25 Jun 6 Hour Le Mans – 1968 to 1972
by Rob Janney
In this article I take a brief look at what brought the WA Sporting Car Club to move from Caversham to set a new home at a purpose built race track to be known as Wanneroo Park, later to become Barbagallo Wanneroo Raceway.
The WASCC had been at Caversham Race track in the Swan Valley for many years. Though not a purpose built race circuit, it adapted well enough for motor racing to continue there with success. Caversham was actually a military airfield used during WW2, and while it still belonged to the Australian Government, the land was leased to the WASCC.
Motor Racing commenced at Caversham in 1953, though Round the Houses racing was still popular. Check out www.terrywalkersplace.com – Western Australian Motor Racing History.
The Caversham race track was referred as “D” shaped clockwise circuit 3.31 km’s in length and featured what became an iconic event that started 1955 and continued through to 1972. The 6 Hour Le Mans became one of the longest motor racing events in Australia at the time. The final 6 Hour at Caversham was 2nd June 1968. This saw the debut of Don O’Sullivan’s Lola T70 mk2, and the debut of a newcomer to Caversham, Fritz Kohout’s Porsche 911S . The rain set in early making conditions difficult for the 44 car field comprising of Touring Cars and Sports Cars.
Caversham 6 Hour Le Mans start: (22)Mini- Chris Royston/John Alford (42) Porsche 911S Fritz Kohout9th/Arthur Collett (16) Datsun 2000 John Roxburgh/Doug Whiteford (1) Lola T70 Mk2 Don O’Sullivan/ Ted Lisle
O’ Sullivan played it safe, letting most of the field sprint away in the damp conditions as the rain began to flood much of the main straight. However O’Sullivan became the first victim in the treacherous conditions, skating off at the end of the main straight. He eventually rejoined the race but a lap later aquaplaned off again on the straight, this time mowing down a row of small trees, two fence posts and a young spectator who received minor injuries. The Lola was out of the race as the rain continued, and by half distance 15 cars had retired for a number reasons from mechanical/electrical is or crashing out. Through it all, the Porsche of Kohout was to dominate.
He opted to not do a driver change, going to win completing 194 laps (642 km’s) finishing 6 laps ahead of the Rick Lisle/John Harris with their Mini Cooper S, while the Holden of Colin Hall/Tony Hall finishing a further 7 laps back in 3rd. Of the 44 starters, only 26 cars completed the race.
In the meantime the WASCC Committee knowing this was their last season at Caversham had been working in conjunction with the WA Government to find a new venue. It was announced in the Daily News the Monday after the final 6 Hour race that land had been allocated in the Shire of Wanneroo for a purpose built racing circuit. Below is the announcement as printed in the Daily News in June 1968.
Work moved quickly to get the new Wanneroo circuit ready for the 1969 motor racing season. By the end of 1968 it was almost ready. The first shake down Race meeting was not open to the public and occurred on the 9th February 1969.
The 6 Hour Le mans would continue at the new Wanneroo Park circuit, and for 1969 the event was a live telecast and promoted by TVW Channel 7 attracting a field of 37 cars. Don O’Sullivan was back with the Lola T70, this time sharing the car with well known sports car racer Frank Matich. Last year’s winner Fritz Kohout was back with his Porsche 911S with Stan Starcevich as co – driver, as well as entering his own sports car the Graduate, sharing with Stuart Kostera. Once again a mixed field of Sports Cars and Touring Cars.
As the start line was at the top of the hill out of what is now known as turn 5, and the pits between infield leading to turn 6, it was decided the start for the 6 Hour would be carried out on the short strait between what Rothman’s Corner and BMC Corner.
Wanneroo Park map.
With the promotion by Channel 7, Racing Car News reported a crowd of around 10,000 spectators were in attendance. The main interest being the O’Sullivan’s Lola, and that Frank Matich would be his co-driver. Dick Roberts made his debut in his Monaro GTS327 with Rod Donovan as co-driver. Between practice and the race the Lola had its engine rebuilt with Matich equaling the lap record at the time of 61:01 secs in practice, whilst the Graduate with gear box woes could only manage a 66 sec lap. Both were somewhat quicker than the rest of the field. Unlike the previous year at Caversham, the weather was fine and dry, making this the first dry 6 Hour in 10 years.
Starcevitch was to grab the early lead but was soon caught and passed by Matich in the Lola. Retirements occurred early in the race for a number of cars, and they included Gordon Stephenson/Neville Cooper’s Alfa Romeo GTA with a broken half shaft after just 31 laps, followed by the Holden “Le Mons” sports car of Bob Biltoft and Rod Mitchell after it blew its clutch. It wasn’t long before Matich had opened a 5 lap lead over the Graduate, with the Porsche of Kohout a further 2 laps back in 3rd.
In the second hour of the race, Starcevich (Graduate) took over the lead as Matich pitted for fuel and driver change. However The Graduate had brake issues and had lost an exhaust pipe, then after 94 laps the gearbox packed it in, and The Graduate was out of the race. Kohout took over the lead for the mid 2 hours of the race, however when Starcevich took over driving duties of the Porsche it was also suffering brake issues.
The Lola with O’Sullivan was making up ground on the leaders when the left front wheel parted company from the Lola as it entered pit straight. The car slued across the track and down the length of pit lane. The wheel bounced into the air hitting a PA Speaker tower which stopped it going into the crowd. Amazingly the Lola was repaired and returned to the track.
In the final hour the race began to come alive. The Lola of O’Sullivan/Matich making its final pit stop whilst leading the race. Drama for the team as the car would not restart, making the pit stop drag on for 7 minutes. The battery was changed, but it still wouldn’t start. As the pits were on a slope they did a rolling start to rejoin the race, but they had dropped back to 3rd.
Meanwhile, the Kohout Porsche was having brake issues due to the wrong brake fluid overheating, and was under pressure from the Brigg’s Mini Cooper S being driven by Doug Mould, who stormed into the lead with 20 minutes to go. Concurrently the Lola was quickly closing in and passed the Porsche. Further down the line the Austin Healy Sprite of Gordon Mitchell/Alan Richards had gradually moved up through the field, and with only 15 minutes to go lost the coil lead and were out of the race.
O’Sullivan then set off after Mould in the Mini, passing him with 2 minutes of the race to go at Rothman’s Corner. The Lola completed 276 laps (665 km’s), with the Kohout/Starcevich Porsche taking 3rd with 275 laps.
The 6 Hour Le Mans concept continued for another 3 years with results as follows:
1st Don Sullivan/Howie Sangstar Lola T70 Mk2 287 laps (691km’s)
2nd Stan Starcevich/Stuart Kostera Graduate Mk2 277 laps
3rd Teddy Yip/Henry Lee Lotus 47 272 laps
1st Ray Thackwell/Jim Mullins Porsche 911S 282 laps (678 km’s)
2nd Peter Doney/P Wilkins Mini Cooper S 265 Laps
3rd Stan Starcevich/Stuart Kostera Graduate 265 laps
1st Ray Thackwell/Jim Mullins Porsche 911S 295 laps (710 km’s)
2nd Wayne Negus/Neville Gribsby Torana XU-1 279 laps
3rd Chris Royston/Colin Hall Lotus 47 270 laps