A tale of tyres at the July State round
By Chris Ralph. Pics Clark Media Services
Twenty four cars set out for qualifying at Sandown for Round Three of the Victorian State Circuit Racing Championships on July 26. The 25th listed entrant, Graham Slater, had blown the Torana’s head gasket in the earlier practice and the 26th, Darren Collins, had found that the Camaro distributor didn’t. However, both would take part in Race 1 that afternoon.
’Twas Fearless Robbie Burns who muscled the Charger to pole in 1.23.65, Genial Michael Miceli in the big Falcon a frag behind in 1.23.68, Mild Mike Bugelly third in 1.24.1, Bold Billy Trengrove fourth in 1.24.4 and Jumpin’ Jervis Ward fifth in 1.24.9. Gary Edwards inserted his red Torana at 1.25.3 to split a 289 Mustang trio in front of Geoff Taylor at 1.25.4 and the man who would be king, Michael Hibbert in the Charger on 1.27.
From these would the action come in the races, behind them were good performances from Paul Dobson and newcomer Ian Cromarty in their 302 Falcons, Nick Cascone continuing to impress in his natty blue and yellow Cortina to be the fastest four cylinder and David Moran in the fourth 289 Mustang continuing to be incrementally more competitive.
Alas, that was the end of the dry track for the weekend, with rain falling lightly as the cars sat on the dummy grid for
Race 1, which would prove to be an interesting affair. The entertainment started as Mike Bugelly did a double 360 on the warm up lap exiting turn 1, the greasy track and the Detroit locker doing their best to unhorse the Mustang rider. The next act was Fearless Robbie, who, anxious to be away as ever, had somehow forgotten to wait for the red lights to go out before starting. He hared into the distance at the first sign of the red, spooking Miceli into tripping the light fantastic as well, slightly ahead of the game but enough to earn him a drive through after which he spat the dummy and came in to save tyres and car. Burns of course was also offered the black flag, which he took, and then powered on get back to 8th and a fastest lap of 1.23.0, quicker than his pole time on a dry track – such is the measure of this redoubtable pilot.
Jervis Ward was handed a win after these shenanigans ahead of Darren Collins who had come from the back of the grid and may have actually scroffed the Parrot, apart from a fluff on the last lap. He had no idea that he was closing on the lead spot, thinking that Jervis was in third. Geoff Taylor bowled in third ahead of an impressive Paul Dobson and Michael Hibbert just a sniff behind in the Charger, with a ginger Mike Bugelly a few seconds astern. Gary Edwards had snapped an axle at the start, Angelo Taranto missed a gear and did something nasty, and Fast Johnny Luxmoore, who now has this epithet tattooed on his race suit, lifted a top off an ancient piston which had been put back in his new engine as there was up to a three month wait for new ones. Tony Pejkovic’s EH, immaculate as ever, had been jumping out of gear in qualifying but had pooped a fuel pump in the race.
Next morning the HTC Race 2 was Race 1 on the card, at 9.15 on a wet Sunday morning. Oh joy. Despite various warnings to the contrary about Dunlop D93Js having been outlawed from a very contrary ruling, four competitors showed up on the dummy grid thus equipped, being made aware by David Twigg that they were running a tyre that was Not On The List. But once you’re on the grid, hey, let’s do it, huh. And do it they did. This time it was Geoff Taylor who looped a Mustang on the warm up lap and decided that enough was enough right at that point – no grip-ee, no race-ee: his car was bound for the trailer for the day. Front row punter Darren Collins was missing, his dad/sponsor/patron Jim deciding that discretion was by far the better part of valour, as the Camaro had only Hoosiers and didn’t want the Beautiful But Budget race car hanging off the fence. On pole, Jerv had little grip at the start and eventual winner Michael Hibbert powered past out of fifth, the Charger wearing Dunlop D83Js and getting good traction. But talking of traction, Naughty Boys Miceli in the Falcon and Lawrie Nelson in the Torana had their D93J’s on and had bags of the stuff, with a stirring from the back-of-the-grid in Miceli’s case. They filled second and third spots at the flag, ahead of the partially gripping Ward Mustang and the Torana of Gary Edwards, just a fraction behind, who had also worked his way up from the back of the grid on Kumho Ecstas, much to the ecstas-y of Russell Pilven who has been promoting these wondrous hoops. Robbie Burns, try as he might, could not see a naffing thing, steering up the straight by dint of keeping the horse track barrier a constant distance to the left. Fearless Foggie Robbie saw so little that on retirement he couldn’t find this way through the pits to where he was parked. Mike Bugelly followed the same path as Messrs Taylor and Collins, preferring the guarantee of straight panels over potential short-lived glory, pitted after a couple of laps. Brett Smith in the Torana had a thermostat jam shut and Angelo Taranto, not wanting to be known as a Naughty Boy on D93Js and spooked by the Twigg visage looming in his window on the dummy grid thought he’d better pull in unless the Wraths were visited upon him.
Hero of Race 2 was undoubtably, save for the drive of Gary Edwards, that of Brett Trengrove in the EH, driving on not especially wet-favourable tyres. He managed to creep from 12th to 6th in the rankings, comfortable outdoing his dear old dad in 8th and with Paul Dobson in the Falcon between son and father, making it a Geelong trifecta. Ian Cromarty in the other 302 and David Moran in the 289 Mustang slithered over the line just metres apart, while at the tail of the field Graham Slater, miffed and muttering in his helmet about tyres, followed the Imp of Michael Stupka home.
The muttering continued mightily among several people after the race but the fact remained that fronting on tyres that had specifically been removed from the list was a no-no, however daft that ruling may have seemed.
As a result there were a few absentees in Race 3 due to the perceived lack of suitable rubber. The Taylor and Bugelly Mustangs were on trailers, as was the Nelson/Dobbs Torana. N. Boy Miceli put his other tyres on, and brisk business was done with tyre sellers. George Opoczinski (Opper-Chin-Skee, remember?) having looked out a rainy window in the early morn fell prey to the charms of wife, coffee and the Sunday Age, turned up to run the Volvo in the afternoon. Darren Collins thought he’d have a bit of crack and pull in after a few laps if it was dire, which it wasn’t, the Camaro’s six hundred horses clattering away on their Hoosier hooves into mid field while the rest of the field wore trainers.
In what became essentially a tyre race, Miceli got a good start from the front row while Hibbert spun wheels to the extent that Ward initially passed him but corners 2-4 were the wettest on the track and on to the back straight for the first time it was the heliotrope Hibbert Charger on D83J Dunlops that streaked up the hill followed by Miceli on his 032 Advans and Jervis on the 048 Yoko’s. Miceli had the pit straight crowd oohing and aahing as he assumed some interesting angles with the big Falcon on the pit straight entry but for sheer manic bravado nobody was more frightening than the now fog-free Fearless Robbie who had the Charger snaking down the straight, revs whipping as the rear Advans caught and lost traction, the front Bridgestones (as a genetic Scot he had replaced but one tyre) obviously doing an OK job on turn in, to keep him on the grey bit.
But the man on the move was Gary Edwards in the red Torana, shod with Kumho Ecstas. He picked off the battling Mustangs of Ward and Trengrove then set about the Miceli GT HO, downing him after only 3 laps. The sights were then set on the Hibbert Charger and he almost did it, being baulked as they lapped the Wittick Falcon over the top on the last lap and just failing to nab him on the line. However the fastest lap fell to the Edwards/Torana/Kumho kombo, to the delight of Mr Pilven who chortled in his joy. Behind Edwards the lonely but magnificent GT HO of Miceli thundered on, ahead of the Ward/Trengrove battle which was decided in favour of the latter, just ahead of a fast-finishing Fearless Robbie. Nick Cascone continued on his merry way to settle the four-cylinder debate, while President Bryant and his 1300 Escort lived up to their reputation as very fine wet weather combo. Trouble had struck Brent Trengrove’s EH and he retired halfway through while in 6th. And there would have been more than muttering inside the cabin of the immaculate green No 47 Torana as Slay ‘Em Grater rotated himself severally, just by changing gears…
Amazingly, no panels were dented over these dry/damp/wet events. The races were interesting as were the behind the scenes eligibility issues – chances are we haven’t heard the last of the “tyres that work in the wet” tyre issue yet. In a nutshell, it all comes down to how the tyres were described. The rules forbid wet tyres or wet compound tyres. The Dunlop D93J is a soft compound tarmac rally (ie, roadgoing) tyre that is good in the wet. Understandably, Russell Stuckey advertised them as a “wet” tyre, little thinking that this general description (as in “better put on the wets, lads”) would come back to haunt him as the mavens in the HTC seized upon it with glee, declaring it to be a wet and thus illegal, when it is in fact a road-going radial. If Russell cries mea culpa to the HTC regarding the initial description then that may help their return. That they are no longer produced in a 60 profile in 15” doesn’t help, neither does the fact that the Group S and N tyre list is inexplicably bonded and the larger numbers of Group N competitors are thus curbed in what they can use because the tyre concerned might not fit all sports cars… The good news is that in their absence the Kumho Ecsta seems to be OK for smaller size rims cars while the Dunlop D83J work for a 15” size, so all is not lost. However, it still seems odd that a tyre that we have been using for almost a decade is taken off the list – for all the wrong reasons. This article was written immediately after Sandown – watch this space for further development.
And many thanks to Peter Clark of Clark Media Services for the race photos. For your shot call Peter on 0421588823 or email email@example.com