It’s Tasman again!

Packed grids, quality racing and a host of famous names made the inaugural Tasman Revival a massive hit Down Under. Let’s just hope there’s another one…

Words and Photography: Paul Tilley

Back in the ’60s, when the weather started to get cold in the northern hemisphere, rather than preparing to hibernate for the winter months, the cream of the world’s racing car drivers would look forward to swimming at the beach, practising their water skiing skills and generally enjoying themselves. And at the weekends they also got to compete in one of the most competitive racing series of the era.

Such is the fondness with which the Tasman Series is held – and in particular the 2.5-litre era between 1964 and ’69 – that it was only a matter of time before an event was organised to pay tribute to all those great drivers and recognise this event’s significance to the development of motorsport in Australia and New Zealand. This year, the spirit of that golden age of motor racing was rekindled by the hard-working Historic Sports and Racing Car Association (HSRCA) in Australia, with its inaugural 1960s Tasman Revival meeting, held at the Eastern Creek circuit in Sydney, from December 1-3. I too decided to forgo the UK winter for a little rest and recreation down under and check out the racing as well.

The programme for the three-day meeting was jam-packed, with 53 events covering all categories of historic racing from pre-war specials to mid-80s Formula 1 machines: there was definitely something for everyone. The same could also be said of the weather, which varied from a scorching 40C on the Friday, to a rather chilly 18C on Sunday, for the main events.  

In the early car category (Groups J, K & L), Keith Simpson in a 1960 Lola Mk1 had some tremendous battles with Richard Longes’s Cooper-Climax T51 and Mick Arnold’s 1955 Sharp Holden Special, while Peter Giddings’s 1952 Talbot-Lago and Ernie Nagamatsu’s Buick-powered, crowd-pleasing, Ol’ Yeller II special provided some overseas variety to the class.  

In the Touring Car category, it was great to see Des Wall competing so strongly in the ex-Ian (Pete) Geoghegan Australian Championship-winning ’67 Ford Mustang against Michael Donaher’s 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

For those interested in more modern machinery (Groups Q & R), the sight and sound of Guido Belgiorno-Nettis’s Ferrari 156/85 F1 car along with the ’82 Spirit Honda of Chris Farrell must surely have been a thrill. What was interesting to see, however, was how well John Dimmer’s ex-Jackie Stewart 1971 Tyrrell 004 was able to keep pace with the much more modern machinery.

However, it was the Tasman race and the various cars which competed in it which was the focus of the meeting. There were two Tasman races on the Sunday and both were cracking affairs, even though the winner was the same in each one. In the first race, John Smith – in the Lotus 49B that was originally driven by Graham Hill in the 1969 Tasman Series – started from pole position and took a good win from Phil Harris from the USA in his 1.6 litre 1968 Brabham BT23C F2 car and Spencer Martin driving Alex Mildren’s 1967 Alfa Romeo V8-powered Brabham BT23D (which was driven by Frank Gardner in the 1968 and 1969 events). In the second race, the top three places were the same although the second and third positions were reversed and Smith had to work very hard for the win after Martin got past him during the first half of the 15-lapper. As they both crossed the finish line, there was only 0.23sec separating the two leading cars and considering that old-stager Martin had actually competed in the original Tasman Series, this was a truly remarkable achievement.

Other notable cars included the ex-works Lotus 39 driven by Jim Clark in 1966 and Leo Geoghegan in 1967-69, and the 1966 Repco-powered Brabham BT23A that was raced by both Jack Brabham (1967) and Greg Cusack (1968).

In addition to the racing events, there were also a number of demonstration laps of other sports and racing cars from the period, as well as a demonstration of historic F1 cars covering 1961 to 1985. Of real interest to many was a special parade of drivers from the original Tasman Series who were driven around the circuit in Morgan sports cars and getting a warm reception from the large crowd. Such notables included Frank Gardner, Chris Amon, Leo Geoghegan, Kevin Bartlett, Frank Matich, Jim Palmer, Lionel Ayres and Roly Levis.  

And when people were not watching the racing, the organisers had done their best to make the cars and drivers as accessible as possible in the pit area by having open marquees with signs to identify them. There was also a great display of memorabilia in a large marquee at the end of the pits, where drivers were signing autographs and regaling all with tales of a bygone era.  

After wandering around the pits and watching the races over the whole three days, it was obvious that the organising committee had done a tremendous job in not only finding a lot of the original Tasman Series cars, but also lots of the drivers and people involved in those events from 40 years ago. In fact, it was the largest gathering of historic open-wheel race cars ever assembled at one event in Australia (more than 80) which just shows the level of interest in these cars and this event.

At the present time, no decision has been made on whether another Tasman Revival meeting will go ahead, but if it does, it will likely be in another two years time. If competitor interest is anything to go by, then it should be a certainty and I know where I will also be when it happens… enjoying top-quality racing under warm sunny skies while those on the other side of the world prepare for the winter.