Winton Festival of Splash!

Report by Darren Knight. Pics by Phil Wisewould

After months of almost drought-like conditions a huge cold front descended on the Winton Festival of Speed on the first weekend of August, making for some great racing.

Shivering in their sheds, JUST CARS Historic Touring competitors had dug out their wet weather rubber in anticipation of plenty of precipitation forecast to hit the long circuit.

Sure enough, qualifying was run in damp and chilly conditions with Torana peddler Peter McNiven ending up on pole after a number of drivers were penalised grid spots following yellow flag infractions. Penrite Erebus Supercar star David Reynolds was among those naughty boys (welcome to Historics David!) having taken the wheel of Joe Calleja’s recently acquired ‘69 Fastback Mustang. After a very successful Historic Winton back in May, veteran Tony Hubbard suffered issues in his Camaro and was sadly out for the duration.

Race 1, Saturday afternoon.
The showers abated for the opening race with Bowral-based Rotary racer Jason Humble booting his RX-2 off the second row to grab an early lead as Les Walmsley (Charger) and Reynolds also jumped McNiven at the start. The Charger and Mustang had a great battle until the Ford squeezed past as the other Charger of Glenn Miles ran wide after getting past the rapid BMW 2002 of Gabriel Digenis during a hectic scrap. Brent Trengrove slipped off into the soaking wet infield and covered almost every inch of his Mustang in mud in the process. Brent’s dad Bill also came a cropper after breaking a throttle cable in his similar 1964 Group Nb spec Mustang.

The later Nc spec ‘68 Mustang (wider wheels, bigger 302ci Windsor V8) of Darryl Hansen had an almighty stoush with the Torana of Andrew Williams with an amazing display of clean, hard racing from both drivers. Reynolds meanwhile was harrying Humble at the front, who was hurling his Mazda at the kerbs to stave off the 2012 Bathurst runner-up and posting what turned out to be the fastest lap of the weekend in the process.

A few front brake lock ups in the unfamiliar car meant Reynolds lost a little ground within sight of the flag, allowing Humble to take a deserved win. Walmsley was third with Hansen just holding out Williams for fourth with Harry Bargwanna (Mustang) and McNiven next. Numerous observers declared the race one of the best Historic Tourer events they had witnessed with big battles right through the field and happily zero panel crunching to boot.

Race 2, Sunday morning.
Heavy rain overnight resulted in a sodden, cold track with wet weather rubber the only realistic choice. Humble again hooked up nicely to lead the field away while Williams fell off at turn two after nipping up into third, the Holden unable to dig itself out of the swamp-like infield and bringing out the Safety Car while the recovery crew pulled Williams out.

After the restart, Digenis made a mockery of the conditions and stormed into fourth with Richard Hill likewise revelling in the wet as he engaged in a ding-dong battle with fellow Mini driver Adrian Read. A damp track also held no fear for Darren Smith who punted his big XY Falcon up into third as Reynolds really closed up on Humble on the penultimate lap.

Humble kept his cool (and the “Rice Burner” relatively straight) to hold out for another win from Reynolds and Smith with Digenis fourth in front of Torana man Nathan Gordon, Walmsley and the brutish HQ Monaro of Marc Tessari.

Race 3, early Sunday afternoon.
The JUST CARS Touring Car Cup over 17 laps would round out proceedings with tyre choice literally a flip of the coin for the longest race the category faces all year.

A break in the showers and a strong wind had created a dry line almost right around the circuit but a few dark clouds in the vicinity meant it was anyone’s guess what to bolt under their steeds. Reynolds would not appear with the field lining up in their original qualifying positions from Saturday morning.
McNiven’s Torana made a great start but Tessari made an even better one and soon had the big Monaro out front. It wasn’t to last though as gear selection dramas cruelled his race with McNiven and Williams making it a Torana one-two at the front.

Williams posted fastest lap on his dry tyres as the skies suddenly darkened then let loose with a heavy downpour verging on hail. Several cars had “interesting” moments as drivers struggled to keep it on the island, including Walmsley who suddenly disappeared from third place after his wet tyres turned to stone following a couple of heat cycles in the changing conditions.

Hansen came in with a front brake problem and Williams slowed with a broken axle, the LSD-equipped Holden still drivable on one drive wheel but a real handful. Eventually he pitted after nine laps – much to his frustration the chequered flag came out early just a lap later, the conditions deemed too dicey to continue.

McNiven took home the JUST CARS Touring Car Cup (and a generous winner’s cheque from fellow competitor Darryl Hansen’s company Forpark Australia) with Humble second and Torana driver Nathan Gordon a fine third just in front of the ‘68 Trans Am Mustang of Chris Stern. The coveted Makulu Vehicle Services

Driver of the Meeting award went to Gordon for constant improvement over the weekend, ending in a podium in the main race.

Suburban Melbourne is the next stop for the JUST CARS Historic Touring Car circus with the VHRR’s Historic Sandown meeting taking place over the second weekend in November. With two huge fields expected it’s a date to put in your diary!