This year the Tasman series was held over four races in New Zealand and three in Australia, all except one being of about 100 miles in length, the odd one out being the 75-mile Levin race. The Tasman organisers still insist on running their races to a 2½-litre engine capacity limit, but in spite of this a few European racing-car builders are prepared to build special engines for this obsolete Formula. Cosworth made a 2½-litre version of the Grand Prix V8 engine, and Ferrari enlarged a Formula Two engine to as near to 2.5 litres as he could get it. B.R.M. gave the Tasman races a miss this year, only Gold Leaf Team Lotus, Ferrari, and the Frank Williams Racing Team making the journey south. In addition to these five cars there were two Australian teams in contention, the Mildren team with a special car for Gardner, and Geoghegan with his own special Lotus-Repco V8. Apart from these seven cars the fields consisted of some out-dated 2½-litres and many 1,600 c.c. and 1,500 c.c. cars driven by Australian and New Zealand drivers.
Team Lotus sent two cars, designated 49T, being Grand Prix Lotus 49 models with 2½-litre versions of the Cosworth V8 engine and with ZF gearboxes. Graham Hill led the team, supported by his new team-mate, Rindt. Although Ferrari did not send an official team, he lent two Formula Two cars, powered by 2.4-litre version of the Dino V6 engine, to Amon and Bell and they organised their own trip. Piers Courage, having left the Tim Parnell team and B.R.M., joined forces with racing car dealer Frank Williams, whose racing team built a special Brabham powered by a 2½-litre Cosworth V8 engine. The chassis was BT24/3 from the 1968 works team and the back end was modified to take the Cosworth engine in place of the original Repco engine. After the promising showing of his Brabham-Alfa Romeo last year, Australian Alfa Romeo agent Alec Mildren commissioned Alan Mann Ltd., of Byfleet, Surrey, to design and build a monocoque chassis to take a new 2½-litre V8 Alfa Romeo engine. It was completed at the end of the 1968 season and Frank Gardner gave it its first outing on December 1st in Australia. The only other possible winner in this year’s races was Australian Leo Geoghegan with a Lotus 39 chassis with a tubular frame extending back from the main monocoque, carrying a single-camshaft-per-bank Repco V8.
In view of the “sprint” nature of the races, the mechanical troubles in the Lotus team seem to have been rather unreasonable, not giving much feeling of confidence for the 1969 Grand Prix season. Team leader Hill had more than his fair share of trouble and seldom had a chance to show his real driving ability. In the first race, the New Zealand G.P., his car suffered a collapsed front suspension, in the second a drive-shaft broke, in the fourth his engine gave trouble with the rev-limiting device, in the fifth his “aerofoil” mounting broke, in the sixth he suffered from water in the ignition. In the seventh Hill was still in trouble; this time when the throttle linkage of his Lotus fell apart on the opening lap. After his pit-stop he pulled back to sixth place.
Team-mate Rindt’s car was nearly as bad. In the first race the foot control of the “aerofoil” failed and the clutch operating mechanism failed, but in spite of this he finished second. In the second race he over-drove and crashed heavily, destroying the monocoque, but escaping unhurt. This involved Team Lotus in England in a panic organisation to get another monocoque shell and suspension parts out to New Zealand in time for the car to be rebuilt ready for the third race. This fantastic effort of organisation and rebuilding was more than justified by Rindt winning the third race. In the rebuild the new car was fitted with the later Hewland gearbox, and for the fourth race Hill’s car was similarly converted. Rindt’s luck did not last, for at the start of the fourth race a drive-shaft broke (another one!) and he was rammed by a surprised Derek Bell, whose Ferrari was just behind. In race five Rindt’s engine misfired continuously, and he finally gave up, but in race six he had a very convincing win, rounding off the series in a good second place at Sandown Park.
It is ironical that while Team Lotus were struggling to complete less than 700 racing miles in actual competition, B.R.M. were down in South Africa with a 1968 B.R.M. V12 driven by their new number one driver, Surtees, and covered 800 miles of tyre testing for Dunlop with only one involuntary stop. One wonders what would have happened if Surtees and B.R.M. had been “down under” trying to win seven short races. Amon’s private Ferrari team had a much more successful trip, the New Zealand driver winning his own National Grand Prix, neighbouring Australia’s Grand Prix and the Tasman Championship, while his team-mate Bell had numerous worthy drives and learnt a lot about team driving and Ferrari driving which will prove invaluable experience for the Grand Prix season with the 3-litre cars. There is no doubt that drivers who race throughout the winter months, like those who did the Tasman series, will start the more serious International season with a distinct advantage over someone who has not raced since last November, and even an advantage over those who have spent our winter months only test-driving. All the test-driving in the world cannot compare with one short 100-mile highly competitive event.
A brief synopsis of the seven races is as follows:—
Race 1.—The Grand Prix of New Zealand at Pukekohe over 58 laps of the 1.75-mile circuit with lap times of just under one minute and lap speeds of just over 100 m.p.h. Team Lotus troubles began on the “dummy-grid” when the tachometer broke on Rindt’s car, necessitating a last-minute fitting of a new one. A local car caught fire on the warm-up lap and the Mildren-Alfa Romeo V8 lost all its fuel system pressure as the race started. Amon got away first, but Rindt took the lead on the second lap and held it until the eighteenth when he lost control and spun. The Ferrari driver had hung on to the Lotus all this time and the Austrian’s mistake allowed Amon to retake the lead and hold it to the end of the race.
Race 2.—At Levin, not far from Amon’s home town, the circuit is 1.175 miles to the lap, covered in a little over 45 sec. at an average speed of just over 90 m.p.h. There were two 14-lap preliminary races, one for the fast cars and one for the slower cars, and the main race was over 63 laps. In practice the Brabham-Cosworth V8 of Courage broke its engine, but Team Lotus had a spare one, which they lent him. As at Pukekohe, Amon led away, but Rindt soon charged past the Ferrari, only to lose control and spin, which put the Lotus back in sixth place. Three laps later, while trying to regain lost ground, Rindt had a really spectacular accident, finishing upside down, but meanwhile Amon stayed in front. Courage was getting the hang of driving a competitive car and took the lead for a few laps, but over did things before half-distance, which let Amon back in front, where he stayed to the end. The second Ferrari suffered from a broken exhaust system, calling for a pit stop, and then retired with a faulty oil seal.
Race 3.—On the 2.3-mile airfield circuit near Christchurch for the Lady Wigram Trophy the lap speeds were over 100 m.p.h. with some fast sections, and the Ferraris were not powerful enough to combat the Cosworth engines. This time Rindt made no mistakes and led from start to finish of the 44 laps in the new Lotus 49B, built up from parts sent out rapidly by air from Norwich. Hill had a trouble-free meeting, winning the short preliminary heat for over 1,500 c.c. cars, and finishing second to Rindt in the main race to make it a Lotus 1-2. Gardner spun on the opening lap and in the ensuing melee the yellow Mildren car was damaged and forced to retire.
Race 4.—At Teretonga Park, in the far south of New Zealand, the 1.6-mile circuit was lapped in well under a minute and average speeds were just under 100 m.p.h. To open proceedings there were the usual two short heats, the results of which decided the starting grid for the 62-lap main race. Rindt was on pole position and, as he let the clutch in, a drive-shaft broke and the Lotus came to a sudden halt. Bell was right behind and rammed the stricken Lotus and had to stop at the end of the opening lap for repairs to the Ferrari. After that he drove an excellent race to finish fifth, two laps behind the winner, who on this occasion was Courage. The Brabham driver had taken the lead on the second lap and driven faultlessly to the end, leading Hill and Amon.
This ended the New Zealand part of the Tasman series and the “touring company” moved over to Australia, leaving many of the locals to continue their own National racing season, and joining the Australians in their summer season.
Race 5.—The Australian Grand Prix was held at Lakeside, in Queensland, and the tight little circuit was being lapped in just over 50 sec., but, even so, the average speed was over 100 m.p.h. Amon had no opposition in this race as Rindt’s Cosworth engine never ran properly, Courage and Hill collided, which eliminated the Brabham and delayed the Lotus, and Bell followed his team-leader home to make it a Ferrari 1-2. The various troubles of the visitors allowed Geoghegan to take third place in his Lotus 39 Repco V8.
Race 6.—The race on the 2.25-mile circuit at Warwick Farm, near Sydney, had a European atmosphere, with torrential rain. Courage spun on the opening lap and Amon’s Ferrari hit the Brabham, both cars being eliminated. Hill’s Lotus had water in its electrics and this left Rindt unchallenged, with Bell doing a good number two job, finishing in second place. The Mildren team had a good day with Gardner third in the “monocoque” 1969 car and Bartlett fourth in the 1968 Brabham-Alfa Romeo V8. In between drying out his Cosworth V8 engine Hill made fastest lap.
Race 7.—The final race was at Sandown Park on the 1.928-mile circuit, with lap speeds of over 100 m.p.h. Amon continued his splendid form, leading the race from start to finish, pursued in vain by Rindt. At this event Brabham made a welcome appearance with his latest BT31 with V8 Repco two-camshaft engine and finished in third place, a lap behind the leaders, while Courage retired with a broken drive shaft.