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Home  /  March 2019  /  Racing

What happened to Ferrari last weekend? Which Australians are driving an MGB GT the 13,700km from Peking through Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and ­Poland to Paris. 

First up, Valtteri Viktor Bottas, 29, of Monte Carlo (aren’t they all?) won last week’s St Kilda Grand Prix by about three years from Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton MBE, 34, of Stevenage.

Another year behind was Max Verstappen, who is about three years old, followed by Seb Vettel, 31, and Chuck Leclerc, who is also about three. Both were five years behind. So what happened to Hamo? Too much tyre squirt. No, I didn’t make it up. He lost the corner off his floor and that meant too much airflow from the tyre and a lively rear end.

Val is a lance corporal in the Finnish army and his mother is an undertaker (in private practice, not the army). He had a bad season last year — no wins — and some critics wondered out loud why Mercedes had signed him for 2019. This is probably why Val uttered the very formal response to them on his warm-down lap “to whom it may concern, (naughty word) you”.

Seb and Chuck could have said the same thing about their lack of speed. It looks like the cars were set up badly and lacked traction on the corners. Don’t forget this happened to the Feezer team last year and they came back strongly. Poor old Chuck not only was ordered to stay behind Seb … he was told to back off.

My favourite was former F1 ace Robert Kubica, who crashed in a rally in 2011 had his arm partially amputated and was back out on the track on the weekend. It’s usually only motorbike racers who are this tough.

There’s some tough rallies this year, including the May 8 to May 17 Shitbox Rally, travelling the 5150km from Perth to Sydney via Uluru and raising even more money for cancer. Then there’s the Targa Tasmania, with 300 cars sedately driving for 2000km around the Apple Isle. As an aside, can I report that following our ­extraordinary result last year, ­Hyundai has entered Michael McMichael’s dream car, the 130N, with factory World Rally Championship driver Brendan Reeves and his sister Rhianon Gelsomino behind the wheel? Rhianon has won just about every rally everywhere in the world and I have emailed her to ask if she would give the old bloke a few tips before we get going in Lonnie.

It just goes to show that the global auto industrial complex will do anything to stop the success of The Weekend Australian Rally Team’s McMichael prepared 1998 BMW. Once again, we will be raising money for RAW (Rural Alive & Well) which does a great job helping people with mental health issues and focuses on suicide prevention.

But the toughest of all is the 2019 Peking to Paris Rally. There are 120 cars, 17 Australians, 36 days of fun and Belgian architects Anton Gonnissen and Herman Gelan in a 112-year-old three-wheel Contal Mototri. It would be fair to say the Contal Mototri motor company did not have a long history. In fact, I think it lasted two years and the highlight was being one of only five cars to enter the 1907 Peking Paris. It was the only car not to finish.

French persons Auguste Pons and Oscar Foucauld entered their factory sponsored 3KW Contal with great hopes of winning the rally and taking the Contal brand to great heights. Let me describe the motor tri to you. Imagine a normal bicycle at the back with two wheels at the front on either side of a motor with a dining room chair on top. The driver sits on a normal bike seat and the navigator sits comfortably in the dining chair. You can already see this may not have been Ponsy’s or Contal’s best idea.

Anyway, it’s 8am on the 10th of June and Ponsy and Oscar are on the starting grid with the four other competitors. Eight days later the French duo had run out of juice and were lost in the Gobi desert. As Gonnissen tells it, they almost died of thirst, after drinking all the Mumm champagne left and all the water out of the radiator. They were rescued by Mongol tribesmen on their horses and nursed back to health on camel milk and Coopers Best Extra Stout.

Hopefully, our Australian representatives won’t have to drink too much camel milk this year. John and Marian Crighton will be in their very well rallied MGB GT; Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson have done plenty of Peking to Parises before in their Leyland P76 and Alan and Steve Maden will be doing better than Ponsy and Oscar in a 1975 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.

Talking of the Leyland P76, Peter North, the boss of Leyland who introduced the car, died this week. Peter was ex-Ford Canada, a world class engineer and wrongly maligned for the P76.

As the website P76 Anything But Average says: “It was an excellent and ingenious design. It was the most thoroughly Australian car, in concept and in content, ever offered to the Australian public.”

Peter went on to found The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at the University of Sydney. He deserves an important place in the history of the Australian motor industry.

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