BALLS OUT TO THE BALTICS
The three year celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Formula Junior has seen grids from several continents and dozens of countries cart their cars and crews for full grids to the UK, Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, America, back to the UK and Europe and now we were off to do the Baltic Sector – three races in Lithuania, Latvia and Sweden.
The Australian representatives (now there’s a frightening thought) included Marty Bullock from Perth in his ex-Roger Ealand Wren (after being crashed into at Zolder the previous week in his rapid Lotus 27), Lance Carwardine also from Perth running the Lynx borrowed from the West Australian Racing Museum, Bill Hemming (Melbourne) in the “shit it’s not an Elfin” Tojeiro, David Kent from near Sydney in another Lynx, Neil McCrudden, Perth, with a Lotus 22, John Rowe again from Perth (must be a good place to get away from) in his Lotus 18, Brian Searles – Perth again – pedalling the West Australian Museum’s Pink Panther, Kim Shearn and Peter Strauss from Melbourne in their Lotus 22 and Brabham BT6 respectively, David Watkins – yes you guessed it – from Perth with an Elfin FJ, and I think we can include Noel Woodford from NZ (but at least he was born and bred in Brisbane) who was driving Kim’s PennyFord F3.
Fortunately there were enough other teams with 2 grids of at least 20 cars, to water down the effect of this motley crew of Aussies.
As with the rest of the world tour, the Baltic Sector was organised by the tireless King of Formula Junior, Duncan Rabagliati, and his brilliant daughter Sarah who was responsible for running the events and looking after the involved humans.
BIG KAHUNAS AT KAUNAS – LITHUANIA
There really is a race circuit in the middle of Lithuania which the Russians forgot to demolish when they left about 20 years ago. Mind you, someone looks like they tried to demolish the Nemuno Ziedas Circuit, boy was it ROUGH. Great undulating layout, but boy was it ROUGH.
The European Union has been splashing money from the rich members like Britain and Germany into the poorer countries like Lithuania and Latvia to try and build the economies and have a more level trading field (which is political speak for “let’s go to the lowest common denominator”). One of their brilliant grants was to give the local car club 3 Million Euros to resurface this circuit. Surprise, surprise…the Club treasurer pocketed the money and buggered off to South America to leave the crumbling circuit “as found”.
We were given a wonderful and descriptive Driver’s Briefing and driven/shown around the track.
“Here is where you will probably crash” we were told at one uphill, blind crown that was designed to throw you into the bank.
Well after qualifying a terrific 4th, David Kent probably crashed at THE spot in race 1 when his throttle jammed. And Neil McCrudden probably also crashed in race 2 at THE spot. Both cars were seriously damaged. David stripped the Lynx and will fly the chassis back to OZ to put on his jig, make a couple of new uprights and fly it all back to England to reassemble for his Goodwood Revival gig in a couple of months. Neil took up an offer from a local bunch of enthusiasts who reckoned they could straighten his car and body to try to make it the Latvia the following week.
Meanwhile, the rest of us bounced around the bumpy bitumen and in the final race on Sunday, Marty finished an excellent 4th, Peter Strauss 6th, Lance 8th, Bill 10th and Kim “I always make a great start” 11th after stuffing up the start. David’s Elfin ceased to proceed after half a lap.
Importantly, there was an all Australian podium in the Drum Braked class with Marty, Bill and John Rowe….Aussie, Aussie, Aussie…Oui, Oui, Oui!
Despite the ROUGH surface, it was a wonderful weekend and all the foreigners were treated like royalty. Lots of TV coverage and displays of our cars in the city square.
On the way to Latvia, we all stopped off for a Gala Dinner at the Zagare Palace. Sarah The Sensational actually lives in this village and runs FJ worldwide from her home office while mothering three very busy kids. Husband Saulis is an official guide and gave us a walking tour of this historic village before we dined at the Palace. There should probably be inverted commas around the word palace, but there was nothing un-spectacular about the feast of local goodies. The night was spoilt when Bill’s wife Deb got up and made a long, tedious speech where she apologised for not going to more race meetings, and told everyone how wonderful they were and she hoped to see them more often now she has seen the appeal of our trips. Perhaps Deb has finally seen the light and will yet fulfil her destiny to become a fixture as Bill’s Brolly Bitch and Battery Bimbo.
Next day, we drove to Riga.
PENILE ‘RIGA’ MORTIS – LATVIA
After Kaunas, the Bikernieki Curcuit was SMOOTH but still a bit daunting and fast. This drivers briefing and track tour also included “many people crash at this corner” plus a series of bends “when you crash here, it will be a big one”.
As it turned out, no one crashed. The only injuries were whiplash as we turned our heads to gaze at the magnificent derrieres on the suitably clad grid girls. Who would have thought that the term “arse about face” originated in Latvia.
In Sundays main race, Marty again showed us how to do it and came 3rd, Lance 7th, Kim 10th, Peter spun his way back to 11th, Bill 15th and Neil in his hastily repaired Lotus, 16th. The Davids (Kent and Watkins) sat it out with broken cars and engines.
This time, the Drum Brake Class podium had Marty and Bill split by an American…bloody Trump’s fault. But we still got a close encounter with the grid girls. We really shouldn’t go on and on about grid girls, but after the racing, they were a highlight of Riga, along with the Riga Motor Museum which was attached to the circuit. This is a world class museum that really needed a full day for a visit. Now that was Euro grants well spent.
The last night in Riga proved interesting for our South African mate, David Innes (driving the ex Peter Boel Lola) who went out on the town and, no doubt inspired by the grid girls, was harmlessly chatting to a Latvian lass in a bar, when her boyfriend belted him over the head with a bottle. The Police arrested the bottle basher and insisted on taking the bleeding (heart and head) Innes to hospital. For some strange reason, they took him to a dentist, who stitched him up while he sat in the dentists chair. Maybe they thought he suffered from acute “foot in mouth” condition.
Then onto the overnight ferry to Sweden.
FREEZING OUR BOLLOCKS OFF AT KARLSKOGA – SWEDEN
After a couple of days sightseeing around Stockholm (1 day too long), we took off for 2 hours to Karlskoga, to the Gellerasen Arena, the oldest track in Sweden.The drivers briefing advised that start was to be by flag…except it was when the flag was raised, ie as soon as it left the starters leg. Interesting.
A very, very tight track that created polarising opinions, great surface and facilities, but a circuit where you do not want rain!
So on Sunday race day it rained…and it rained…and it rained. But at least it was bitterly cold, so David Watkins who had suffered overheating problems was able to start and drove from the back of the grid to finish 7th. Peter Strauss lunched his new gearbox on Saturday and chose not to bother half fixing it, so didn’t start. Kim broke his front suspension arm (courtesy of the rough Lithuanian track) and belly flopped into the sand trap on Saturday. A new (old spare) arm got him back on the Sunday ice-skating rink. Marty slid his way around with the Wren to finish a fine 4th. The rest of us gently managed to stay afloat. No mean feat after the Saturday evening “Herring and Schnapps” education session where singing was optional but embraced.
At the trophy presentation, Marty and Bill picked up 1st and 2nd in the Drum braked class and Marty won the the major trophy for the whole Baltic sector.
So that was it for the 3 race Baltic Series. An absolutely fabulous experience where the Host countries and people were happily supportive and the organisation abilities of Formula Junior Grand Poobah, Duncan Rabagliati shone. Except for the very last day, we were blessed with great weather and even greater racing.
Half the team were going back to the UK to join over 120 Formula Juniors at Silverstone, which is the last race of the FJ 60th Jubilee three year programme – a super successful and massive undertaking. !
No other class of historic race cars can compete with the worldwide FJ program/circus so we should look forward to fostering strong support and growth of the category in Australia. Just like Formula 5000, there is terrific scope to mount an annual Tasman Series with New Zealand to field grids of 40 plus.
So that’s enough fun for now, it’s back home to face the Bank manager.
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