Oran Park Touring Car Festival

Oran Park’s Touring Car Festival, originally planned for January, finally kicked off on the last Sunday of April. Due to the abundance of historic race meetings around the country at this time of year, apart from the over 3-litre Group N class, the fields were smaller than the organisers would have hoped but what the event lacked in quantity, however, was certainly made up for by the quality of the races. There was rarely a race that had a winning margin of more than 2 seconds, indeed most were under one, and every race had the enthusiastic crowd giving at least one driver a rousing ovation. Ironically, unlike the entry, the crowd was larger than had been expected to the extent that by 10;30 the organisers had run out of tickets and had to hurriedly arrange for more to be delivered. In the end a crowd in excess of three thousand turned out to see these immaculately maintained, ageing racecars doing their thing once again. With a 17-race programme, numerous parades and the likes of John Goss and Harry Firth meeting the fans and signing autographs, there was plenty to keep the crowd happy.

In the Under 3-litre Group N class there were just eight entries, 4 EH Holdens, 2 Ford Cortinas, 1 Ford Capri and one Volvo 144S and it was Harvey Felton who dominated the class with three wins out of four in his Ford Capri. The most excitement though was provided by Brad Harris in his EH Holden. After a lurid spin in race one that started at the dogleg and ended at the entry to the final turn he fought his way back through the field to fourth in race 2 and won race three by passing Felton’s Capri in the last corner.

The over 3-litre Group N races were the highlight of the day with the largest fields and the best racing. In a field of 16 that comprised plenty of Holden Toranas, Kingswoods, Monaros and Ford Falcons it was Bob Cox in his Mustang, Cameron Tilley in the push button automatic Valiant S and Cameron Warner in a Falcon that made up the top 3 in all three races. Cox in the Mustang won three out of four with a largest winning margin of four tenths of a second over Tilley in the final Trophy race. Tilley in the Valiant won the other race, race 2, by just under 2 seconds and Warner was third in all four. After finishing just six tenths of a second behind winner Cox in Race 1 Warner was left a little behind by the ferocity of the fight between Cox and Tilley in the other three races which saw plenty of sideways cornering, side by side racing and the odd bit of panel banging as these two battled for supremacy. Not by much though, as there was only one race in which the top three were separated by more than 3 seconds.

After this the Group A class had a hard act to follow. The fact that David Towe in the beautiful JPS BMW M3 sat out the first two races while changing diff ratios didn’t help. All four races were dominated by the Nissan Skyline’s of Terry Ashwood and Roderick Markland ahead of a thin field of Commodores and a Mitsubishi Starion. Markland won the first by just two tenths but had to give best to Ashwood for the rest. Towe finally got the M3 working to his liking in the Trophy race to take second at the end of the day.

The final class on show was for the Group C cars and was also disappointingly thin on entries. It got thinner throughout the day to the extent that with just three runners left their Trophy race was combined with that of the Group A cars. Phil Kirkham was set to dominate the day until, having won the first two races comfortably, he lost a wheel in race three and the resulting suspension damage kept him out of the Trophy race. Frank Binding, in the uniquely camouflaged Army Reserve XD Falcon won the final two races easily from Richard Jones in the K-Mart Commodore. The saving grace for this class were the battles between Binding and Chris Hinton in the ex-Bob Morris Channel 7/Breville Torana A9X during the first two races that were equally as entertaining as the Cox/Tilley Group N tussles. Hinton took second ahead of Binding by under half a second in both the first two races but overheating set in and except for a couple of parade laps for Bob Morris himself, the car was not seen in action again.

The final race of the day was for Group N Holden Toranas for the Harry Firth Trophy. Only 5 made it to the start after a hard days racing and except for a fine dice between the first two the field was fairly spread out by the end of the 11 laps. Simon Phillips held on to take the win in his XU1 by just over two tenths of a second from the similarly mounted Scott Gorman.

So ended an excellent days entertainment. The fields may have been a bit thin but this Festival is a fine idea and was very well presented. This was a good basis for an event that will hopefully it will grow into a permanent and larger event in the future. Perhaps they could include additional classes next time, as events such as the Goodwood Revival have shown, the sight of huge Mk1 Jaguars and Chevy Impalas battling it out with Minis is always hugely entertaining and could not but help to add to what promises to be a fine addition to the national Historic racing calendar.

Sam Snape