Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Cassius42
The Australian GP has a long history, having taken place since 1928 with only a few omissions, notably for the upheaval that was WW2. It has been part of the F1 World Championship since 1985, first in Adelaide and then Melbourne in 1996.
Before then it was a largely independent race with the notable exception of its inclusion in the Tasman series, which brings me to the essence of this article. Back in the days before the internet, let alone social media, the winter months were enlightened for motor sport fans by the weekly magazine arrival that told of the endeavours of our heroes down under.
In 1964 the Australian and New Zealand motor sport authorities combined to produce a series from a set of individual races that attracted a couple of notable F1 entrants: double World Champion Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren. That first season was won by McLaren in the special Cooper described by Jennie Mowbray; First McLaren Car, after a battle with Sir Jack that saw Bruce dominate in New Zealand only for Brabham to return the favour in Australia.
The first true overseas star import was Graham Hill, brought over by Scuderia Veloce. He only drove in two races but showed his class by winning one in a year old Brabham; the last race in the series at Longford.
The talented American Timmy Mayer was Bruce McLaren’s team mate for the series and distinguished himself with a couple of strong second place finishes. Denny Hulme was another returnee down under and showed his worth with a win in the first race of the series. New Zealander Chris Amon only contested his home leg of the series but had dismal luck failing to finish any race.
One benefit of the series was to harmonise regulations from a formula libre approach and was influenced by the availability of now obsolete 2.5litre F1 cars, principally Coopers to start with followed by Lotus, Lolas and Brabhams to replace the local specials.
For the second series in 1965 increased notice was taken with the arrival of Team Lotus and their World Champion Jim Clark, who took the honours in convincing style with four wins from the seven rounds. The car he used was a Lotus 32B, a formula two car adapted to use the larger Coventry Climax FPF engine in place of the 1 litre Cosworth. To add to the increasing international flavour American Phil Hill drove one of Bruce McLaren’s team of Coopers.
In addition Graham Hill was back in a Scuderia Veloce Brabham, winning the first race of the series at Pukekohe Park Raceway. The overseas drivers did not have things their own way, even though the wins went to them, with only local boys Brabham and McLaren taking a win a piece. Frank Gardner, Frank Matich, Leo Geoghegan and Jim Palmer all showed they were capable of taking it to the visitors.
The following year saw a small preview of how the new 3 litre Formula 1 would start with the participation of the works BRM team with the engines of their P261 cars stretched to 1.9 litres. They were to dominate with Graham Hill winning two races this year, but four wins settled the championship for Jackie Stewart.
Their third driver, Richard Attwood, also took a win at the Levin race in New Zealand, whilst standing in for Graham Hill. The only race not won by a BRM was the Warwick Farm International which went to Jim Clark’s one-off Lotus 39.
As a result of the cars performances down under it was an obvious move to run these old but reliable cars in the World Championship as competitive three-litre engines were in short supply in the first year of the new regulations, particularly the ambitious H16 which would not make an appearance in a race until the Italian GP.
1966 was the first of what may be considered the glory years for the Tasman Formula with works participation from Formula 1 teams dominating the series until 1970 when the European Formula One teams stayed away. This year was also when the series started to transition away from the Formula One cars to Formula 5000 in an attempt to keep costs down.
The attendance of the European teams enabled the drivers to keep their eye in with race practice and the teams additional testing opportunities, initially with new tyre manufacturers Goodyear and Firestone coming in to gain experience. Jack Brabham used the last two races to test his new BT19 with the Oldsmobile-based V8 Repco engine that he was to use to such good effect later in the year back in Europe, winning four Grands Prix for his third championship.
Following the dominance of the BRM team the preceding season there was a new level of professionalism to the entries for 1967. The BRMs returned, being run this time by Reg Parnell Racing, and Jim Clark and Team Lotus followed their lead by using the 2 litre Coventry Climax engined Lotus 33 he had used for most of the 1966 World Championship.
Jack Brabham brought two examples of the 2.5-litre Australian built Repco V8 for himself and New Zealand team-mate Denny Hulme: Jack using an F2 based BT23 that proved to be a prototype for the 1967 BT24 F1 car.
Jim Clark dominated the series with five wins and three seconds in his eight starts, and this with an engine estimated to be lacking in power to the larger BRM and Repco V8s. The BRMs lost their reliable reputation mainly due to crown wheel and pinion failures and only scored two wins by Jackie Stewart at the New Zealand GP and Warwick Farm.
The Brabham team had a poor season with continual troubles with the 2.5-litre version of the world championship winning Repco V8. It was only late in the series that they got their act together and Brabham gained a win at the final race at Longford, but he showed the potential of the hybrid car with fastest lap in the Lady Wigram Trophy. Hulme had the worst of the reliability problems and could only manage a third and fourth place.
In 1968 there was a new approach, rather than stretch the old Formula 1 engines the series was dominated by 3 litre F1 engines shrunk by 500cc to meet the Tasman limit.
Team Lotus fielded Lotus 49s with short stroke versions of the Cosworth DFV for Tasman stalwarts Jim Clark and Graham Hill. BRM hedged their bets with the V12 engined P126, a Formula I prototype for Bruce McLaren and Pedro Rodriguez, and the faithful P261 stretched V8 which Rodriguez used on occasion. Ferrari joined the series for the first time but took a different approach producing a Formula 2 based car with 2.4 litre version of the Dino V6 engine.
This engine was based on the V6 used in sports cars and the 246 F1-66 with developments aimed at the F2 version, both 3-valve and 4-valve cylinder heads were tested. Jack Brabham only appeared for the Sydney and Melbourne races using a BT23 chassis and tried three versions of the Tasman Repco V8 engine.
A few privateers looked to the nimbleness of the new 1600cc F2 cars, whilst others used the light F2 chassis with a variety of engines including Alfa Romeo, BRM and Repco V8s and the old faithful Coventry Climax FPF engine. The season was a classic struggle between Clark and Amon, with Clark taking four wins to Amon’s two wins and two second place finishes.
Only McLaren spoiled the party with a win for the V12 BRM at Teretonga following hasty repairs after crashing in his heat. Piers Courage was the find of the series taking a win at Longford in the nimble F2 McLaren-FVA and was the only driver to score in every race, resulting in a fine third place in the series.
The following year was another battle between Lotus and Ferrari, this time Chris Amon had a new car developed from the previous year’s and took the honours for the Italian marquee with four wins. New Lotus driver Jochen Rindt pushed Amon hard taking two wins but reliability and an accident accounted for his challenge.
Lotus showed their commitment by flying out a new monocoque following Rindt’s accident. Piers Courage returned and showed his talent with another win at Teretonga in Frank William’s Brabham BT24-Cosworth DFW, a precursor to the works F1 challenger. Jack Brabham only appeared at Sandown Park, with an entirely new BT31/1 based on the BT28 F3 chassis but with the Repco V8 in the back. However, he could only manage third place.
After the success of the previous few years, the 1970 season was one of change as none of the big European teams entered. The series was won by Graeme Lawrence in the 69 championship winning Ferrari which he had bought.
The transition to F5000 cars bore fruit with several cars entered by European and American racers as well as the locals. However, it was the locals who triumphed by winning all the races and all but two went to F5000 cars. Lawrence won the first race and went on to carry the series with a string on second and third place finishes showing better reliability than the F5000 machinery. Other winners were Frank Matich at Pukekohe and Wigram, Graham McRae at Teretonga Park and Surfers’ Paradise and Niel Allen at Sandown Park, all in McLaren M10s.
Kevin Bartlett won at Warwick Farm in a true local triumph driving the Mildren-Waggott, an Australian built single seater with a modified Ford 4-cylinder engine.
The move to F5000 cars should have been complete, and was in terms of results but the old Tasman rules cars were still permitted. However, they could not compete with the large stock block powered cars with Graeme Lawrence, still in the ex-Amon Ferrari 246, only able to pick up one third place. After a season of racing and development, the F5000 cars were faster and a more reliable than the previous year.
Graham McRae took the title in 1971 with three wins; four wins the next and three in 1973. There was still European and American participation, but in dwindling numbers. The highlight for them was Peter Gethin winning the 1974 series before Australian Warwick Brown struck back for the southern hemisphere in 1975. At this point the increasing costs of running the series resulted in the Australian and New Zealand authorities going there own ways by running two series: Rothmans International Series and ‘Peter Stuyvesant Series.
In those latter years the interest generated by the European F1 team’s involvement was lost and the heydays were certainly over. There was still much to read about as several names took part and the Australian and New Zealand drivers had made an impact with several moving to Europe or America to further their careers.
But it was never the same as reading about World Champions battling it out down under.