T hree days, man! That was the exultant catch-cry at the Woodstock music festival way back in 1969, but it could also be applied to another kind of festival, the Phillip Island Classic Festival of Speed.
This year’s Festival, the 27th, was again a bonanza for historic racing fans and the Classic’s preeminence as the biggest event of its type in the southern hemisphere was further underlined.
An entry in the Festival is a hot ticket and there were cars from the UK, US, New Zealand, Germany, Canada and all over Australia. With the paddock crammed with 540 racecars packed two-deep in pitlane garages and tents, event organiser the Victorian Historic Racing Register, had to drop the usual parade laps from the program to make enough time for 58 races across 12 categories over the three days.
Touring car legend Jim Richards, this year’s patron, was reunited with his 1984 JPS Team BMW 635i and qualified the black beauty quickest in the Over 3000cc class in a packed Group A & C touring car field and finished third, second, fifth, second and third overall.
Also competing for the first time at The Island was Chris Bowden’s rare BMW M1 Procar which was built for a one-make championship supporting F1 races in 1979/80 and raced by Formula One stars of the day, including Alan Jones who came second in Brazil in one in 1980.
The 25-car Formula 5000
entry was headlined by old trans-Tasman rivals Alfredo Costanzo (1970 McLaren M10B) and Ken Smith (1976 Lola T332), now both 73. Smith, who has been racing continuously for 58 years, qualified second and finished with two seconds and a third against drivers less than half his age.
Unique Cars’ John Bowe had a busy weekend. He qualified Joe Calleja’s beautiful 1974 March 74-1 Formula One car on pole and easily beat newer F1 machinery like UK visitor Andrew Wareing’s immaculate ex-Alan Jones 1979 Williams F1 FW06 and ‘80s IndyCars in all three races.
Bowe reportedly wanted to pit the March against the thundering Formula 5000s, which come from the same era but are more powerful, but officials wouldn’t allow it.
The rapid-fire race schedule caught out a some drivers with entries in consecutive events, and when Calleja couldn’t get back to his pit in time to race his two-litre March 73S sportscar, JB stepped in and charged from the back of the grid to sixth, passing eight-litre CanAm cars along the way.