Words: Darren Knight. Photos: Phil Wisewould, unless indicated
This year’s 30th Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport, held on the Labour Day long weekend in March, was a fine display of historic touring car racing. Good weather greeted the 68 entrants - 36 Under-3 Litres and 32 Over-3 Litres - for Friday qualifying and stayed all weekend. With no safety car interruptions, full-on racing was the order of the weekend in both divisions, too
Under 3 Litres and Invited – Bill Thrills
Race 1, Friday
Mazda rotary runners love the long, sweeping layout of Phillip Island, so it was no surprise to see a couple of RX-2s lock out the front row in qualifying.
Bill Attard got the jump on fellow NSW RX-2 driver and pole-sitter Wayne Rogerson at the start to snatch an early lead. The Capri of NSW’s Quentin Bland soon took second place from Rogerson, but was tapped into a spin at MG Corner and lost several places before re-joining.
There was tight racing further back in the field, too, with the pushrod Cortinas of Simon Browning and Don Knight mixing it up with the Volvo 142 of fellow Victorian David Belford and the MkII Jag of WA’s Michael Gallagher. Belford made good use of his car’s historic road registration by running in its recently installed race motor on the road – just like the old days, but perhaps minus the Ajax down the Volvo’s cylinders!
Queenslander Shane Cowham pushed his unique HD Holden up to sixteenth from the back of the grid, the 179 cubes benefitting from recent dyno time with 1965 Bathurst winner, the one and only Bo Seton.
In the battle of the rotaries, Attard held off Rogerson for the win, with the Fords of WA’s Tony Gilfuis (Capri) and SA’s Josh Axford (BDA Escort) next.
Race 2, Saturday
Attard made another good start to lead, with Gilfuis squeezing up into second, but with a big group of cars snapping at his heels.
The Porsche 911T of Rory O`Neill and FJ Holden of Phil Barrow made for an unlikely but highly entertaining battle mid-pack, as Tasmanian Lachlan Thomas found his 1300cc Escort under attack from Cowham’s HD - both inside the top ten.
Eddie Dobbs’ famous ex-Graham Blanchard FE Holden spat the dummy (well, a fan belt actually) as Attard took another win in front of the Capris of Bland and Gilfuis.
Race 3, Saturday
The two Capris of Bland and Gilfuis leapfrogged Attard off the line, but it wasn’t long before he regained second at the expense of Bland.
Behind the frontrunners, Victorian Gabriel Digenis (BMW), SA’s Kirk Davis (Mazda), Axford and Vic’s Peter Van Summeren (Lotus Cortina, in its first meeting) put on a great show until the Lotus retired with a busted gearbox.
Attard wound up the wick coming onto the front straight to grab the lead and went on to win from Gilfuis and Rogerson, as Bland fell to seventh at the chequered flag with carburettor issues
Race 4, Sunday
There was drama at the start when both Digenis and Rogerson almost stalled, leading to cars whizzing past every which way before the pair eventually got moving.
After that little bit of chaos, Davis shot to third place as Digenis climbed back up to sixth before having a half spin cresting Lukey Heights; oil from another car the suspected cause.
Also at Lukey, Brock Green unfortunately retired his stunning MkII Jag, while Bill Schipper (Datsun 1600) diced hard with last year’s Under 3-Litre Class Champion Johnny Luxmoore (Cortina).
Attard made it four wins from four starts, while Gilfuis had Bland right on his tail at the chequered flag, followed by Axford and Davis.
Rogerson eventually finished sixth, with Digenis eighth, sandwiching the RX-2 of the ACT’s Jared Cox.
Race 5, Sunday
The final six lapper saw Gilfuis snatch an early lead from Attard and Axford, while Rogerson was out on lap 3.
As Axford slowed with mechanical maladies, Digenis inherited fourth place, followed by Davis and Cox. At the tail end of the top ten, the Fords of Thomas, Van Summeren and Qld’s David Waddington (pushrod Cortina) were engaged in a huge dice of their own.
Further back, a race long Cortina battle between Knight, Browning and Luxmoore saw Knight pass both his rivals on the same lap.
At the front, West Australian Gilfuis celebrated the 50th birthday of the Ford Capri by holding out Attard and Bland to score a well-deserved - and his first-ever - HTC win.
A weekend characterised by hard-fought drives for 3-3-2-2-1 results also saw Gilfuis awarded the coveted ‘Makulu Vehicle Storage Driver of the Meeting’ award.
Over 3 Litres – Camaro Contest
Race 1, Friday
Recently crowned Australian Late Model Speedway Champion Paul Stubber recorded a hot lap in qualifying, but would not start from pole after copping a penalty for a flag infraction.
Starting from pit lane, the ’69 Camaro pilot had plenty of work to do in the short, four-lap opener for the Over-3 Litre crew.
The 32-strong field was awash with no fewer than nine Mustangs, seven Camaros, seven Toranas, four Falcons… and a 327-powered Chev Nova for good measure!
The Camaros of NSW’s Dean Neville and WA’s Aldo De Paoli headed the field in the opening race as, just behind, a clash between the Mustang of reigning HTCAV Champion Daryl Hansen and the Falcon of the ACT’s Chris O`Brien resulted in heavy damage to both. O’Brien would return, but Hansen was out for the weekend.
Queenslander Craig Allan (Torana) had a huge battle with wily Vic veteran John Mann (Camaro), getting in front then running wide shortly after at the hairpin to let the Chev back through.
Neville took the win from De Paoli for a Camaro 1-2, with NSW’s Ben Wilkinson (Mustang) third in front of a flying Stubber who just edged out Andrew Williams (Torana) at the flag.
With the bit between his teeth, Stubber had posted a lap time 3.5 seconds faster than the next quickest lap, set by the eventual seventh placed Mann on the last lap.
Race 2, Saturday
Stubber wasted no time off the line and grabbed the lead into Southern Loop. Behind him, Mann, Williams, WA’s Greg Freeman (Camaro) and Wilkinson had a huge scrap, with places exchanged repeatedly until Freeman retired with power steering issues.
O`Brien rocketed up the order off the back of the grid, pushing his bent-snouted XY up to eleventh as Stubber took an easy win followed by Neville, De Paoli and Mann to make it a Camaro 1-2-3-4.
The Toranas of Williams and Allan were next, with Wilkinson demoted to eighth after copping a 5-second penalty for rolling-on at the start.
Race 3, Saturday
An exciting opening lap saw Stubber overcook it through Southern Loop and fall down the order, handing the lead to Neville.
Last season’s Group Nb (pre ’65) State Champion Andrew Cannon (Mustang) continued a mighty scrap with Nathan Gordon (Torana) that lasted all weekend, while Stubber caught the battle pack for third place half way down the high-speed front straight.
As Mann, Williams and Wilkinson were busy climbing over each other, Stubber went for a gap that suddenly shrunk considerably. The yellow and black Camaro squeezed past the trio with a puff of dust as the outside tyres kissed the grass – all at full noise!
Meanwhile, De Paoli had wrested the lead from Neville and went on to win as Stubber caught Neville at the flag to bag second. Williams lost a few spots after an off-tarmac excursion, but still finished fourth, comfortably ahead of Mann and the HQ Monaro of Victorian David Tessari.
Best Presented Car winner Adam Walton (’66 Mustang) just edged out the equally immaculate ’69 Mustang of Hog’s Breath Traralgon owner, Andrew Lane, to finish tenth.
Race 4, Sunday
The ten-lap finale for the weekend saw Freeman snaffle places early to move into fourth from eighth on the grid. Conversely, Wilkinson dropped a couple of places, but was soon harrying Tessari. Williams showed his determination by diving under O`Brien at turn one to grab seventh as Walton, the ACT’s Dale Parry (Mustang) and Vic’s Peter McNiven (Torana) staged one of the best scraps of the weekend.
At the front, Stubber had built an unassailable lead with a couple of laps to go, so started hanging his Camaro’s tail out at flat chat coming onto the main straight, entertaining the big crowd as he took his second win of the meeting.
Fellow WA speedway star De Paoli joined in the sideways fun as he bagged third behind Neville, with Freeman fourth, just in front of Tessari, for another Camaro 1-2-3-4.