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Hottest ever classic

Phillip Island Classic. 7-10 March 2024

Under 2 Litre and Invited

Report by Darren Knight. Pics by Daysy Motorpix, Chris Carter &  Phil Wisewould  

Hot fields and hotter weather ensured the 2024 Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport, the biggest historic race meeting in the southern hemisphere, would be one to remember. While the recent resurfacing promised a potential fall in lap records the brutal (and very rare) hot northerly wind would have something to say about that. The JUST CARS racers would also be having rolling starts for the first time…

Race 1, Friday afternoon, 4 laps

It was an all-BDA Escort front row with pole man, South Aussie Josh Axford, and NSW 2023 Champ David Noakes leading the field away after an extra warm up lap. Former TCM racer Adam Bressington’s weekend ended early after blowing a head gasket in his Mini as the Cortina of Stuart Barnes endured a bad miss that would persist all meeting.

Axford won from Noakes and Richard Hill (Mini) as Will Colton pushed his Lotus Cortina past the similar machine of Peter Van Summeren to move into fourth. NSW’s Francis Meier (Mini), Jim Schilling (Volvo) and Phil Barrow (FJ Holden) followed in hot pursuit.

Race 2, Saturday morning, 5 laps

Axford seemed determined to shake off any challengers early and built a sizeable lead as Hill nipped under a fast-starting Schilling to nab third at the hairpin.
The Volvo then became immersed in a huge battle involving Van Summeren, Meier, Barrow and the ex-Bill Cutler BMW 2002 of Stephen Page. Further back Mick Stupka (Citroen) held out his old Cortina (now in the hands of rookie Peter Olver) and the MK II GT Cortina of Gordon Cox, who was kept busy in between races by the Racer Industries trackside truck, selling much needed supplies to fellow racers. At the checker Axford, Noakes and Hill replicated the race one podium.

Race 3, Saturday afternoon, 6 laps

There was first lap action at T1 when Hill was punted off track and into the Armco, one of Australia’s fastest Minis now out for the duration with hefty damage. Schilling was also out early, as was Van Summeren with a bad miss.

But Barrow and David Wheatley (Mini) were having a great scrap as Page moved into fourth with Dean McLaughlan (Datsun) hot on his heels. At the front Noakes hounded leader Axford relentlessly in a cracker of a race but fell just short at the finish, Colton crossed the line third but was relegated to 9th after a 30-second penalty. Page and McLaughlan were then only a second apart in third and fourth.

Race 4, Sunday morning, 5 laps

With the north wind already blowing strongly for the first race at 9.15, Axford really got into it early ahead of Noakes as Colton started from pit lane after copping a penalty due to an incident in the previous race. Wheatley battled McLaughlin for until he was taken off by another competitor, joining Page on the sidelines after a carb issue halted the BMW.

In the mid-pack Don Knight was the best of the pushrod Cortinas again, managing to hold out the Lotus version of Michael George as Axford took an easy win after setting a blistering 1:52.9362 on the last lap. Noakes was second with a first podium for McLaughlan in third followed by Colton and Ian Pringle (Mini).

Race 5, Sunday afternoon, 6 laps

The fan-forced open oven door temperatures had helped to trim the field right back for the final, with several of the (minimum) 50-year old cars suffering heat exhaustion or humanely retired by their carers. But the heat didn’t stop the two Escorts running away at the front, Axford taking a clean sweep from Noakes and Dean McLaughlan’s Datsun 1600 – a second podium being a great result for this recent car and driver combination. He narrowly bested Stephen Page’s BMW after tight battles all meeting.

For his heroic steering of the Holden FJ as he battled with much later and supposedly faster cars and setting a personal best and class record of 2.02.1, the Makulu Vehicle Storage Driver of the Meeting award went to Phil Barrow.