While Europe spends the winter months thinking about new racing cars for the 1968 season and running snow-covered rallies, the continents of New Zealand and Australia are in full swing with their summer racing season. In between National events the two countries run a series of International events that count for a Tasman Championship and these are run to a capacity limit of 2½-litres. When the 2½-litre Grand Prix Formula ended in 1960 the British made a lot of noise about keeping it going in place of the 1961-65 Formula which had a 1½-litre limit. This idea was not supported in Europe, but the Tasman race organisers endeavoured to lend support by running their events to this obsolete limit, hoping to attract European entries. There were numerous 2½-litre 4-cylinder Coventry-Climax engines “down-under” and they thought they were keeping faith with their national drivers by retaining the old 2½-litre Formula. This was title for a year or two, but the 4-cylinder eventually became obsolete and could not match good 1½-litre V8 engines. Even when Grand Prix racing changed to a 3-litre capacity limit in 1966 the Tasman series stuck to 2½-litres in spite of new 3-litre engines being built in Australia, so that we now have the rather absurd situation where anyone going to the Tasman races from Europe has to build a special engine that is quite useless in any other form of racing. This is done for a small series of short sprint races that are out of step with all other forms of single-seater racing; and the result is that most of the local drivers have obsolete machinery that is hopelessly outclassed, their only hope being to buy a one-year-old ex-factory Tasman special.
The Tasman series can be useful in being a testing ground for new cars, new drivers, new tyres and new ideas before the serious season of Grand Prix racing begins, but it involves a lot of expense and work that would not be necessary if the “down-unders” ran in line with the Grand Prix Formula. There is hope on the horizon for they are considering a 3-litre Formula for 1970, except that by then the 3-litre Grand Prix Formula may be nearing a change.
For the 1968 Tasman series three major European teams prepared cars and built special engines. Team Lotus sent the second of their G.P. cars, 49/2 with a special 2½-litre version of the Cosworth V8 installed, this being for Jim Clark to drive. The Cosworth underwent a change of bore and stroke from 85.72 x 64.77 mm. to 85.67 x 54.10 mm. to reduce the capacity to 2½-litres. Ferrari squeezed a 2.4-litre version of the 3 valves-per-cylinder V6 Dino engine into one of the abortive 1967 Formula Two cars for Amon, and B.R.M. took two new cars with V12 cylinder engines, reduced to 2½-litres, for Rodriguez and McLaren, these 1968 cars being designated P126. They also took two of the old 2.1-litre V8 cars; one as a spare and the other to sell but the deal did not materialise. Tim Parnell was in charge of all this. As a private-entry World Champion Denis Hulme had the 1967 Brabham F.2 car that Rindt raced last year, but with only 1,600 c.c. he had little hope of being competitive, which was not good for his Champion status. Courage had the Coombs’ McLaren F.2 car and the local driver Palmer had a similar car. Of particular interest was the entry of a “special” owned by Alec Mildren and driven by Frank Gardner. This was a Brabham chassis powered by a 2½-litre version of the 4 o.h.c. V8 Alfa Romeo engine used in the Autodelta Tipo 33 cars last year in Group 6 racing. It drove through a Hewland FT200 gearbox and was a very competitive machine, winning on its first outing in a National Australian event.
This small but interesting collection of cars first came together at Pukekohe for the New Zealand G.P. on Jan. 6th where the Lotus 49 was securely in the lead when the Cosworth V8 broke and this let the V6 Ferrari win with the Brabham-Alfa-Romeo V8 in second place. Hulme had a lurid accident and wrote off the ex-Rindt car, salvaging only the engine and gearbox. The V12 B.R.M.’s were far from right and Rodriguez drove one of the old V8 cars in the race, but it and McLaren’s V12 B.R.M. both retired with various troubles. With such a high standard of machinery on the front of the grid the organisers put a limit of 10 seconds between fastest and slowest qualifying in practice and this reduced the 30 entries down to 21 for the race.
The following weekend, January 13th, saw everyone except Hulme at Levin near Wellington on the North Island of New Zealand. Once again the Lotus 49 was setting the pace but Clark had an excursion off the track which let the Ferrari V6 into the lead. While trying to catch the Ferrari, Clark hit a kerbstone and bent the rear suspension of the Lotus and was forced to retire. Gardner went off the track with the Brabham-Alfa Romeo and damaged the suspension, while both V12 B.R.M. cars retired with engine problems and Amon had an easy win from Courage and Palmer in their F.2 McLaren-Cosworth FVA cars. With a lap time of around 47 seconds for the fast cars, any locals more than six seconds behind were not qualified to start.
The next race was at Christchurch on January 20th on the 2.3 mile aerodrome circuit for the Lady Wigram Trophy and here the Lotus 49 led from start to finish, Clark never putting a wheel wrong. By this time Colin Chapman had announced the financial tie-up between John Player, the cigarette people, and Team Lotus, so Clark was entered by the Gold Leaf Team Lotus organisation and the car was painted red, white and gold. Some race organisers appear to be equally out of touch with European decisions as they are about capacity limits for there were some ticking noises about all the advertising. Amon ran second with the Ferrari V6 and Hulme was third in a car built up from his ex-works F.2 chassis of last year and the engine front his crashed car, the upset not affecting his driving at all, as one would expect from the rugged New Zealander. The two V12 B.R.M. cars finished, but were not really in the running, while the Alfa Romeo V8 engine blew a head gasket. The Lotus 49 was doing 164 m.p.h. on the straight, with the Ferrari in its slipstream.
The final round of the New Zealand part of the Tasman Championship was held on January 28th at Teretonga Park and whereas the other races had been in hot weather, this final one was held in rain. The standard practice in these New Zealand races is to run two short heats, one for cars under 1½-litres and the other for over 1½-litres, the results deciding the starting grid for the main race. This means that official practice times only count for the Heat starting grid under normal conditions. The wet weather made a complete nonsense of this system for on the way to the start the Ferrari got its electrics wet and was withdrawn, the Brabham-Alfa Romeo had no decent wet weather tyres so Gardner did not start, and during the 10 laps McLaren crashed the V12 B.R.M. he was driving. In the poor conditions Clark won, with Courage second. The 1½-litre Heat had been held in better conditions so the grid would have been very muddled; the organisers scrubbed the whole idea and drew up the grid for the main race on the practice times, which gave Amon the pole position, with Clark alongside and Courage back in row two, so that all their efforts in the wet Heat had been wasted. However, it was a very impressive front row, with left to right, Ferrari V6, Lotus 49, B.R.M. V12 and Brabham-Alfa Romeo V8, the B.R.M. having been repaired after its crash in the Heat. Once again the Lotus was well in the lead but with only seven laps to go Clark got out of control on a hump and spun off the track at very high speed, coming to rest unhurt but with the Lotus nose cowling smashed. He got going again, stopped at the pits to have the damaged cowling removed, and finished second. Amon had been in second place when he spun off the track and a marshal ran across the track to help him just as Gardner appeared and in taking avoiding action the Brabham-Alfa went off as well. All this let a lucky McLaren into the lead with a B.R.M. V12, and he just kept ahead to the end.
After a weekend break the series started up again in Australia on February 11th for the second half of the Tasman Championship, and these races will be reviewed next month.
New Zealand G.P. – Pukekohe – (January 6th) Results: 58 laps of 1.75-mile circuit 1st: C. Amon (Ferrari V6–2.4-litre) 59 min. 20.1 sec. 2nd: F. Gardner (Brabham-Alfa Romeo V8–2½-litre) 59 min. 57.8 sec. 3rd: P. Courage (McLaren M4A-Cosworth FVA–1,600 c.c.) 56 laps Fastest lap: C. Amon (Ferrari V6), in 59.3 sec.
Levin G.P.–Levin–(January 13th) 63 laps–75 miles 1st: C. Amon (Ferrari V6–2.4-litre) 50 min. 40.2 sec. 2nd: F. Gardner (Brabham-Alfa Romeo V8–2½-litre) 51 min. 40.2 sec. 3rd: J. Palmer (McLaren M4A-Cosworth FVA–1,600 c.c.) 60 laps Fastest lap: C. Amon (Ferrari V6), in 46.8 sec.
Lady Wigram Trophy–Christchurch–(January 20th) 44 laps of 2.3-mile circuit 1st: J. Clark (Lotus 49-Cosworth V8–2½-litre) 59 min. 10.8 sec. 2nd: C. Amon (Ferrari V6–2.4-litre) 59 min. 18.5 sec. 3rd: D. Hulme (Brabham BT23-Cosworth FVA–1,600 c.c.) 43 laps Fastest lap: C. Amon (Ferrari V6) and J. Clark (Lotus 49), in 1 min. 19.6 sec.
Teretonga Trophy Invercargill–(January 28th) 69 laps of 1.6-mile circuit 1st: B. McLaren (B.R.M. V12-P126–2½-litre) 1 hr. 08 min. 17.9 sec. 2nd: J. Clark (Lotus 49-Cosworth V8–2½-litre) 1 hr. 08 min. 28.5 sec. 3rd: F. Gardner (Brabham-Alfa Romeo V8–2½-litre) 1 hr. 09 min. 09.5 sec. Fastest lap: J. Clark (Lotus 49), in 61.0 sec.