17-18 December: This Weekend in the History of Motor Sport9

Discover the momentous motor sports events that took place during this weekend in history …….

~16 December~

1934: Scuderia Ferrari conceived plans for the 16-cylinder Alfa Romeo Bimotore race car.

1937: Doug van Riet driving an Austin Van Riet won the “II Rand Grand Prix” handicap race at the Lord Howe track, South Africa from Roy Hesketh (MG) and Don Giovanni “Johnny” Lurani (Maserati).

1982: Colin Chapman (54), founder of Lotus Cars, suffered a fatal heart attack. The son of a hotel manager, Chapman grew up in Hornsea and studied mechanical engineering at University College, London. He was an enthusiastic member of the University Air Squadron and learned to fly while still a student. He then did his national service as a Royal Air Force pilot in 1948. Chapman’s first car was a special built using a 1930 Austin Seven and this was entered in a series of trials. It was called a Lotus because Chapman and his friends had worn themselves out building it and they reckoned it had the same soporific effect as the lotus flower. In 1952, his girlfriend Hazel Williams lent him £25 to establish the Lotus Engineering Company with Michael Allen, with the aim of building copies of his racing machines. In 1953, Frank Costin joined the company from De Havilland and the Lotus Mk 8 enjoyed some success. Increasing success with the sports cars led Chapman to build his first single-seater racing car in 1956 and the Formula 2 Lotus 12 enjoyed some success in 1957. The first victory in a Lotus car came at Monaco in 1960 when Stirling Moss beat the dominant Ferrari team in his Rob Walker Lotus. The first victory for Team Lotus itself was at the end of the following year when Innes Ireland won the United States Grand Prix. Success on the race track was an important part of the company’s success and in 1963 Jim Clark drove the Lotus 25 to a remarkable seven wins in a season, winning the World Championship. The team was beaten at the last race in 1964 but in 1965 Clark dominated again. For the new 3-liter Formula 1 in 1966 Chapman chose BRM engines (a mistake) but the arrival of the Cosworth DFV in 1967 returned the team to winning ways with Graham Hill World Champion in 1968 with the Lotus 49. In 1970 Jochen Rindt was posthumous World Champion with the Lotus 72 and Emerson Fittipaldi used a revised version of the car to win Lotus another World Championship in 1972. In 1978, with six victories, five of them in the innovative Lotus 79, Mario Andretti became World Champion. Chapman was also successful at Indianapolis with the Lotus 29 almost winning the 500 at its first attempt in 1963 with Clark. The race marked the beginning of the end for the old front-engined Indianapolis roadsters. Clark was leading when he retired from the 1964 event but in 1965 he won the biggest prize in US racing. Chapman’s cars had many engineering innovations, and were always known for light weight. There is little doubt that if Lotus founder Colin Chapman had not died he would have ended up in jail for his part in the De Lorean Car company scandal.

2004: Lola Cars International began manufacturing 50 identical race cars for the inaugural Al GP series of 2005–2006, the largest single order in motor-racing history. A1 Grand Prix was unique in its field in that competitors solely represented their nation as opposed to themselves or a team, the usual format in most formula racing series. Unfortunately it folded in 2010.

~17 December~

1968: The London-Sydney Rally which had started from the Crystal Palace racing circuit in London at 2pm on Sunday, November 24th 1968, finished at Warwick Farm (an outer Sydney suburb), in Australia. Roger Clark established an early lead through the first genuinely treacherous leg, from Sivas to Erzincan in Turkey, averaging almost 60 mph in his Lotus Cortina for the 170 mile stage. Despite losing time in Pakistan and India, he maintained his lead to the end of the Asian section in Bombay, with Simo Lampinen’s Ford Taunus second and Lucien Bianchi’s DS21 in third. However, once into Australia, Clark suffered several setbacks. A piston failure dropped him to third, and would have cost him a finish had he not been able to cannibalise fellow Ford Motor Company driver Eric Jackson’s car for parts. After repairs were effected, he suffered what should have been a terminal rear differential failure. Encountering a Cortina by the roadside, he persuaded the initially reluctant owner to sell his rear axle and resumed once more, although at the cost of 80 minutes’ delay while it was replaced. This left Lucien Bianchi and co-driver Jean-Claude Ogier in the lead ahead of Gilbert Staepelaere/Simo Lampinen in the German Ford Taunus, with Andrew Cowan in the Hillman Hunter 3rd. Then Staepelaere’s Taunus broke down leaving Cowan in second position and Paddy Hopkirk’s Austin 1800 in third place. Approaching the Nowra checkpoint at the end of the penultimate stage with only 98 miles to Sydney, the Frenchmen were involved in a head-on collision which wrecked their Citroën and hospitalised the pair. Hopkirk, the first driver on the scene (ahead of Cowan on the road, but behind on penalties), gave up any chance of victory when he stopped to tend to the injured and extinguish the flames in the burning cars. That left Andrew Cowan, who had requested “a car to come last” from the Chrysler factory on the assumption that only half a dozen drivers would even reach Sydney, to take an unexpected victory in his Hillman Hunter and claim the £10,000 prize. Hopkirk finished second, while Australian Ian Vaughan was third in a factory-entered Ford XT Falcon GT. Ford Australia won the Teams’ Prize with their three Falcons GTs, placing 3rd, 6th and 8th.

1979: Hollywood stuntman Stan Barrett became the first person in the world to travel faster than sound on land, after driving the three-wheeled Budweiser Rocket at a top speed of 739.666 mph (which is Mach 1.01, Mach 1.0 being the speed of sound) on a one-way run at Rogers Dry Lake, California. The ultrasonic speed set an unofficial record, but an official record requires trips in both directions, whose speeds are averaged.

1990: Ontario Motor Speedway (US), the first and only automobile racing facility built to accommodate major races sanctioned by all of the four dominant racing sanctioning bodies: USAC (and now IndyCar Series) for open-wheel oval car races; NASCAR for a 500-mile (800 km) oval stock car races; NHRA for drag races; and FIA for Formula One road course races, closed, Constructed in less than two years, the track opened in August 1970 and was considered state of the art at the time.

1999: NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt underwent back surgery to remove a ruptured disk at University Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA.

2001: Toyota finally launched their racing car, after one of the longest development processes in Formula One history. The Japanese team had an entry for the 2001 F1 season but chose not to compete, instead spending the year setting up the team and testing the car. Panasonic Toyota Racing’s F1 car, TF102, was a successor to the team’s 2001 test car, TF101, and came with a brand new livery. The car retained Toyota’s corporate colours of red and white, while additionally carrying the logos of the team’s newly acquired partners AOL Time Warner and Wella. The new car had been designed by a team led by Chief Designer Gustav Brunner. The 2002 race car was powered by the newly developed RVX-02 engine. President of Toyota Motorsport, Ove Andersson, said: “Success is not a matter of money. It is about a good team working well together and getting everything right.” In 140 Grands Prix between 2002 and 2009, when it finally called time, Toyota failed to win a race.

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