Tasman Cup (1964 - 1969)

Send This Page To A Friend

Motorsport in Australia and New Zealand

When it comes to the world of motor sport, both Australia and New Zealand have for many decades punched well above their weight, given the size of their population on the world stage. The Australian Grand Prix was inaugurated in 1928 and New Zealand's in 1954. And it was during the 1950s that the Europeans - both top names and amateurs - became attracted to early-season races in New Zealand and Australia, and ultimately the inevitable happened.

The Association of New Zealand Car Clubs

The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport and the Association of New Zealand Car Clubs met and arranged a championship, the Tasman Cup series, which was inaugurated in 1964. Until 1969 the Tasman Formula was exclusively for single-seater racing cars of up to 2500cc, a figure which bore no relation to any FIA formula. Initially it really meant that home-based drivers could use the old, four-cylinder Coventry Climax FPF engine - a relic from the 2½-litre Formula 1 of 1954 - 1960 - while overseas visitors were also obliged to employ this well-tried unit.

The Official Tasman Formula

Instead of catering for formula libre machinery, however, an official Tasman Formula was drawn up. This set an engine capacity limit of 2½-litres and cars had to run on petrol; beforehand some Coventry Climax FPF engines, the almost universal unit in Australia at the time, had been of 2750cc capacity and ran on alcohol-based fuel. The entry for 1964 was as good as ever. Brabham ran two works cars, Hulme's 1963-model BT 4-Climax and Jack Brabham's new BT7. Bruce McLaren commissioned Cooper to build two lightweight cars, the T70S, for himself and American Tim Mayer to pilot.

Chris Amon arrived with an ex-Bowmaker Lola Mk 4. All the top cars used 2.5-litre Climax engines, some ex-2.7 units with short strokes. The 1.7s-mile Levin circuit at Palmerston North in New Zealand saw Hulme romp away from Mayer and McLaren, but McLaren turned the tables in the 2.21-mile New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe, winning from Hulme and Mayer. It was Bruce's first victory in his home Grand Prix. Brabham, making a late start to the series, collided with New Zealander Tony Shelly's Lotus 18/21-Climax. McLaren won again at the Lady Wigram Trophy Race and the Teretonga Trophy, but blew up in the first Australian round, the Grand Prix at Sandown Park. This went to Brabham from Bib Stillwell's Brabham BT 4-Climax.

The Tragic Death of Timmy Mayer

Brabham won again at Warwick Farm (then a 2.25-mile course), but McLaren was only 0.4s in arrears and held on to his championship lead. Local driver Frank Matich (Brabham BT7-Climax) had led for three laps before spinning, while Graham Hill joined in the series in David McKay's Brabham BT7-Climax and was fourth. At Lakeside Park, Brabham scored his third successive victory from Aussie John Youl's Cooper TS3-Climax and McLaren, who had now scored sufficient points to clinch the series. The final round at Longford was clouded by the tragic death of young Timmy Mayer, the American's Cooper flying off the road after a sharp rise and crashing into a tree. Hill won after Brabham retired, beating McLaren and Matich. The final points score read: McLaren, 39; Brabham, 33; Hulme and Mayer, 23.

Reigning champion Bruce McLaren re-entered the fray in 1965 with a new Cooper T79 plus a 1964 model T70 for American Phil Hill. Lotus ran a works car, a modified Formula Two 32B for Jim Clark. New Brabham BT11As were on hand for Jack Brabham (who ran in the Australian section only), Graham Hill (who also had an abbreviated series), plus locals Frank Gardner and Bib Stillwell, while older models were on hand for New Zealand star Jim Palmer, Frank Matich and Australian veteran Lex Davison. Kick-off was the New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe where Hill led virtually the entire distance. Clark and McLaren collided, the former retiring on the spot. Clark then won at Levin, Wigram and Teretonga in quick succession, going to Australia with a three-point lead over Frank Gardner.

Clark won once more at Warwick Farm (where Hill spun on the last lap and dropped to fifth behind Brabham, Matich and Stillwell), but lost out to Brabham at Sandown Park owing to fading oil pressure. Nevertheless second was sufficient to sew up the series with one round, the Australian Grand Prix at Longford, still to be run. McLaren won this, making up for a troublesome season owing to tyre problems and moving up to second position in the championship with 24 to Clark's 35 points. Brabham was third with 21. (Clark also won the fourth Australian race at Lakeside, a non- championship event.)

Start of the New Zealand Grand Prix, 1969
Start of the New Zealand Grand Prix, 1969.

How long could the old Climax FPF engine last?

The Climax FPF engine was by now well past its prime, it faced a strong challenge in the 1966 Tasman Cup series. With the new 3-litre Formula One pre-occupying them, McLaren declined to enter while Brabham decided to enter his Repco V8-engined Brabham BT19 for the final two Australian rounds only. favourites were obviously the 1.9-litre V8 BRM P261S of Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart (Hill was only contracted to participate in one New Zealand round, his deputy being Dickie Attwood.) The rot began for the old Climax '4s' in the New Zealand Grand Prix with Hill and Stewart scoring an easy 1-2.

Lotus, who retained Climax FPF power for the Lotus 39 driven by defending champion Jim Clark, went out with gearbox failure. Frank Gardner's Climax-engined Brabham BT11A seemed to have Levin in the bag, with two laps to go the drive-shaft failed and Attwood inherited the lead. Clark was second. BRMs triumphed once more at Wigram with a Stewart Attwood 1-2 and it was Stewart once more at Teretonga. Clark won the first Australian round at Warwick Farm with Hill second, while Hill won at Lakeside and Stewart at Sandown Park to clinch the championship. To underline their superiority Stewart and Hill made it a BRM 1-2 finale at Longford.

BRM enters Stewart to defend his title

It was almost the same story in 1967. BRMs entered Stewart to defend his title in the same BRM P261, but now with an up rated 2.1-Iitre V8 engine, with Dickie Attwood and new recruits Piers Courage and Chris Irwin to back him up in the second entry. Clark considered his Lotus 33 with its more modern 2-litre Climax FWMV engine a more likely weapon for the series, while Brabham entered two cars with full 2½-Iitre Repco V8 engines. 'Black Jack' himself handled a Formula Two-based BT23A, while Denny Hulme sampled an older-specification BT22. Stewart won at Pukekohe on a revised 1.75-mile circuit, and although Clark won at Levin it was in vain so far as the championship was concerned as both Levin and Teretonga did not qualify for points.

Clark won at Wigram and Teretonga, while into the Australian section Clark won at Lakeside, was second to Stewart at Warwick Farm and won at Sandown Park to take the series for the second time. At Longford, however, Brabham came through to beat Clark. Final scores were: Clark, 45; Stewart, Gardner and Brabham, 18 (Gardner drove the only competitive Climax FPF-engined car, a lightweight Formula Two-based Brabham BT18). The final blow for the old Climax came in 1968 when 2½-litre versions of the new Ford DFV Formula One engine (known as the DFW) employed in up-to-date chassis - two works Gold Leaf Lotus 49Ts for Jim Clark and Graham Hill - made an appearance. Local drivers no longer had a chance, although European-based New Zealander Chris Amon arranged to drive a Formula Two-type Ferrari with a 2.4-litre Dino V6 engine.

The Clark vs. Amon Battle

BRM brought along two brand new V12-engined P126s (plus an old 2.1-litre P261 V8 as a spare). Alfa Romeo was another source of power, an Italian V8 finding its way into Alec Mildren's Brabham BT23D driven by Frank Gardner. The contest developed into a Clark v Amon struggle. Amon won at Pukekohe and Levin, but Clark turned the tables at Wigram. Bruce McLaren, 'guest' BRM driver in New Zealand, won in the wet at Teretonga after Clark had an accident, while it was nearly all Clark in Australia as he won at Surfers Paradise, Warwick Farm and Sandown Park. Young Englishman Piers Courage turned the tables at Longford when he took his 1600cc Formula Two McLaren M4A to victory in the wet. Clark narrowly won the championship, with 44 points to Amon's 36. Courage, by dint of several brilliant drives, was third with 34.

It was in the 6th round of the Tasman series at Warwick Farm that Jochen Rindt showed showed the skills of a World Champion. The then 26 year old Austrian scorched round the tight 2.25 mile circuit with an almost total disregard for the wet, soggy conditions. Practice on the Saturday was a direct contrast to the wet Sunday conditions. Temperatures were over 36 Celcius and drivers were complaining of the heat. "It must have been 150 [F] degrees in the cockpit of the Ferrari," Chris Amon said after the first practice period.

Rindt started favorite for the race after smashing the lap record for Tasman cars of 1:29.00 sec and the outright lap record of 1:27.3 sec. Both Rindt and Amon put in practice times of 1:24.5 sec., but Rindt went out again towards the end of the second practice and immediately found another second, lowering his time to 1:23.5 sec. When he came back to the pits he jumped out of the car and said, "Was that quick enough, or do you want me to go around again?" But came race day and the rain poured down and continued to do so for the whole day. Despite this 16,000 die-hard enthusiasts turned up to watch the big guns in action, rain or no rain.

Bruce McLaren
New Zealand born Bruce McLaren, the first holder of the Tasman Cup in 1964, holds his tropy aloft after the final round at Longford. It was an event with bitter-sweet memories for McLaren; he won the championship, but his friend and team-mate Timmy Meyer was killed in practice.
Because of the wet conditions and because most cars were carrying aerofoils the officials decided to start the cars on a 2-2-2 grid instead of the usual 3-2-3 line-up. Rindt went into pole position with Chris Amon in the Ferrari V6 next to him, behind them Hill and Courage, on the third row Bell and Geoghegan then Bartlett and Gardner with Niel Allen leading the 1.6 litre brigade. When the flag fell both Rindt and Amon stormed off the grid, Rindt appeared to get the better start but Amon came back strongly and was into Paddock Bend first. Amon wasn't to hold this lead very long however as the Ferrari went sideways at the approach to Hume straight and Rindt slipped underneath him to take the lead. But the excitement wasn't over yet.

Courage, who was lying third in the Brabham, tried to slip under Amon on the approach to Polo, promptly lost it and spun right in front of Amon. There was nothing the Ferrari driver could do, both cars collided and Amon was out of the race with a rear wheel hanging off while Courage limped back to the pits with broken suspension. This left Hill to chase Rindt with Bell snapping at their heels. By lap 10 Rindt had a 20 second lead over Hill and Bell. Then on lap 13 Hill stopped in creek corner with water in his electrical system, he managed to get the car started again and returned to the pits where the system was dried out and the rear roll bar removed.

Rindt had the mechanics remove his before the race started. Bell now moved into second place but had no hope of catching the flying Austrian. Meanwhile, further back in the field, Gardner and Bartlett were lying third and fourth and Leo Geoghegan, not liking the conditions at all, two laps behind in 5th place. Niel Allen was filling 6th spot and leading the 1.6 litre class. By the time Hill came out of the pits he was 10 laps down on the leaders and in a hopeless position. Considering the conditions no one would have blamed him if he had put the car away and not continued. But being the champion he is he came out and set about putting down the fastest lap time of 1:40.3 sec., one tenth of a second faster than Rindt's best time.

And that's the way the race finished. Rindt first .44.9 sec. ahead of Bell - who was having only his second drive in the wet in the Ferrari, Gardner third followed by Bartlett and Geoghegan then Niel Allen taking first place in the 1.6 litre class with Roly Levis and Graeme Lawrence behind him - and World Champion Graham Hill back in the 11th spot. Rindt's win was well deserved. The young Austrian showed exceptional skill and daring in the way he literally threw the Lotus around the circuit. Rindt completed the race in 78 min, 12.8 sec. with a fastest lap of 1:40.4 sec. The only other incident during the race occurred on lap 5 when Costanzo lost the McClaren in Homestead and hit the fence wiping both left hand wheels off the car. Although Amon was forced out of the race he has the '69 Tasman series in the bag. With 35 points on the board he is in an unassailable position, Rindt has 24, Courage 22, Bell 19, and Hill 14.

Two Ferrari Dino 246s for Chris Amon and Derek Bell; two Lotus 49T-Fords for Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill; a Frank Williams-entered Brabham BT24-Ford for Piers Courage, plus a British-designed, Australian-financed Mildren-Alfa Romeo for Frank Gardner spearheaded the last of the 'classic' Tasman Cups in 1969. Jack Brabham, who raced in only two 1968 rounds in his BT23E-Repco, was destined to run in only one event that year in the Formula Three-based Brabham BT31 with Repco T830 engine. It was Amon's series with wins at Pukekohe, Levin, Lakeside and Sandown Park, with Jochen Rindt second despite many problems - including a serious accident in his Lotus.

Rindt had beaten team-mate Hill at Wigram, so the Warwick Farm victory really hurt. Courage won at Teretonga. In an effort to reduce costs and put their local drivers on par with the visitors, the Tasman Cup organisers opened the 1970 series to Formula 5000 cars as well as single-seaters with 2½-litre pure racing engines. Four Europeans plus five American drivers of differing ability, led by Derek Bell's Wheatcroft Racing Brabham BT26A-Ford, comprised the overseas contingent. And they didn't win a race! To confuse matters further, although the 5-litre 'stock-block' F5000 McLaren Mroz-Chevrolets won five of the seven races, New Zealander Graeme Lawrence in his ex-Amon 2½-litre Ferrari Dino 246, with one race win to his credit, took the championship through sheer reliability.

An Emphasis on Formula 5000

The Tasman Cup series was indeed different. The emphasis became more on Formula 5000 and local drivers and, with less money on offer, the visitors who did come from Europe, America (or even Japan on one occasion) often found themselves in difficulties far from home, in an era when global travel had not reached the maturity it enjoys today. With a race each weekend plus thousands of miles of travelling there was no time to spare. In 1971 Graham McRae, a boastful New Zealander who was a brilliant engineer as well as a racing driver, won the championship in his McLaren Mrob-Chevrolet and repeated the dose early in 1972 in a car largely of his own design named the Leda LT27-Chevrolet. The same car, renamed the McRae GM1-Chevrolet following Leda's take-over, gave McRae the first ever Tasman Cup hat-trick in 1973.

The following year McRae's new GM2-Chevrolet was definitely the fastest car in the series, but not the most reliable. The Tasman title fell to the last European entrant in the series, British driver Peter Gethin at the wheel of a works-supported Chevron B24-Chevrolet entered by the Belgian Racing Team YDS. In 1975 but for Chris Amon's American-entered Talon MR1-Chevrolet it was a local affair and for the first time an Australian driver clinched the series, young Warwick Brown with his Lola T332-Chevrolet taking the honours by one point after a bitterly fought contest.

The change in Tasman Cup format certainly meant closer, more exciting racing. It also meant that so far as the rest of the world was concerned the championship counted for very little with no top names competing. Rothmans sponsored the series in both 1974 and 1975, but the politics between New Zealand and Australian organisers was such that Rothmans announced the abandonment of their support for the 1976 season. Races continued in Australia and New Zealand for a time in the opening months of the year, but the Tasman Cup per se was no more. The busy Grand Prix season meant that the top drivers needed to attract the crucial sponsorship were unavailable.

Between 1964 and 1969 under the 2.5 litre Formula,  22 Tasman races were contested in Australia, and 24 races conducted in New Zealand.
Graham McRae and his McRae GM2 in action during the 1974 Tasman Cup series
Graham McRae and his McRae GM2 in action during the 1974 Tasman Cup series. By this time, the Tasman Cup had switched to an emphasis on Formula 5000.
Latest Classic Car Classifieds

Sell Your Car or Parts Browse the Classifieds It's Absolutely Free! - Find Out More
You may also like...