Early last year I was invited to exhibit my Flintstone Lotus 23B in a display of forty historic race cars at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Story by Peter Boel, Photos Ron Wilkin.
The participation included a ticket to the entire event for myself and 2 helpers. Also included was the offer of a drive on the GP circuit on the Sunday morning of the event.
I’d not been to the AGP for some years so it seemed the perfect opportunity to give the event another look. My friend Ron, a fellow racer from NZ, was keen to be one of my ‘helpers’ and his son who lives in Australia was going to join us. It’s a long drive from Brisbane to Melbourne and back, particularly towing my ‘toyhauler’, so an extra driver would make the journey a lot more comfortable. The annual Historic Race Meeting at Phillip Island is the weekend before the AGP and the event always has a large entry of fabulous race cars. So also entering this event made good sense given the long drive.
We chose to go south to Phillip Island via the Newel Highway with one overnight stop on the way. Despite some really terrible sections, the highway is generally quite a good drive but even so it was a hard slog with a big trailer on the back. The last time I’d taken this route was years ago on the way to the Australian Lotus Clubs get together in Adelaide. My memory of that drive was of cold frosty mornings and lush green countryside. This time it was really hot and the countryside for the entire trip was brown and barren. The drought had certainly taken a grip of the outback.
We arrived at Phillip Island Wednesday afternoon with practice planned for Thursday and the three day event starting with qualifying Friday morning. Typically, we weren’t allowed into the track on the Wednesday to unload so it was bedlam at the entry to the tunnel into the track on the Thursday morning and a mad scramble to get ready for the first practice session. However, once we got out on to the track it was a joy to drive on – fast and flowing – just the way I like it.
PI isn’t the top of my list of favourite tracks but it’s not too far down. The Group M and O race field had 33 entrants and I was generally running 8th or 9th in the races with a best time of 1m 40s – pretty happy with that.
Sadly I fell foul of the race officialdom. The red flag came out in the second lap of race 3 and the car in front of me jumped on the brakes leaving me no option but to pull out from close behind and just overtake him. Jumping on the brakes as well was certainly not an option. I immediately slowed down, in turn passed by the car I’d overtaken. However, the deed was done and I was summoned to face the CAMS marshals who fined me $200 and excluded me from the next race. The exclusion from a race effectively cost me another several hundred dollars when valuing track time against cost of participation. In what other amateur sport are you penalised many hundreds of dollars by a punitive officialdom for making a mistake? Not happy! Certainly won’t be going back to any Victorian events in the future. Their officials are mean.
So on to the AGP. The forty historic race cars were grouped on a grassy area just behind the grandstands fronting the main straight. We took it in turns to man the display giving each of us plenty of time to view the action from different parts of the circuit.
Albert Park isn’t really the greatest place to view the F1 spectacle but you get a great sense of the speed of these cars at points where you can get really close to the track. We ended up watching the race on a giant screen set up not far from our display area. Probably had a better view of the race from there while downing a few beers.
Originally the Sunday track outing to show off our cars was to be a gentle drive at under 100kmh behind a pace car with no overtaking. However, at the Sunday briefing we were told we could overtake but only on the straights. When we did get out on the track the pace car disappeared in a cloud of dust and was not seen again leaving us free to circulate the track as we liked at what was described later as a spirited display. I certainly made terminal speed in top at a few locations. The circuit is not the most exciting track I’ve driven on, but I was most surprised at how dirty and bumpy it was. I thought the F1 brigade expected better. Overall the historic display was a great success with thousands of enthusiasts coming by to talk to us about our cars.
We returned to Brisbane via the Hume and Pacific Highways, stopping overnight at my favourite Motto Farm motel in Raymond Terrace. Their free breakfast is hard to beat.
The historic display will happen again at this year’s AGP but without me. Been there done that.