Story and photos by Vince Johnson
Cubic inches certainly had the headlines at the 27th Phillip Island Classic, south of Melbourne, recently. Not only were there more than two dozen Formula 5000 open wheelers racing during the three day meeting, the Group Q & R ‘big banger’ sports car grids included five McLarens, (three of them 8 liter Chev-powered), several Lolas, a six liter E-Type Jaguar and a pair of V8 Elfins.
Trying to keep them honest was Chris Bowden’s (technically almost Italian) BMW M1 Procar, chassis #1077. Restored to its Japanese racing trim on its arrival in Australia in 2014, it joined another 12 BMW entries celebrating the German company’s centenary. Event patron, seven-time Bathurst winner and four-time Australian Touring Car Champion, Jim Richards took four Group C podiums driving a John Player Special BMW 635 he’d raced in 1983-4.
While the thunder down under was on the track and thankfully not above it, there was Italian and French action aplenty. After practice and qualifying on Friday morning, the first Regularity event saw Alpine Renaults first and second. Andrew Whiteside matched his nominated lap time of 2 minutes 11 seconds perfectly in his 1979 A310, leading John Hardy (1967 A110) home by 5 points. Hardy, always consistent, finished the meeting with a 5th, 3rd and another 2nd.
Mixing it with them in Division 2 Regularity was Flavio Puccinelli’s Group 4 1974 Lancia Stratos, now painstakingly stripped back to the yellow and blue livery that it raced with in period. The car was campaigned by Remo Celesia and Ettore Vierin from 1975 to 1980 and brothers Massimo and Maurizio Borretti from 1980 to 1982, before entering long-term display at the York Motor Museum in Western Australia from 1983 to 2009. It raced 59 times at events such as Monte Carlo, San Remo, Aosta and elsewhere. The car is basically in its last raced condition and displays lots of patina. The cabin still has its original seats, bulkhead fire blanket, fuse labels, fire extinguisher scrutineering seals etc, and the alternator still wears the very rare Magneti Marelli competition alternator decal.
From the edge of the track Flavio seemed to be enjoying himself, but in his words “The car was suffering from a distributor problem, which meant it was 40bhp down in power and wouldn’t rev, which made the car less fun to drive than normal!” No doubt by the time you read this it will be behaving as it should.
In Division 1, lap times were a little slower. Andrew Brown’s 1917 Ford T was the oldest of the field and it looked the part, right down to its fencing wire spark plug leads. They did the job and Brown drove accordingly, scoring a 4th, 5th and 3rd later in the weekend. The Ford gave almost a decade to Alan Telfer’s Bugatti 37/35B Grand Prix, imported new to Australia and with an impressive history. Of similar vintage was Trevor Montgomery’s ex-Lex Davison ‘Little Alfa’ 6C 1500. Ron Townley gave convincing demonstrations of his 1948 Lago Talbot T26C to prospective purchasers each time he went out, re-attaching the ‘For Sale’ sign when he returned to the pits.
Racing in Group J was Noel Cunningham’s 1926 Talbot Darracq Grand Prix. Boasting a pre-war history with Segrave and Nuvolari at Brooklands, Monza and Tripoli, it was having its final outing before heading overseas for a season of racing in Europe. There were two Italians with American cubic inches on their side in Group S. In the over 3500cc category Rusty French’s Pantera GTS took a class win and 2nd outright in race 1. Alfas had the numbers in the under 2 liter section. Adriano Dimauro (1973 GTV) cleaned up with 3 class wins and a 2nd, from Michael Byrne’s Lotus 7 (1st & 2nd) and Steve Smith’s 1981 Alfetta GTV (two 2nds & 3rd).
Andrew Cannon ran the well-travelled ex-Mirabella Racing Alfetta GTV in Group A. Unfortunately, chassis ZAR116C0000010195 lost 5th gear and rather than suffer further gearbox issues, he sensibly curtailed its track time. In Group Sa-Sb, Peter Axford and Dominique Chaleyer each had a class win in their Alfa Romeo Giulias. The Historic Touring Car categories were well subscribed. Rob Burns dominated the Group Nc 1501-2000cc class, taking 3 wins, a 2nd and a 3rd from five races in his 1972 Alfa GTV, with the other 2 wins going to Spencer Rice (1973 GTV). Regular competitor Michael Stupka showed the way to several of the larger-engined Holdens in his 1954 Citroën 11D.
With around 550 cars racing, track time was always going to be at a premium. There was also no shortage of enthusiasm from the spectators, marshals, officials and other hardworking volunteers, and the sound of ten thousand horsepower down the main straight into turn 1, as the Formula 5000s were let loose, summed up the meeting. The Phillip Island Classic goes from strength to strength and just might need four days of racing next year.
More photos below
Full results at
(With thanks to Flavio Puccinelli and Andrew Cannon)