Fierce competition is good, and from motorkhana to Australian GT it’s often the tick of the stopwatch and the heat of the moment that provides that last bit of drive and incentive to shave every last tenth. Strong competition breeds the best and whilst there’s a definite joy in competing to your limit, it’s often far from relaxing.
That’s where a bloke named Roger Dutton – barbeque extraordinaire and mechanic for Adelaide based Formula 3 and Carrera Cup outfit Team BRM – comes in. Roger is involved in motorsport at a far higher level than most, but also knows the value in relaxing and enjoying it from time to time, and has pretty much built his own personal Mk1 Escort around this ethos. Through his sideline business Retrogarage, Roger has started organising track days at Mallala where the focus is very much on enjoyment.
Any Given Reason was invited to join the fun by longtime reader Tom Gilbert, so with instructions to meet up with the gang at the BP on Portrush at 630 on a Wednesday morning, I threaded my way through the dawn of peak hour traffic, knowing something far more interesting than a desk would be waiting for me at the other end. These suspicions were confirmed when an immaculate 356B and a throaty 964 Carrera 2 pulled onto the forecourt as if on cue.
We stood around for a while, drinking coffee and discussing the huge variety already present in the small group of cars that had assembled. The fact that it was raining did not escape our attention, either.
Tom would be driving his Toyota 86; standard apart from a set of Work Emotion’s wrapped in some slightly better rubber. I had a steer on the way to the track, and was happily re acquainted with just how much fun these basic little sports cars are. A revvy engine, a slick gearshift and a grippy driving position is all you really need.
It was unfortunately suffering from a minor glitch which saw power temporarily cut down the back straight, but on a good day it’s capable of low 1.12’s. Grant noted, however, that power cut or not it was still huge fun to fling around the track.
You can really pick these factory built racecars as they just look more complete and finished than something constructed in someones back shed. Although, I’m sure most amateurs would come up with something pretty nice if they had the resources and experience of Scuderia Ferrari backing them up.
Their day ended pretty quickly with a blown turbo after just a handful of laps. But I guess that’s the value of the shakedown run – better for that to happen here than on the first stage of Targa High Country.
… and a quick peek under the bonnet revealed why. That’s a seriously tuned Rover K series motor putting out “well north of 200hp” (said with a grin). That, combined with a dog box, huge 330mm AP brakes and a sub-ton kerb weight delivers a 1.24 lap time, with a lot more to come. And apparently there’s a Judd built K Series on the way with about 270hp. Whoo-boy.
… there was someone out there just to enjoy the rare privilege of a brisk run, such as Scott Elvish in the gorgeous 356. Listening to music while track driving should be avoided, but an exception has to be made for the 356. How could you drive this thing and not listen to Dizzie Gillespie or Count Basie? The 356 is built for jazz music.
Roger reckons that a huge hassle at most track days is lunch – the track canteen is, well, lets say it doesn’t have a Michelin star, and it’s always a pain to drive back into town to grab something. Rog was adamant that lunch be good, and as a result the spread of Bratwurst and salads was excellent! Highlight of the day.
And it struck us that the 86 is the perfect car for someone like Tom. He’s not a dedicated track guy and can’t see the point in the hassle of owning and maintaining a dedicated track car given its limited use. He just likes cars and likes driving and the 86 is the perfect partner, equally up for a hills blast or the morning commute whilst still being able to take the odd track day in its stride.
Unfortunately the mechanical toll on the day was high, with both Sean Bennet’s RX3 and Ben Angel’s WRX going down in rather spectacular ways along with a litany of other unpredictable failures amongst the field.
It was not lost on us dedicated Euro fans that apart from the 86, all of the Japanese cars broke and at the end of the day it was the old Porsche’s, the Triumph and Rover (really!) and the Ferrari that were running like clockwork.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles