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Phillip Island Classic

Guido Belgiorno-Nefis took five victories from five races in his Ferrari 156/85 Photos Neil Hammond

Australia’s leading historic race meeting, the Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport featured a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Formula 5000 over the March 9-11 weekend.  Excited spectators and pit crews watched 24 of the V8 cars generate some 12,000 plus horsepower in breathtaking rolling starts with the blue seas of the Bass Strait as a backdrop.  The weather was the envy of Europe as sunshine bathed paddock and undulating circuit.  Phillip Island is notorious for its changeable weather, but the rain held off for the whole weekend, with perfect blue skies, fast track conditions and an electric atmosphere.

Catherine Davison Reports from her native Australia

Australia vs New Zealand

Eight New Zealand drivers competed with 11 Australians in the F5000 contests with the absence of inspiring veteran, Ken Smith, who was a late scratch when the parts to repair a valve in his Lola T332, broken during its last outing at Ruapana, didn’t arrive from the US in time.  Also missing was favourite Michael Collins (McRae GM1), with the youngster attending his sister’s wedding instead.

This left F5000 ace Tom Tweedie in his Ex-Peter Gethin/Teddy Pilette/Vern Schuppan 1973 Chevron B24/28 to set the pace from the outset in qualifying with a time of 1m 26.9251s to take pole a good second-and-a-half quicker than compatriot Tim Berryman, and first of the Kiwis Andy Higgins in another Lola T332.

Berryman was hampered with a throttle issue as he tailed Tweedie in the first, four-lap, race, while Higgins sat a comfortable third before having a spin that dropped him to seventh.  Fellow Kiwi Aaron Burson took over in third driving the only McRae in the field, a GM1.  The battle for fourth place was fierce between Ian Clements in another Lola T332 and local man David Hardman, in the superbly restored and preserved Alan Hamilton-owned 1970 McLaren M10B, who was a last minute substitute for four times Australian Drivers’ Champion, Alfredo Costanzo.  As reward, the capable young FFord driver and son of Australian legend Jim Hardman, took Class A for the earlier cars.

With the throttle issues cured, Berryman was able to challenge Tweedie in the second race and the pair traded fastest laps, with the honour falling to Berryman at the end of the five-lap race.  A mistake from Burson at MG corner, infamous for destroying brakes, dropped him to the back of the field, though an impressive drive through the pack saw him back to 10th when the flag fell. 

Vern Schuppen’s driving style in the Le Mans Talbot Lago was the talk of the pit lane Photo Bruce Moxon

In the third race both Tweedie and Berryman beat the two Formula 1 cars – the March 741 of two-times Bathurst winner John Bowe and the ex-Michele Alboreto Ferrari 156/85 of Sydney driver Guido Belgiorno-Nettis – which joined the F5000 field on Sunday morning for the first of three races.

Berryman couldn’t get near Tweedie, although they traded 1m 27s lap times, while in comparison Bowe and Belgiorno-Nettis were a second slower than the two leading F5000s.  Behind them, Clements and Burson were barely separated, but were some 6s off the pace of the leaders!  A pesky loose fire extinguisher forced Berryman to pit in the 12-lap finale leaving Tweedie unchallenged and claiming a stunning fifth victory from five races ahead of Burson and Clements who ran their own race.  Berryman dropped to 10th and fell a lap behind.

Star of the combined races for earlier Sports and Racing cars (referred to as group Alphabet), was Grand Prix driver and 1983 Le Mans winner, Vern Schuppan in the Ex-Peter Whitehead 1948 Talbot Lago T26.  Schuppan was the most talked about competitor in the pit lane for his distinctive driving posture as he absolutely gunned the historic Grand Prix car around the fast turns in period style, qualifying fifth behind cars such as Cooper T70 and T53!  He didn’t start the first, four-lap race, so started race 2 from the back with a mountain to climb in these short races.  Main protagonists were Mal Reid in his Faux Pas, Leslie Wright, driving the 1958 Dalro Jaguar Formula Libre and Adam Berryman in a Cooper T70, the three swapping podium places over four races.  In the fifth and last race Reid was a non starter, setting up an entertaining finale, as Berryman and a hard charging Schuppan, who’d worked his way through, battled for the lead, the Cooper driver finally getting free in the second half of the six-lap race.

Porsche 962 of George Nakkas

Another mixed grid was for sports and formula cars, which mainly included sports racers from the ‘70s and ‘80s racing for a variety of period classes, but it was the Ralt RT2 F2 car of local man Jamie Larner that took pole ahead of Renato Loberto’s LM3000 Ford Cosworth.  Come race time, however Jason White dominated all five heats in his McLaren M8F ahead of the Porsche 962 of George Nakkas, the front runners out-pacing the mid field by some 10 seconds. Benjamin Porter in a 1991 Ferrari LM3000 was also in the mix and took second from Nakkas in race 1.

There is a burgeoning field of Historic Formula Fords in Australia presenting full grids and putting on some very entertaining racing.  British Formula Ford veteran Rick Morris competed at Phillip Island for the second time racing with Ecurie Australie.  Equipped with a 1989 Reynard, Morris battled at the front behind younger drivers Jonathan Miles and Andrew McInnis battling wheel to wheel for the lead.  Neither could Morris quite catch seasoned open-wheeler champion Richard Davison in his ’89 Van Diemen who also mixed it with Miles and McInnis for the lead throughout the five races.  This group shared the podium spoils, with Morris holding steady for four fourth place finishes, only vanquished in the last race by Neil Richardson in a Van Diemen.

Ecurie Australie is planning to compete again in the Walter Hayes Trophy in 2018 at Silverstone for the third year with the support of Brian Souley Motorsport.

John Bowe and Guido Belgiorno-Nettis were out again in their F1 cars in the Q and R and Invited O racing cars rounds, this time claiming first and second places over a mixed field of formula cars in the first heat in their March 741 and Ferrari 156/85 respectively.  But Bowe’s fortunes proved to be mixed, leaving Belgiorno-Nettis to take five victories in the glorious Ferrari.  


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