THE 1976 SERIES
There was no Tasman Series for 1976. For 12 years, the Tasman motor racing series had been the premiere event on both the New Zealand and Australian motor racing calendars. Originally devised as a true international contest, to bring the world's best drivers down under, and to give the locals the chance to try themselves against world class drivers, the series was no more.
The two countries split and ran their own four race series. New Zealand ran its normal four races under the sponsorship of Peter Stuyvesant, and this was followed one week later by a four race series in Australia, sponsored by Rothmans.
Possibly Australia has seen a better International Series, and the 1976 Rothmans Series will certainly go down in the record books as being the one held under the worst weather conditions. Only one race was run on a dry track. Another race, the final scheduled to be run at the Surfers Paradise circuit, was first postponed due to the rain and finally cancelled for the same reason.
If nothing else, the inclement weather proved to most of the Australian drivers that if they intended competing in Europe they would have to improve on their wet weather preparation and organisation.
Australian born, international driver, Vern Schuppan demonstrated that his five years experience on the European and American racing scenes had been of tremendous value. The talented 32 year old driver won round one at Oran Park in the wet because he was the first to pit for rain tyres. Had it remained dry, it is very doubtful if Schuppan could have kept up with the front runners, as his Alan Smith built Chevy engine was way down on power.
Had the amicable Australian received wet weather rubber on the Theodore Racing Lola T332 on the grid prior to the start as he requested, round two would have been Schuppan's also. Instead he received intermediates and finished second to the New Zealand 1976 Peter Stuyvesant series winner, Ken Smith, who was also Lola T332 mounted.
The third, as it happened, the final round, run at Sandown Park, saw Schuppan notch up another second place to virtually clinch the title. Had round four not been cancelled, there was an outside chance that Ken Smith could have taken out the series.
The nuggety, often dour, New Zealand driver's best effort was at Adelaide, where he won after leading for the entire race. His Chev powered Lola proved to be both fast and reliable. In round two he secured pole, having recorded a time 0.6 sec under Graeme Lawrence's lap record, and in the other two rounds he finished third in round one and fourth in the third round.
Biggest surprise of the 1976 series was Anglo-American John Cannon. The 40 year old driver had done very little racing in the past two years, although he was a familiar figure on the American scene for about 16 years, having won the L&M F5000 series in 1970. The car he brought to Australia was somewhat of an unknown quantity, too, being basically a March F1 chassis built in 1975 and modified in the US to take a Bartz Chev V8 engine. Doubts concerning the handling of the relatively narrow track car with a heavy cast iron production based five litre V8 in the rear were soon dispelled during the first round when Cannon and his hybrid March-Chev handled the varying conditions on the tight Oran Park GP circuit admirably.
Cannon's victory in round three at Sandown Park, his March literally falling to pieces around him, will be remembered by the huge crowd which gathered for the only round in fine weather and also the many more thousands who viewed the live telecast.
An electrical problem, aggravated by the wet conditions, relegated the likeably English-born driver to the did-not-finish category in the first two rounds and, at Surfers, Cannon practiced third fastest before rain soaked the circuit and bettered Frank Matich's record of 66.4 secs by 0.3 secs.
At Oran Park, Kevin Bartlett, in his Lola T400 Chev, displayed the talent which was prominent a few years ago. The former twice Australian champion pitted for wet weather tyres just after Schuppan and started to work his way up to second place, despite having lost the oil in his front shock absorbers. After being delayed by two punctures at Adelaide, Bartlett splashed home in fifth place to gain a further two points, the last points he was to add to his final total of eight. Bartlett had been holding fourth at Sandown before retiring with a stripped third gear. In the first round, and for practice for round two, Bartlett had a single plane crankshaft engine fitted to his Lola T400, but the lightweight titanium rods cracked around the webs and the Sydney driver was forced to use a more normal two plane crank Chev unit.
That the points score total does not provide a true indication, or even any indication at all, of the potential of all drivers is shown by the totals against John Goss (6), David Purley (1) and John McCormack (1). Four drivers, Bruce Allison, Graeme Lawrence, Johnnie Walker and Max Stewart didn't even make the list.
John Goss, driving his spare ex-Kevin Loy updated A51 to A53 Matich, was one of the drivers who waited too long to call in for rain tyres during the first round. At Adelaide, he found the concrete wall while fiddling with his visor in the rain. But in the third round the voluble Sydney driver demonstrated his true form by setting a new lap record of 61.5 secs, 0.1 secs inside the previous time jointly held by Graham McRae and Peter Gethin, and finished third after being delayed by a flat tyre.
Whether Purley is a match for Australia's best or not, was not proven in the series. The English F1 and F5000 driver's mount which was a cobbled up T330/332 Lola not, as reported, the ex-Ian Ashley T332, was nudged by Bartlett's T400 at Oran Park and badly bent at Adelaide when the throttle stuck open. Purley was loaned the second Sharp Lola T400 for round three but was outed by a blown head gasket.
McCormack wasn't prepared for the rain which fell during round one, was unhappy with the way his Elfin was handling at Adelaide, and blew his engine in unofficial practice at Sandown Park.
The rain at Oran Park was Allison's undoing when he hit the wall, attempting to hold his lead while still on slicks. He was without his car for round two and was driving a great race at Sandown, mostly without a clutch, when a valve dropped into the Molloy engine due to over-revving during a clutchless gear change. The Queensland driver was brilliant at practice in Surfers, lapping his home circuit at 65.8 secs, 0.6 secs inside the record.
Lawrence, in the Lola T332 Chev, succumbed to the rain in round one, survived two punctures at Adelaide to finish eighth, and lost a certain third place during the third round when his transmission failed on the penultimate lap.
For Walker, Adelaide and Sandown were all his budget would permit. Numerous pit stops to clear his fogging visor kept the South Australian driver back in the field, where he finally finished in ninth place. A sizzling 61.1 second pole time at Sandown seemed to indicate that round three would be John's, but a mysterious loss of power in one cylinder in the Repco Holden engine early in the race caused his retirement.
Stewart missed round one because his car hadn't been landed back in Australia following the New Zealand series. Fuel pressure problems plagued the car at Adelaide during practice, so Max transferred to the second Sharp T400, usually driven by Paul Bernasconi, for the race, only to have the rear tyre deflate. In attempting to make it to the pits, the bottom of the suspension upright wore through and the lower trailing link pick-up point broke away. A rather nasty crash into the safety fence during practice at Sandown which wrecked the Lola amazingly left the driver intact, albeit a little sore.
Overall it was a good series, despite the rain. For some reason the spectators at Sandown Park seemed to be the most enthusiastic and appreciative of F5000 racing, perhaps it was because at the other rounds the patrons enthusiasm was dampened by the rain.
Back to 1976 Series Round 1 Oran Park