THE RACE entry list reads like a who’s who of motorsport: Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet, Roberto Moreno, Jacques Laffite, Larry Perkins, Geoff Brabham, Charlie O’Brien – the list goes on. This was the 1981 Australian Grand Prix promoted by Bob Jane and he went to a lot of effort to get bigname drivers on the grid.
Piquet lived up to his reputation for being moody, while Laffite was a great fun-loving character.
It was a great opportunity for young drivers like me, to rub shoulders (and wheels!) with these people. It was incredibly exciting at the time.
I qualified fourth and was doing alright in the race, when the toothed belt driving the water pump broke and put me out. My sponsor at the time was a company called Lucky Nuts and the owner came up to me afterwards and said, “You’re not so lucky…” The Ralt RT4 I was driving was chassis number 255 and the first of two RT4s I had over the years. The second one, chassis number 455, was a much better car.
The guy who built them, Ron Tauranac was a former Brabham partner and at the time became the world’s biggest open-wheeler maker, producing something like 700-800 cars. He’s now living back here in Australia.
The category we raced in at the time was called Formula Atlantic and the idea was it would replace Formula 5000. It struggled, like all openwheeler categories in this country.
We’ve always been a nation of what my dad called tin-top lovers.
That’s fine, but if we’re serious about getting another Australian world champion in Formula 1, we need to give our talented youngsters time in open wheelers before they move overseas.
It worries me that Formula 4 seems to be struggling locally, as it’s the perfect category to earn your stripes and step straight into a similar car overseas. As a youngster, that’s exactly what you should be aspiring to do.
AS I write this I’m recovering from a great weekend at Winton for the Touring Car Masters (TCM) round. The category looked like it was dwindling for a while there, with grid numbers dropping to the low 20s, but a few new cars have gridded up lately.
One of them is one of the most famous-ever Holdens, an A9X. It’s run by Jason Gomersall, who gave me a really hard time. It’s a pretty serious car, built by Jimmy Stone (of Stone Brothers fame) and son Matt. The Chevy motor is from KRE Race Engines, who also build for the Triple Eight team – so they know what they’re doing! I’m still running the Holden 308-based motor.
Meanwhile I won the round, which is great, though it means I go to the next meeting with a 300rpm rev-limit reduction. It’s about trying to keep the racing close, though I suspect I’ll be looking at the back of Gomersall’s car next time.
It's great that V8 Supercars, after several years, has embraced TCM as the main support category. It’s easy to see why, as the racing is fierce and there’s now good coverage on Fox.
Something that livens it up is that, after the first two scratch races, there’s a reverse-grid sprint. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and had some reservations about this, but it’s turned on some great racing. Glenn Seton won the last race, while the best I could manage was sixth. It’s a pretty good category to race in and there are a few cars for sale at the moment, like the Monaro pictured above.
There you go, buy one and join us – what could possibly go wrong?!
LOOKING THROUGH the diary, my next big TCM date is Hidden Valley in the Northern Territory over June 17-19.
And just after we go to press I’ve got my first GT drive of the year with Peter Edwards and the Maranello crew in the Ferrari 488. The GT cars are about as different as you can get from a TCM car, so it forces me to put the brain in gear. et ar.