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Oct
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Race tracks I’ve driven chapter 1 Sandown Park

To start this off I think I should briefly go through a bit of my history. Some of you will know parts of it others not! Some will have raced against me and others seen me race. I started my motorsport journey with 2 Mk1 Cortina GT’s, I bought in partnership with a school mate, Michael Ballantyne. Together we learnt a lot and at the age of 19 there was a lot to learn, we joined the Ford Four Car Club which at the time was one of the biggest clubs in Victoria. The first 2 years was club sprints and hillclimbs! I had begun my apprenticeship as a motor mechanic at Stillwell Ford in Kew, as a result of that I met some amazing people. Some of them went onto do great things, more of that at a later time.

My first personal exposure to Sandown was in 1969 at the Tasman Cup race to see Graeme Lawrence win in the Ferrari Dino. Then in the next 10 years I had been to spectate many times. It was the December of 1979 and the final round of the Australian sports Sedan Championship before I got to compete on the original layout and in my opinion by far the best! See here for  the different versions of this iconic track! For me it was a Baptism of fire as during the final going across the fast and narrow causeway I spun and hit the fence creating a road block for the stars of the class of the day! Some of them were Bob Jane, John Briggs, Brian Thomson to name a few. After this I was totally determined to return and master this very rewarding but scary track that constantly reminded you it will bite you if you do not respect it! Since then I learned to respect every track in the manner it deserves! This is partly why I never had a bad accident but was competitive in what ever category I competed.

The original layout …. Wow that is all I can say, it was fast, sweeping, flowing and unforgiving, but super rewarding when it was done right!

The start line was and still is in front of the partially enclosed grandstand, to see or make a start there is spectacular and special!  The bitumen runs around the outside of the horse racing track so there is all the colour of the gardens. After the start you have a long run into the first corner, known as Shell, the sign across the track was not greatly wider than the track this closed your vision on the approach to the corner! To the left was the pit entry road a narrow entrance to a narrow pit lane, the pit counter was timber with a tin roof at the end of the counter you would turn left to enter the paddock. Paddock was a good description of it too when it rained, half of it flooded and the rest just got very wet! This was fairly typical of racetracks of the time! After negotiating Repco there was the short pit straight, which the entry to, narrowed as you exited Repco the straight was ever so slightly downhill for the first part then levelled and rose quickly to enter peter’s corner the entry to the back straight which was and still is greater than 90 degrees and is the slowest corner on the track! to exit there well it was important to go in deep and get a late apex to the corner using as much curb as you were brave enough to do! The run off area on pit straight was about 15 metres before you hit the Armco fence and there was grass between the bitumen and fence! At Peters later known as Torana, there was merely inches of runoff so commitment and accuracy were vital! Peter’s lead onto this long back straight that still has a bend in it as you are about to climb the hill to what was always known as Marlboro Country! Marlboro is a very fast and blind section of the course, most people will brake on the approach to it those of us silly or brave enough crest the hill and then brake on the decent, and keep the brakes on down the hill through the esses and into Dandenong rd corner this has long been a favourite of mine! Done right you go down there with the tail sliding from curb to curb using the ripple strips at Dandenong rd! From there you would go through a slight right hand bend which led into the causeway which was a bridge over the creek that had the Armco at the edge of the road with absolutely no where to go! The Causeway over the years claimed many cars and there were many injuries sustained there as well! The Causeway was the fast entry to the Main Straight and back to the start / finish line! This version of Sandown was used from 1962 until February 1984 I was fortunate enough to raced on the final meeting on this wonderful but unforgiving place and learnt a lot about myself and driving there!

There have been many special events held at Sandown and this is one of the absolute best Fangio and Brabham it was an amazing sight!

The original Sandown was host to some amazing races and people, jack Brabham, Fangio, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Piers Courage, Bruce McLaren, Leo Geoghegan, Kevin Bartlett, John Harvey, Frank Matich, John Surtees, Chris Amon, Graeme Lawrence, Bib Stillwell, just to name a few! The teams that came here in the days of the Tasman Cup Races were, Brabham, Lotus, BRM, Ferrari Cooper all the F1 teams, plus the local teams

 

Sandown and the World Endurance Championship. There were two WEC rounds held at Sandown the first was in 1984, then 1989 on the new extended track. This newer version was the full Grand Prix length track and was similar but oh so different. The changes made Sandown so much safer and longer, there was a new pit area with proper garages, a medical centre and far better facilities.

The old Shell corner was moved closer to the start line and the old pit straight was moved away from the fence and ran through the old paddock area leading into the Torana corner which now has a very tight set of right then left corners leading into the old Peter’s / Torana corner. the back straight was shortened and on the crest of the hill a right hand U turn added that crossed the horse track! There was a short straight and slightly down hill run into a sharp down hill U turn which was quite fun! this then went through a left curve which fed into a sharp right and weaved its way into a modified but similar Dandenong rd corner! The exit of Dandenong rd is still very similar to the original that leads to a slight right bend and then a sharp right left that replaced the causeway onto the straight which is also the pit entry. Originally in 1984 there was the working, transit and fast lanes in the pits since then though the fast lane has a 40Kmh speed limit but then there was no speed limit!! See here for the WEC races of 1984 the entries  made one of the best race fields seen here!

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The now current version of Sandown has the best parts of the two previous versions, in that the downhill run off  the back straight is  direct into Dandenong corner and the infield section has gone! This is a compromise of the earlier versions and is good fun as the high speed esses have returned and so too has the challenge of the old circuit! To me the original was and will always be the best but the current is also good with the fast run over the hill and the fast run into Dandenong rd corner

I have been very fortunate to have driven on each of the Sandown layouts and I see it as a huge privilege to have done so. Those of you who have will understand it! I recently had the opportunity to return there with my road car and took Billy for a few laps and showed him how it is done and what the track is like from the inside!

Here is a race from September 1988 I was in in the Whitehorse Truck Parts Sports Sedan Championship! I also had the honour to drive a first intervention vehicle at the 1984 WEC race (I was the driver for a Doctors car on track)


5 Responses to “Race tracks I’ve driven chapter 1 Sandown Park”


  1. 1 lorelopes
    October 4, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    Nice article and it shows well your connection with this world.

    Like

  2. October 6, 2017 at 6:48 am

    Great stuff Mike- great to see you joining the ranks of the writers- thoroughly enjoyed it, Mark

    Liked by 1 person


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