Australian Racing

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After the visiting drivers and teams had journeyed from New Zealand to Australia, leaving the locals to enjoy some National racing, the Tasman series got under way again with a 100-mile race on the two-mile track at Surfers Paradise near Brisbane on February 11th. The organisers had a very ”head-in-the-sand” outlook and objected to the Team Lotus cars looking like cigarette packets, which was understandable for anyone out of touch with Europe, but they also objected to the B.R.M. cars having Owen Racing Organisation painted on the sides. The result was that there was deadlock and Lotus and B.R.M. did not start in the short preliminary Heat, so that Amon had an easy win. Hulme was still trying to join in this 2½-litre racing with a 1,600 c.c. Brabham F.2 car, and in the Heat he lost a wheel and struck a fence, the suspension being bodged up in time for the main race, but he could only manage sixth place.

The organisers climbed down over the advertising nonsense and everyone started in the final. McLaren had returned to England, so Attwood took his place in the B.R.M. team, and Graham Hill joined Clark in the Gold Leaf Team Lotus Group, driving 49/1, which was built up like Clark’s car 49/2, with a 2½-litre Cosworth V8 engine. Among the Australian residents who joined in was Leo Geoghegan with a Lotus 39 chassis, one of the 1966 work cars that used an H16 B.R.M. engine, with a V8 Repco engine taking the place of the Bourne unit. Ferrari sent out a new engine for Amon’s Ferrari, this being a V6 with four valves per cylinder, single sparking plugs per cylinder and one-piece camshaft covers to each cylinder head. The fuel-injection inlets were in the vee of the engine and the exhausts on the outside, and the layout is being used on the 1968 Ferrari F.2. engine. Although Clark took the lead with his Lotus 49 the Ferrari seemed able to match the Lotus for performance, and Amon chased hard until overheating set in on the new engine and he was forced to retire, leaving Clark untroubled. His team-mate Hill was having his first motor race since January 1st and the well-practised Courage gave the Lotus driver a bad time, the 1,600 c.c. McLaren F.2 car being well suited to the circuit. The two V12 B.R.M. cars again made a miserable showing, retiring with fuel system and injection problems, which must worry those people who hope to win Le Mans with this type of power unit. The Brabham-Alfa Romeo 33 of Gardner was not really in the picture at this race.

On February 18th the company were at Warwick Farm Circuit, near Sydney, so it was no surprise that Brabham now joined the racing with the latest things in Repco V8 engines installed in a BT23E Brabham chassis. The new unit had a magnesium crankcase but was still a single overhead camshaft per bank layout. Serious oil leaking stopped it doing much in practice and an older engine was put in for the race, but this leaked oil as well, so Brabham had a poor time, though he did manage to make fastest lap, but finished seventh. Held over 45 laps Clark out-drove everyone to win comfortably from his team mate and for once Amon could not get to grips with him, the Ferrari still using the 24-valve engine, even though the characteristics were not particularly suited to the tight little circuit. In practice he had used the earlier 18-valve engine, but it was a bit tired so he reverted to the later unit for the race. Once again Piers Courage went splendidly in his F.2 McLaren, whereas Hulme was not so impressive with his F.2 car. Graham Hill had to drive hard to keep the “Fiddler” opposition at bay, which he managed, but it did not keep him up with Clark, who was on terrific form. The B.R.M. team took a backward step by having to use a 2.1-litre V8 car for Rodriguez who finished sixth, though Attwood drove a P126 B.R.M. V12, but retired. The Alfa Romeo 33 engine got very truculent and broke a connecting rod, which put it stop to Gardner’s progress.

The following week saw the Tasman circus journey 600 miles westwards to Melbourne, to the faster Sandown Park circuit on February 25th and here the V6 Ferrari was able to match the Lotus 49 cars and Clark and Amon had a terrific battle throughout the 55 laps, finishing almost side-by-side, an official one-tenth of second apart. Graham Hill had a similar battle with Gardner, the Mildren Brabham having a new Alfa Romeo engine in it. Brabham had yet another Repco V8 engine in his Brabham, this time with new cylinder heads having the inlet ports in the vee of the unit and the exhaust port on the outside, with the pipes running down under the suspension. This unit got going well after a slow start and Brabham caught up with the leaders, but before half-distance it was in trouble again and he had to retire. Attwood managed to keep his V12 B.R.M. going to the finish, but behind the F.2 McLaren of Courage, and Rodriguez retired his V12 B.R.M. As in New Zealand the residents did not get much of a look in, if you class Gardner as a European driver.

The final round of the Tasman series took place on the fast Longford Circuit on Monday March 4th, in Tasmania but the general form of the series was upset by the weather. Heavy rain caused the start to be held up for quite a time, and the race distance was cut from 28 laps to 15 laps. The 2½-litre Grand Prix-type cars could find little adhesion from their wide-tread tyres and Courage was able to out-drive Clark, Amon, Hill, Gardner, Rodriguez and Attwood, his little underpowered F.2 car proving very manageable in the wet conditions. Clark finished in fifth place and Amon in seventh place so the Scot was the overall winner of the Tasman championship, amassing 44 Points over the four races in New Zealand and the four in Australia, while Amon was runner-up with 36 points, followed by Courage with 34 points.

Although the series was contested by only a handful of top drivers, there being no Stewart, Gurney or Surtees, while Brabham and Hill did not compete in all the races and Hulme had a non-competitive car, the results show some interesting pointers such as the reliability of the Cosworth V8 engine, which augers well for Ford’s own Group six Prototype sports car, the all-round improvement of the Amon/Ferrari combination and that B.R.M. still have a lot of development work to do on their V12 engine. The Australian races gave Brabham and Repco a chance to try out some new engine ideas, but overall Clark and Lotus would seem to have gained the greatest benefit, the driver being able to keep on top racing form and the Lotus 49 T undergoing endurance testing, for one race, no matter how small, is better than any amount of testing on an empty track.