FORMULA JUNIOR NORTH AMERICAN TOUR – SECTOR TWO
OR, Not the same without Bill!
Whilst it was bitter sweet having to miss out on Laguna Seca, I was pleased to be at home for the arrival of my new grandson that weekend in Melbourne. Soon after, I headed to the Good ‘Ol US of A to partake in the last 3 North American rounds of the Formula Junior World Tour.
Having surrendered my entry to Goodwood in favour of Bill Hemming who had a more suitable car available, I was desperately hoping for good things in the States……I wasn’t disappointed.
In New York and prior to leaving for Lime Rock, I was keen to visit a couple of the Smithsonian museums – what a complex of buildings, displays, information and amazing exhibits. The Space Museum is something to behold. I drove a Lancer (rubbish!) going down to Washington from New York, but soon swapped it out for a Camaro – wicked! Speed limit… what? No wife in tow ( at home gooing and gahring) so I was able to wander and drive at leisure and soak it all up.
The first race was at Lime Rock in New York State. What a picturesque circuit – situated among rolling hills, huge pits, flowers everywhere and a warm welcome by the organisers. We were afforded plenty of track time on this short, but fast and flowing circuit with 2 feature races. The West Australian contingent was out in force along with a few from NZ, Denmark, Canada, South Africa and of course, the UK. Classes were split into 3 groups according to the Formula’s development phases – Front Engine, Rear engine with drum brakes and Rear engine with disc brakes. Generally the weather was terrific and the racing, as usual, was close. Neil McCrudden had a wild moment when his steering column broke and that resulted in a lurid spin finishing in the fence at the end of the main straight. Car – very sad, Neil, just as sad, but not hurt thankfully. Marty Bullock was the Aussie star in his Lotus 27. I was driving the ex Roger Ealand Lotus 18 for the first time in 2 years since my outing at Sonoma that resulted in some front end damage. The car was repaired expertly and on time by Norman Thersby in California (Thanks Norm!)and was a treat to drive. Starting and finishing mid field was a good result for me and I was well pleased. The David’s – Kent, Watkins and Innes from the UK in the Ex Peter Boel Lola all performed excellently with good placings in a highly competitive field. Don Thallon also went well and was right up with the leading group thus ensuring the Aussies were very well represented on the rostrum among the yanks. Race two was similar but this time, Strauss beat me so between us, we were One all.
Into the new Camaro rental and off to dinner after the parade into the local village and had dinner at a great place – thank you, you’re welcome, have a nice day etc. etc. Peter Strauss had earlier suffered a small off in Qually, but JR Mitchel, who was fettling both Peter’s and my car, soon sorted things out so he could continue racing throughout the trip. I reckoned he should pay for dinner as he was using up all our “credits” with JR, but it was easier to find someone who disliked Trump (no one!) than that.
We then moved on to Watkins Glen which was an entirely different proposition. A big property, not nearly as well kept as Lime Rock, but fantastic to drive and race at. Neil had swapped out his engine from his broken Lotus 22 and inserted it into his Pink Panther so he could continue racing, albeit, a bit slower than before. Others only had some minor niggles and were up for the challenge on what is also a fast circuit with some verrrry close armco in a few verrrry quick spots. I had a great dice with Tony Ollisof and others after buggering up the rolling start they always have. Results were similar though the racing was a bit more spread out on the longer circuit. Somehow, I managed a third place in the drum brake class and was chuffed to be on the podium at such an iconic circuit. Again, no incidents of concern – what could possibly go wrong from hereon in? I also managed a spin during practice and was black flagged for not immediately pulling in to the pits to explain my actions – simple really on a damp track, ambition exceeded ability. Strange rule that. Another unique difference is that when you have a yellow flag, you slow as we do, but resume racing as soon as you pass the incident – no greens! Tow trucks conduct live recoveries during races under a white / red flag which can be a bit disconcerting at times.
So, JR transported some cars, the WA boys mainly hauling their cars in a huge rented semi that can be driven on a normal licence! Because it’s a “Fifth Wheel” unit, being over 60 feet long doesn’t matter over there! I joined up with Peter Strauss and his good lady Jane for the trip North West to Road America. Surviving on a lunchtime diet at, variously, Wendy’s, Macca’s, BIg Boy, and God knows what other rubbish we found along the way via Cleveland Ohio through Muskeegan (?) accross lake Michigan on a ferry to Milwaulkee then North to the track. It is situated about 150 Klm’s North of Chicago.
Road America was a real treat for several reasons. I purchased my Lotus 20/22 from the President of the track, George Brugentheiss some years back and he and his wife Shirley were very welcoming and a great help all round. This circuit is made up of 660 acres of varying terrain and facilities. Off road, forest tracks, Go Kart complex, huge pits and fastidiously maintained in every way. It is over 6 Klm’s long and also super fast. A terrific challenge in our little cars but plenty of overtaking places and room to “have a go”. By now Peter Strauss was having a few electrical gremlins, but most everyone else was in good shape and the only two no-shows/no race were Jac Nellerman from Denmark (engine blow up) and Eric Jutsen in the Ex Ealand Koala, also blown engine. Both guys were offered spare engines but declined as it was the last meeting and they felt it was time to go home and sort things out at leisure.
Again, the racing was close up front, but enjoyable all through the field with many battles for both minor and class placings. The promoting club put on a dinner, gratis, on the Friday night and a further dinner at a fantastic hotel on the Saturday night for some 800 people. On a personal note, my car was fantastic. No issues throughout 3 weekends including lots of track miles. No leaks, missing, suspension issues of any type and that made my trip extra special as I was able to engage in every session. The only downside is I had no excuses for regularly being mid field. One hicough was the fact that on Sunday at Road America (Elkhart Lake) was the inclusion of about 30 Formula V’s in our grid. Despite having a staggered start, one of our front runners, Chris Drake from the UK was leading when he happened upon the slow V’s towards the end of the race which he leading and got punted off into the armco, doing significant damage to his car and costing him a certain win. MIXED GRIDS are not the way to go for anyone and other solutions need to be found to ensure every one’s safety and enjoyment. In that race the total grid was about 60 cars! Is this the case of promoters being extra greedy for more entry fees and fewer races?
I’m pleased to report that an Aussie, MARTY BULLOCK, won the North American sector of the Diamond Jubilee World Tour. The Poms and Europeans, along with us from downunder out numbered the Yanks at each meeting but they still had a few fast guys and gals to keep us honest throughout. In short, this sector was highly successful and a real tribute to the organisation of Duncan Rabagliati, World Supremo of Formula Junior racing. Roll on next year where we have 3 race meetings in the Baltic States as the second last leg of the World Tour. A big thanks to Sarah, the FJHRA Secretary for ensuring that all things logistic ran smoothly as well. Any problems – call Sarah – she always has the fix!
After all this we spent a few days in Chicago. A pleasant city of surprises from my point of view and was an excellent finish to the trip. Big thanks to the Strauss’ for allowing me to join them on the road. I wasn’t even required to provide marriage guidance as Jane was an excellent navigator and kept both Peter and me on a short leash at all times.
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