kept the Stanguellini in sight, though at 1m 43.98 just failing to improve his times, while Pat Barford got going when past Norm Falkiner with Doug Elcomb bedding in the Dreossi again post repairs, behind him. Only retirement was John Rapley with sheared doughnut, but fortunately the stays prevented further damage, and all was repaired for R3.
Lunch times had given a chance for some meet and greet. Prominent assistance from VHRR came particularly from CAMs’ Bob Harborough and Clerk of the Course Noel Robson; while Australian legend Kevin Bartlett, acted as DSO at this meeting. A long chat with Bill Buckle who produced the Buckle and later Dart Sports cars, the Buckles on Goggmobile chassis. Max Pearson was driving his Elfin F5000 5712, Elfin FJ visitor to Europe Richard Nitchke, here with his Elfin 800 sports car, both he and Mark Goldsmith (also present) returning again to the UK in 2017 to race their Elfin’s, Mark’s being a F2 of course. Denis Lupton, multi Brabham single seater owner; and Jim Hardman, assisting Norm Falkiner, about his F3 1 litre time in the UK, and prior to that racing Imps for Paul Emery, even winning at Lydden Hill in its early days.
Race 3, all remaining runners present, with Jeff Brown back. Yet again, Marty led but Greg was ahead on lap 2. However, this time it was far from over, and Greg had to buzz the engine @ 11000 revs!!! (engine change, Tom!!) to keep ahead on the line by 0.4s – another terrific race, with Chris Drake, remarkable again, with his drum braked 300, and Dave Innes 4th. Another great dice between Grant Craft and Noel Bryen, swapping places, but with Grant just getting the edge on the last lap. Peter Strauss (BT6) managed the advantage on Bruce Edgar (Elfin) on lap 4, while another good scrap saw Bill Norman, working his way through from a stalled grid start, just pipping Don Thallon (MRC) by half a second on the last lap, after David Watkins spun off after lapping Duncan, and had problems restarting. Kim Shearn had trouble again, retiring with thrust bearing problems, and Robert Buckley lost out on a drum braked trophy with points problems, as the only other retirement. Bob Birrell again started from the pit lane with clutchless Wren, while Duncan improved marginally to 1m 43.39, but Norm was well ahead this time.
Final prizegiving on the podium for the first three, and a jolly Class Award ceremony in the garages followed, with Margaret Ealand kindly officiating at both, with Duncan coordinating the latter. Another great weekend.
Thereafter, all the containers to Sydney were packed, the two UK containers and the WARM one, also including the NZealanders. Sadly, Bob Birrell felt that the Wren was too cramped, and potentially dangerous, and he and Jim Clark are now heading home; Pat and Ian are as well, but Pat and Susan will be back for Eastern Creek. Chris Drake and Angie are on their way back to the UK too, only possibly returning for Sydney. Bob and Jenny Juggins and Paul Basson and Noreen are away too – for the rest, it will be on to Sydney in two weeks’ time.