Words: Darren Knight Photos: Phil Wisewould
A field of almost 40 cars from all over Australia capped the competition year for the HTCAV with brilliant racing at Phillip Island for the Island Magic event. Six Camaros, eight Mustangs, six Toranas, four Chargers and much more proved this meeting is a must for Historic Touring Car followers.
Race 1 – One of the best ever
Chev Camaros filled the first two rows of the grid, with pole winner Dean Neville in his ’69 model smoking the tyres off the line, allowing Darren Pearce’s ’68 version to slip into an early lead. Neville was soon on his tail, though, as was Historic Sandown race winner Aldo de Paoli and Darren Collins, both in ’69 Camaros. John Mann made it five Camaros in the top six until a clash with the Mustang of Darryl Hansen during a heated scrap for fifth saw the veteran park his Chev.
While the top three ran in very close company, a monumental battle broke out behind Hansen for sixth, with at least six drivers all fighting for the same piece of track. Les Walmsley (Charger), Michael Miceli (Boss Mustang), Andy Clempson (’69 Mustang) and the Toranas of Andrew Girvan and Peter McNiven put on one of the greatest displays of hard-fought racing ever seen in the category. Added to the mix was the Torana of Craig Allan who was climbing the order after a tough qualifying session.
Positions changed constantly, with the Honda hairpin sometimes seeing cars enter three wide, giving the flaggies stationed there a front row seat of the fantastic action.
Back at the head of the field, there was action of the unwelcome kind when a front tyre exploded on the Pearce Camaro while at full noise at the bottom of the front straight. The Tasmanian careened across the gravel trap and eventually slowed, thankfully without further damage, while Walmsley lost a few spots after inadvertently tapping Miceli who had missed a gear exiting a slow corner. Brent Trengrove (Camaro) closed in on that warring pack ahead while his Dad Bill led the pre ’65 Group Nb class in his Falcon Sprint that was previously raced by WA’s Bill Meeke.
At the front, de Paoli hounded Neville, finally squeezing past to take a very hard-fought win. Collins completed the podium, but clearly looked to be still getting to grips with the change to Hoosier rubber. Hansen was the first Ford home in fourth, followed by Miceli and Allan, with Clempson, Daniel Van Stokrom (Torana) and Walmsley almost crossing the line three abreast in the fight for seventh at the flag.
Race 2 - Camaros conquer again
De Paoli leapt off the line to grab an early lead in Sunday’s first race, but it wasn’t long before Neville powered past and built a handy buffer as de Paoli found his Chev lacking front grip.
Another big battle brewed within the lower half of the top ten as Charger pilot Glenn Miles joined the fun, fending off Clempson’s Moffat Ford Dealers-liveried Mustang.
Further back, the Cortinas of Simon Browning, Mick Stupka and Johnny Luxmoore were having their own ding-dong punch-on as the unique X2-spec HD Holden of Shane Cowham (winner of the Sidchrome Best Presented award) chased the Datsun 1600 of debutant Tom Christensen (Danish ancestry yes, seven Le Mans wins no).
Allan was a non-starter after discovering his diff housing was bent out of shape after race one, whilst fellow Torana punter Andrew Williams was charging through the field having missed Saturday’s action due to slipping on wet concrete and doing the splits a few days prior. As expected, sympathy from fellow competitors was rather patchy in places and the ribbing downright rude in others!
Mann was out early with gearbox issues while Alex Bland (Capri) missed his braking point and cannoned into Bill Trengrove, the Sprint continuing but with front bumper askew.
Jervis Ward, also in a Falcon Sprint, was making progress after alternator and battery issues in race one, while Pearce made unbelievably quick progress. From way down the starting order, the Tasmanian was closing in on Collins in the battle for third as the last lap commenced. Suddenly, Collins slowed and lost several places within sight of the flag: fuel surge later found to be the culprit.
Showing impressive pace, Neville took an untroubled win from de Paoli and the hard-charging Pearce, followed by Hansen and Miceli, who just beat Walmsley and van Stokrom to the line. Queenslander Ian Mewett (Mustang) held off Clempson (another suffering fuel surge) by the smallest of margins to squeeze into the top ten after a race one DNF.
Race 3 – Drama at the front
On the warm up lap, the rapid Torana of van Stokrom developed a bad misfire and was parked, but there were no such concerns for Neville, who jumped to an early lead as Pearce snuck past de Paoli to move into second. West Aussie Shane Atwell (’64 Mustang) had a spirited dice with Joe Calleja (’69 Mustang) and John Bourke (Charger), as did Tony Gilfuis (Capri) and Stephen Pillekers (Torana). Clempson fell out of the top ten after a half spin at the Honda hairpin, while long-time Capri stalwart Steve Land also lost a few spots.
Pulling away from the field and setting a 1.48.1 lap time, Neville looked set to take out the A Maze‘N’Things Historic Touring Car Trophy for Island Magic 2018. But with just two laps to go he suddenly coasted into the rear paddock entry road, the Camaro stuck in third gear.
Fired up, de Paoli applied big pressure to race leader Pearce and by the ninth lap had found a way past, going on to take the win. After crossing the line in second, poor Darren Pearce rocked up to the podium only to be told of a 5-second penalty for jumping the start, which relegated him to fourth.
Thus, Collins was lifted to second in front of Walmsley, who had closed right up as the laps wore down. Williams was an impressive fifth as the bigger cars started to struggle on worn tyres (supply had run out); the ten-lap journey playing to the Torana’s strengths of looking after brakes and tyres better than some V8 opposition.
Great meeting, great racing. Just magic.