WE GET A SNEAK PEEK AT THE HECTIC LIFE OF ONE OF AUSTRALIA'S MOST SUCCESSFUL RACE DRIVERS
THE ORAN Park meeting was Round 4 of the Australian Drivers Championship that year. It was a good day for me. I took out the win in the mighty Ansett Elfin MR8, beating home John Wright in a Lola T400 and Jon Davison in another Lola. As the picture shows John was keeping me honest on the day.
Probably more interesting than the specifics of that race is the story of how I, a young bloke from Tasmania, ended up behind the wheel of the big MR8.
It was only a few short years earlier, as a 16-year-old, that I had started out in the junior ranks in Tassie competing in Formula Vee, before progressing to Formula 3. Interestingly I was driving Elfins right from the start. This came about because one of my dad’s mates, John McCormack, was a leading Formula 5000 competitor. It was through John that I got to know Elfin’s founder Garrie Cooper.
The momentum really started to grow when Garrie agreed to build me a Formula 2 car.
It was a big step for me involving more than having to sell my Formula 3 car. To that point I had only raced in Tassie and never in really fast cars. Now I was setting myself up to compete on the mainland in some serious machinery. The excitement moved up a notch when Garrie offered me the test drive in the MR8, a 480 horsepower Formula 5000 car. That day at Adelaide Raceway in 1977 is a standout for a couple of reasons.
One was the adrenaline rush that came with the chance to try out the MR8; the other was that the news came through that Elvis Presley had died. All in all it was a day I’ll never forget.
In 1979, my rookie year in the Elfin MR8, I was runner up in the Australian Drivers’ championship. It was a close thing – I would have won it except for a suspension failure in the last round at Sandown. I had lots of great battles with Alfie Costanzo. He was a man I had a lot of regard for. I was runner up in Formula 2 that year as well.
I owe Garrie Cooper a lot for the success I’ve enjoyed in my career. He gave me my start in racing on the mainland and he gave me guidance. And the Elfin drives set me up for everything that followed. The success I enjoyed in the Formula 2 Elfins, and especially the Formula 5000 MR8, established my big car credibility.
YOU MIGHT have spotted my little VW Golf-powered Martini at Historic Sandown earlier this month. An interesting car that was built to US Super Vee class specs, it’s very similar to the Australian Formula 2 cars of the 70s and 80s, and as a ‘ground effects’ car it’s a lot like the Elfin GE225 I drove back in the day.
While it’s still a work-in-progress, with my mate Steve Moody’s help the Martini will be back racing sometime next year. No more details at this stage. So watch this space.