‘Adelaide Alive’ rang the catch phrase in the late eighties and early nineties, plastered about posters and shirts and stickers to celebrate the glamour and party atmosphere injected into our city when the Formula One circus came to town. Modern Formula One may have since moved on, but the Adelaide Motorsport Festival’s Victoria Park Sprint is fast returning that glory by celebrating our city’s motorsport heritage in the heart of the CBD parklands.
The headline concept of the event is simple; to bring as many period Formula One cars back to Adelaide as possible and have them driven in anger on the original Grand Prix circuit for us all to see and hear. For the first Adelaide Grand Prix in 1985 the start/finish straight and the three corners either side were permanently laid in the parklands, and combined with closed city roads it formed the full street circuit.
The parklands stretch still remains today as it was laid in 1985, and the original Grand Prix street circuit is still used in slightly modified form for the Clipsal 500 race annually. Closing half the city down for a second event per year isn’t feasible for a car club to manage, so for the Victoria Park Sprint just one public road is closed which links each end of the permanent parklands section into a technical little circuit. It’s quite short, but it incorporates some of the most famous parts of the original track and the drivers absolutely love blasting around it.
Whilst the Formula One cars were the headline act (and rightly so), it would be selling the Victoria Park Sprint short to treat them as the only highlight of the weekend. They were backed by a strong support field which easily would have stood on its own filled with sports, racing and saloon cars stretching all the way from the 40’s to the present day.
It seemed that everywhere you looked there was something new to see, something being warmed up or slowly coerced through the crowds or the rows of display cars on the way to the grid. I’m not going to sit here and make grandiose comparisons to the Goodwood Festival of Speed because that would be unfair to the Victoria Park Sprint. But having now attended both events, Victoria Park even in its infancy reminded me of that rare yet familiar feeling of relaxation that sweeps over you at about 10am. When you’re wandering around a truly excellent event, the realisation comes that you just can’t see everything in the detail you want to. Instead of rushing around, you just give up and take in what you see in front of you.
Maybe an extreme lack of sleep brought it on a little quicker, but after a few hours’ I gave up trying to see everything. Instead, I just focused on seeing in detail the things that interest me, and more importantly, the things we don’t see very often in Adelaide. I know a lot of Any Given Reason readers were competing over the weekend and might be looking for a picture or two of their car, but hey, it’s not every day that a Swiss collector ships two of his ex-Senna Lotus Formula One cars to our doorstep for us to check out.
Yep, that happened. The JPS Lotus 97T is Ayrton Senna’s 1985 steed, the very car that he put on pole in Adelaide that year. This photo shows that car back on the same track exactly thirty years later, almost to the month.
Having been born three years after this car was last in Adelaide and missing the heights of the turbo era, it was a special privilege to hear it run in anger. It was only a short-lived privilege, though. Pushing 900hp out of 1500cc is just as difficult today as it was in 1985, and these cars are no more reliable now than they were back then.
The JPS car didn’t run on Saturday due to clutch problems, and on Sunday it lasted just over a lap before it blew its engine. But funnily enough, most people didn’t really care. They were happy just to be able to see the car, get up close to it and have their photo taken with it.
It ended up on display next to its younger brother shipped from the same Swiss collection, Senna’s 1987 Lotus 99T in bright yellow Camel colours. This very car was driven by Senna to second place in the 1987 Adelaide Grand Prix, however was controversially disqualified post race for an illegal design of brake ducting. It also sat dormant due to a blown engine which happened in testing just before it was shipped from Europe, although so popular were these two on static display that it was difficult to get a clear photo all weekend. This photo was taken by Luke Jaksa a few days before the Victoria Park Sprint, when both cars were brought out for a media event. Some more detailed photos of both the Senna Lotus’ on the start line of the Adelaide circuit can be found by clicking here.
Speaking of the 1987 Australian Grand Prix, we were lucky to inspect up close another important car from that year’s race at Victoria Park. This is the very Ferrari F1/87 that Gerhard Berger drove to victory in Adelaide that year.
Also being exercised in anger was the Beatrice-Lola driven by Alan Jones in the 1985 Adelaide Grand Prix, and the BMW Benneton driven by Berger in the 1986 Adelaide Grand Prix. The BMW Benneton represented the peak of the turbo era, and in full qualifying mode they were pushing almost 1,400hp from just 1,499cc and four cylinders.
The most current Formula One racer in attendance was also one of the most unusual – the Arrows AX-3 ride car, resplendent in full period livery. This one differs from most F1 ride cars in that the two passengers sit astride the driver and have a clear view of what’s coming up, giving the closest possible replication of what is experienced by a Formula One driver.
The chassis began life as an Arrows A20 and was driven rather unsuccessfully in the 1999 season by Pedro de la Rosa and Jos Verstappen. Over the year 2000 it was converted into three seat format and re-launched in 2001 as the AX3 for sponsor and celebrity ride days. The noise emanating from the screaming Hart V10 as it roared past at 15,000rpm was for many people the highlight of the Victoria Park Sprint, and it was pure F1 glory that makes the modern turbo era cars sound boring and dull in comparison. If I had a direct line to Bernie I’d be telling him that the 2016 F1 cars need either small cylinders and lots of them, or huge turbochargers that make the cars sound like they did in the eighties. Ideally, teams could choose to give a spread of different noises on the grid.
Peter Brennan once again brought out his 1979 Warsteiner Arrows A1B-06 which never raced in Adelaide, but was driven by Ricardo Patrese in the South African, American, Spanish, Belgian and Monaco Grand Prix’s of that year.
As cool as it was seeing these old machines out on track, arguably the best part of the weekend was the access you had as a spectator to get up close and inspect them in detail. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the little details of these cars and could have spent hours just poking and prodding around. The knowledge and experience, not to mention expense, required to keep these cars running is just immense. Each car had a crew of at least three or four keeping them prepared throughout the weekend, often needing to cycle warmed oil and coolant through the engines to prepare for startup more than half an hour before a run. No wonder there’s so many of these machines relegated to static display these days. They are designed by Formula One grade engineers to be run and operated by Formula One grade teams, and it is a mammoth task for a privateer to keep one on the track.
As I mentioned earlier, the focus on Formula One is largely because we don’t see these cars all the time. But the quality of the support field was strong enough that it probably could have stood on its own, even without the F1 cars. This is Peter Brock and John Cleland’s entry into the 1993 Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst. Triple M Rocktober ’93 – now that’s grouse.
… as well as a small contingent of classic V8 Supercars. Standing taking this photo really made me feel old, as this is the first time I’ve watched a so called ‘historic’ class where I could remember seeing the cars race in period. The VT Commodore seems only two or three generations old to me, but this Perkins Castrol entry is almost 18 years old and predates even the Adelaide (Clipsal) 500 race itself. This thing likely raced back when Mallala was the South Australian round of the ATCC!
Fresh from its spirited outing in the Classic Adelaide Rally was the first Ferrari 488 GTB on Australian roads. With an already three year long waiting list these things will be everywhere soon enough, but it was still pretty special to have a good look over such a new car.
The F50 has long been viewed as somewhat of a poor cousin to the F40 and Enzo in the stratospheric world of Ferrari hypercars, but I think that opinion will soon change. After all, over 4 times more F40’s were built than F50’s. It’s not as dramatic as the F40 but it seems a better drivers car, and of all the so called ‘F1 inspired’ road cars, the F50 is the closest. Its V12 block can legitimately trace its roots back to the 1990 Formula one season and is mounted as a stressed member directly to the carbon tub. With 382kw produced at 8000rpm propelling just 1230kg through a proper six speed gated shift manual gearbox, it might not be the quickest on paper but I’d damn well bet it’s the best to drive.
On the Sunday of the Victoria Park Sprint the cars that were entered in the Classic Adelaide Rally drove a couple of parade laps. Jim Richards and Barry Oliver had entered the rally in the brand new Porsche Cayman GT4 and it was a great opportunity to see another just-launched car put through its paces in Adelaide.
Even with the emphasis on heritage, the Victoria Park Sprint is firmly a competitive event and drivers were fighting hard for individual class wins. It was interesting to note that despite all of the incredible technology surrounding it, the fastest car of the day was propelled by the humble Holden 3.8 V6.
There were cars that I didn’t even see until the last minute, and some that I didn’t see at all until they popped up in friends’ social media streams the following day. But that comes with the territory, I guess.
As for next year the Victoria Park Sprint will be back, presumably bigger and better again. If the rumors I’m already hearing are true, we could maybe even look forward to multiple classes of Formula One cars split by era.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles
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