Words: Darren Knight
Photos: Phil Wisewould, Peter Knights, Geoff Vernon
One of the world’s oldest Historic race meetings burst back into life for the first time in two years at Winton on the weekend of 22-23 May, just beating Victoria’s fourth COVID lockdown.
The weather for the 44th running of the historic meeting at the country circuit was magnificent, the crowd enthused and the racing tight at the top. Even the dunnies looked good with perhaps their first coats of paint. Ever.
A Welcome Return
Historic Winton had fallen off the HTCAV’s championship list in recent years when the promoters decreed only older and smaller cars need apply. That rule was relaxed this year, but not in time to attract a big HTC contingent. Nonetheless, a dozen Group N cars entered and the racing amongst them was mighty.
Former Club champ Nick Cascone rolled out his rapid yellow Cortina after a near four-year layoff and promptly stuck it on pole. Linda Devlin (Mini) lost a front wheel late in qualifying thanks to a broken CV joint, but Cooper S maestro Barry Devlin and crew would have her back on the front row for the opening race in the familiar light blue Henry Draper brick.
Race One – girl chases boy
Cascone hooked up nicely and hugged the inside line into turn one to prevent Mini racer Devlin sneaking up the inside.
Long-time EH Holden punter Richard Fairlam slotted into third behind Devlin, whilst a huge battle for fourth erupted between Jerry Lenstra (Cortina), David Belford (Volvo), Don Knight (Cortina) and David Crabtree having his first Winton run in the ex-Lawrie Nelson Capri.
Michael George (Lotus Cortina) stalled but eventually got going in his return meeting after copping a hefty whack in the rear during the first JUST CARS Round at the Phillip Island Classic back in March.
Lenstra retired after five laps with his Cortina still needing some engine sorting, while Devlin ate into the slender lead Cascone had built. She was all over the rear bumper of the Cortina during the final lap, but try as she might, could not find a way past as Cascone covered every possible passing opportunity.
In the fading afternoon light, the crowd were treated to some fantastic driving by both front runners with Cascone barely a car length - and a Mini length at that! - in front of Devlin as the chequered flag fell.
Fairlam was unchallenged in third, while Crabtree edged out Knight and Belford to claim fourth. George was next, followed by WA’s Syd Jenkins (Mini), Tony Pejkovic (EH), Quentin White (Mini) and Vince Parisi (Simca Vedette) who would go on to bag a well-deserved Best Presented Award.
Race Two – girl chases boy. Again.
Lenstra’s engine woes meant he did not grid up for the second outing on Sunday morning. Nor did Fairlam, who had blown a head gasket in the closing stages of race one.
In the bright morning light, Cascone made a break for it as Devlin struggled slightly off the line. Knight did, too, the Cortina wheel-spinning off the start due to coolant and oil on the racetrack from a previous race.
Belford hounded Crabtree in an entertaining Sweden v Britain dice, while in the battle between George and Knight, the two Pommy Fords swapped places at will.
Jenkins found a way past White as Cascone again held out the ever-present Devlin to win. Crabtree enjoyed a hard-fought third, finishing narrowly in front of Belford, who was dealing with a slipping LSD. A trip to differential guru, the inimitable Ken Zinner, was definitely on the horizon.
Behind the top four, it was Knight, Jenkins, White, George and Pejkovic, with Parisi once again the tail gunner.
Race Three – boy chases girl.
For the last race of the meeting, Parisi was a non-starter, reducing the field to nine.
At the start, Cascone leapt out to an early lead, with Crabtree ahead of Devlin at the completion of the opening lap before Devlin snuck through and set about chasing Cascone once again.
With three laps to go in the 10-lapper, Cascone was hampered by a leaking rear axle seal and Devlin pounced with the ol` switchback manoeuvre at turn one to grab the lead. Rather than potentially chuck the Ford off the road in pursuit of the nimble Mini, Quick Nick settled for a solid second behind Devlin who took a popular win and the fastest lap for the class on the penultimate circuit.
Crabtree was third from Belford, followed by Knight, George, Jenkins, White and Pejkovic.
Even though numbers were down, the ‘Nick and Linda Show’ had everyone – crews, families and spectators alike - on their toes.
It’s fair to assume that, while returning home, most would think historic touring cars should ‘return home’ with a bigger grid to this iconic little meeting that is so much a part of HTCAV history.