Round One: ORAN PARK
From an unbelievable 28 entries for the first round of the four race Australian International Series, only 13 started the 62 lap race run on the 2.6 km, long, Oran Park Grand Prix circuit, and only seven finished the event.
Of the seven cars which were taken to New Zealand for the series there, three, the Sharp Lola T400's driven by Max Stewart and Paul Bernasconi, and John Edmond's ex-Garrie Cooper Elfin MR5, had not arrived back on Aussie soil, and this accounted for three scratchings. John Goss had entered both his usual Matich A53 Repco Holden and the ex-Kevin Loy, ex-Ian Douglass updated A51 to A53 similar car. He chose to compete in the latter car.
Geoffrey Brabham was an entry in a Lola T332 Chev but the car didn't arrive from the US and the Australian Formula Two Champion's debut in F5000 was to be deferred while Jack and son went to the UK chasing a Formula Three drive. Johnnie Walker was also a scratching, his Lola T332 Repco Holden was not race-ready and the talented South Australian was short on finance.
Practice for most of the drivers brought little joy as they fought to keep their cars on the slippery and dirty circuit. John McCormack had a wild spin in the Elfin MR6 after crossing the bridge. Bruce Allison and Ken Smith did the same in their respective Lolas but in a less spectacular manner. David Purley, too, was having his share of loses mainly due to a loss of fuel pressure and hence power out of the corners.
Quickest was Allison, having knocked 0.2 secs off his previous best time in the second session. Lawrence equaled this time in the final session. Schuppan methodically adjusted to the circuit and conditions and settled for number three slot, while McCormack really turned on the flat plane crank Repco Holden to record a 66.9 second lap which was still good enough for the second row by the end of the day. The single plane crank Chev engine of Bartlett's seemed to be working well also, giving the Lola driver fifth fastest time. Bartlett, on returning to the pits and finding a smaller racing car encroaching on his pit space tried nudging it with one of his front wheels. The Lola's steering wheel flicked around, inflicting a painful injury to Bartlett's thumb and wrist.
In contrast to practice day, the weather on the Sunday caught a few drivers napping. Rain fell around midday, but appeared to be clearing for the race. The experienced Schuppan cast his eyes skyward and called for his bubble visor. New Zealand driver Baron Robertson was a scratching, the engine in his Elfin MR5 was sucking air through a hole in the side of the inlet port. Ken Shirvington did not start either, as his ex-Teddy Pilette Lola T400 had engine problems.
All cars on the grid were shod with slicks as Lawrence led Schuppan and Allison down past the pits and into the fast left hander for the first time. A cloud of dust announced that someone had failed to negotiate the corner. It was Jon Davison, the brakes on his immaculate Matich A52 having failed due to a fractured brake line. Purley, who was sitting in fourth after the start, was soon displaced by Goss. McCormack was sixth, followed by Bartlett, his swollen wrist deadened by pain killing injections, Leffler, Cannon, Smith, Hook and Gil Cameron in the McLaren M10B.
Rain began falling on the fifth lap and Bartlett's Lola all but climbed over Purley's similar car, causing the English driver to back off. McCormack took advantage of the situation and shot past the slowing black Lola and Allison's similarly painted Lola T332 disposed of the Theodore Racing car shortly afterwards.
Lawrence was maintaining a comfortable 4.5 second gap to Allison as Purley pitted briefly. Then Cannon and Leffler had a coming together, with the T400 Lola losing the battle. It was still spitting with rain as the remaining 11 cars, still with Lawrence in the lead, entered the 10th lap. Goss was making a bid to take Schuppan, who was finding his Lola a trifle twitchy, his left rear tyre was slowly deflating and the engine was down on power.
It took a further six laps to dispose of the ailing Lola but despite the tyre problem, Schuppan kept Goss in his sights. Meanwhile, Allison was hauling in Lawrence until, on lap 18, the New Zealand driver spun on the slowest corner of the circuit, losing 14 seconds. Back in the field, in seventh place, Bartlett was having a difficult time keeping Smith at bay. Cannon was nine seconds ahead of Bartlett, who was being led by McCormack and Schuppan until, on lap 26, the Theodore car pitted for a new left rear tyre.
By lap 35 the field had slowed drastically as the rain became much heavier. Lawrence didn't slow enough, however, and found himself uncontrollably heading for the wall at the end of the straight under the bridge. Goss did a 360-degree spin and McCormack slipped his car into second place. For some reason Cannon's March, on slicks, didn't seem to be bothered by the wet conditions as much as the others.
First in for rain tyres was Schuppan on lap 37 and, after a 1m 45sec stop, he was out again lapping 10 seconds faster than anyone else. Bartlett was next four laps later but Peter Molloy was playing a waiting game in the Allison pit. The rain didn't ease but Allison was in the lead and his manager didn't want to call him in. Eventually, most of the other serious drivers pitted for wet weather rubber.
By lap 48 Allison was barely hanging onto his lead, Goss, not having changed tyres, was second. Five laps later, Schuppan took the lead as Allison finally overcooked it, slamming into a concrete barrier at the foot of the main straight. Like Purley's Lola, Schuppan's lack of power was no longer a disadvantage and he was able to lap faster than any other driver remaining in the race.
Despite anxious faces in the Theodore Racing pits concerning Vern's fuel supply, the delighted Australian received the chequered flag 16.5 seconds ahead of Bartlett and in third place was Smith, more than a lap down.
A lot of people hoped that for 1977 there would not be the last minute hassle of drivers requesting that the organisers reduce the race distance because their Lolas wouldn't make it on their fuel load. That's what happened in round two at the Adelaide Raceway.
Date: 2nd February 1976
Venue: Oran Park
62 laps of 2.61kms (161.82kms)
|1||Vern Schuppan||Aust||Lola T332 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8||62|
|2||Kevin Bartlett||Aust||Lola T400 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8||62|
|3||Ken Smith||NZ||Lola T332 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8||61|
|5||John Goss||Aust||Matich A53 / Repco 4994cc V8|
|David Purley||UK||Lola T332 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
|Ret||Bruce Allison||Aust||Lola T332 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8||Accident|
|Ret||Graeme Lawrence||NZ||Lola T332 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8||Accident|
|Ret||John Leffler||Aust||Lola T400 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8||Accident|
|Gil Cameron||Aust||McLaren M10B / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
|John Cannon||UK||March 75AM / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
|Terry Hook||Aust||Lola T332 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
|Ret||Jon Davison||Aust||Matich A52 / Repco 4994cc V8||0||Brakes|
|Ken Shirvington||Aust||Lola T400 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
|John McCormack||Aust||Elfin MR6 / Repco 4994cc V8|
|DNS||Baron Robertson||NZ||Elfin MR5 / Repco 4994cc V8|
|DNA||Johnnie Walker||Aust||Lola T332 / Repco 4994cc V8|
|DNA||Geoffrey Brabham||Aust||Lola T332 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
|DNA||John Edmonds||Aust||Elfin MR5 / Repco 4994cc V8|
|DNA||Max Stewart||Aust||Lola T400 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
|DNA||Paul Bernasconi||Aust||Lola T400 / Chevrolet 4995cc V8|
Round Two: ADELAIDE
Date: 9th February 1976
Venue: Adelaide Raceway
67 laps of 2.41kms (161.5kms)
Round Three: Sandown
Date: 16th February 1976
52 laps of 3.11kms (161.50kms)
Round Four: Surfers Paradise
Date: 23rd February 1976
Venue: Surfers Paradise
50 laps of 3.21kms (160.5kms)
Return to 1976 Series