Le Brock Le Porsche Le Mans
Peter Brock had won everything in Australia. But how did he go over seas?
In the 1980's Australia was becoming much more a factor on the world stage. We won the Americas Cup in 1983, Crocodile Dundee went to number one at the box office in 1986 and we put in a bid to host the Olympic Games. So with all this change happening in Aus, motorsport was sure to follow. Up until then Australian Touring Cars were home grown Aussie V8's with the two heavy hitters being Holden and Ford. Red or Blue and no middle ground. The Group C Touring Cars were the most amazing you've ever seen, with over 500 horsepower spewing from the 5.0 Litre V8 engine. Add the bucket spoilers and over a foot wide tyres and you had quite a show. However, in 1984 CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motorsport) decided that the newly formed International Touring Car regulations of Group A were the way to go from 1985 onwards. This meant that 1984 would be the last time that the original Ford vs Holden rivalry would be shown to the world. And on hearing the news the FIA in Paris decided that Australia should say farewell to the Group C regs, with a Group C Sports car race held at Sandown.
The iconic Rothmans Porsche 956's ready for battle at Sandown. Look closely and you can see one car is sponsored by SEGA.
Peter Brock was by far Australia's highest rated driver and in 1984 he was at the peak of his powers. He owned and drove for the factory Holden Dealer Team, he had won the James Hardie 1000 7 times up till this point. He'd finished first in the Sandown 400/500 8 times, and he was designing his own road cars based off his race cars. But although Brock was at his highest in Australia, in Europe he was practically a nobody. The only times he'd race there was at the Spa 24 Hours in 1977 where he partnered Gerry Marshall in a Vauxhall Firenza Magnum 2300 and finished an impressive second. He'd driven his 3.0 CSL BMW "Batmobile" at Le Mans in 1976 but had blown the cooling system to bits. And in 1981 he'd entered a Porsche 924 with fellow Aussie legends and team mates Colin Bond and Jim Richards, however they were on the reserve list and were only allowed to start if a certain number of cars dropped out... Which didn't happen.
The Brock/Bond/Richard 924 in Practice for a race that sadly wouldn't happen for them.
But Brock never gave up on trying to break into Europe and he'd felt he now had the perfect opportunity. British racing legend John Fitzpatrick had made Australia his second home, after he won the 1976 Hardie Ferodo 1000 in a terminally ill privateer Bob Morris Torana. And earlier in the year all the racing drivers went to his house to celebrate his move to Australia. And it was here that John told Brockie that, "You've won everything in Australia, so why not got to Le Mans and race against the best in the world." Brock was always willing to accept a challenge, and he said that he would go and clean up at Le Mans. Fitzpatrick sourced a Porsche 956 from Germany and had it shipped to Melbourne. Brock was willing to race at Le Mans but he'd have to do it whilst also driving the Touring Car championship. With tyre tycoon Bob Jane's sponsoring all over the car, it was decided to name the team, "Team Australia" as this was an All Aussie Attack on the Very French Race.
1984 was the year of the "Aussie Assault" on Le Mans. There was Brock and Perkins driving this car, defending 24 Hour champion Vern Shuppan and F1 World Champion Alan Jones teamed up in the Kenwood-backed Porsche 956. Allan Grice stood his post with a drive in the 956 with Australian GT legend Rusty French. And lesser known Aussie Neil Crang started in the C2 (now LMP2) class in a Tiga Cosworth.
Neil Crang's Spice Tiga Cosworth
Allan Grice/Rusty French Rollei Porsche 956
Kenwood Shuppan/Jones 956
In Australia we love an underdog story, Steven Bradbury and Pierre Gasly are amongst our favourite sporting stars just because they started way out of their depth and came out on top. However, little did the Australian public realise how much of an underdog the Brock Le Mans effort was. Everyone just assumed that if Brock could win seven 500/1000 KM races then he'd defiantly walk past the Europeans. But in all honesty Brock probably had no idea what he was doing. He had a car, a team and a co driver in the form of Larry Perkins. Perkins had already made a bit of a name for himself in Europe, he'd won every minor division their was. Formula Ford, Formula 3 and even had a crack at Formula One. So Perkins defiantly had been known amongst the Europeans, but Brock was unheard of. To make matters worse, the car was finalised only a 6 weeks or so before the 24 hour race! There was no testing done on the car at all in Australia, in fact the only driving Brock had done in the car prior to going to Le Mans was on a public road. Yep that's right on a small back road somewhere in England, Brock tried out the power of the engine whilst Perkins lead the way in an Opel Kaddett. I know the Porsche 935K's that had run at Le Mans a few years earlier went down the french highway to practice for running on the Mulsanne, but those where road legal cars with number plates, headlights and indicators. Don't expect to see the Toyota's to be doing that this year though. Brock only reached 198 KPH in the 956, not even half the car's top speed.
Link to Larry Perkins talking the specs of the Porsche 956: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLoemoOD5bI
The 1000KM of Silverstone was seen as a warm up to Le Mans by everyone else, but for Perkins and Brock it was a full on test session. They finished that race after 162 laps in 21st of 22 finishers due to a bolt from the suspension sheering off. 50 laps down on the Rothmans Porsche on Jochen Mass and Jacky Ickx. But that to the Australians Silverstone didn't matter. The big one was just around the corner and they felt that they were ready. Except they needed a spare engine, and they realised it wouldn't arrive in time. So Larry Perkins and mechanic Larry Burns drove all the way from England to Weissach to pick up a spare engine.
The Bob Jane T Marts 956 being serviced during the Le Mans race, look how many people crammed an already crowdedpit lane.
Upon arriving at Le Mans it got even more difficult for the Aussies as the French scrutineers apparently said the sticker on the windscreen was a millimetre too wide! They also tried to claim that the wheel base was too long. Despite it being, oh I don't know? Exactly the same as every other Porsche in the field! Why oh why do some scrutineers have to be so unbelievably dumb? Anyway after proving that the car was the right length and the FIA just didn't know how to use a tape measure they were given the all clear. But then the first engine suffered an oil line failure, and they were forced to use the spare. Brock always believed that he and Perkins could easily crack a podium here, but he really was a positive person with all this going on around you. In order to make this engine last, Perkins adopted the "Bathurst Technique." He worked out that everyone would want to try and get the best position they could on the first few laps, but at Bathurst the only overtaking you do at the start is before the first corner. I mean you have 1000KM's to get them back again, so Perkins told the team to turn down the boost from 1.5 Bar to 1.25 bar. As well as take the rev limit down from 7800RPM to 76000 RPM. He and Brock also decided if they could do 3.40 lap times, then they would be certain to win the race regardless of where they qualified.
Perkins qualified the car in 15th place with a time of 3:35:34 and the pole time was the factory Lancia of Nannini and Wollek 3:17:11. But because it was Lancia it didn't really have a chance of doing the whole race. The local race newspaper said that, "Peter Broke could've done a faster time but elected not to. To avoid any unnecessary stress on the machine."
At the start things went about as smooth as they could go. Despite the immense heat that the Turbo charged Flat Six put out turned the cockpit into a small oven. Brock ordered the crew to top up the onboard water bottle with Gatorade and not water. There was a rumour that they even put a splash of beer in as well. They also used experimental "cool hats" which they would wear under their helmets and pumped ice cold water around their head. After 53 minutes Perkins melted out of the car and told Brock to be careful not to use too much fuel. But not long after he started his stint, Brock's cool hat failed and he his water bottle was running dry. He was able to persevere and brought the car back to the pits in one piece. When night had fallen the #34 Team Australia Porsche was running in 5th place.
Night time driver change with Perkins getting in by the look of it.
So far the race had gone to plan, but this is motor racing and nothing goes to plan. At 6:15pm Brock was coming through the Virage Porsche Curve at 195kph and I'll let him tell you the story. "Very heavy and lots of vibration. I went into a left hander and then a long right and it didn’t feel too handy at all. Next thing, there’s a thump and I’m on three wheels. I just kept my boot into it, accelerated past the wayward wheel and drove very gently back to the pits." The damage was repairable, but it would take another 28 minutes. By the time they were ready to go back out again, they had dropped 30 places. Then at 9pm the rear rocker broke when Perkins was going through the Mulsanne kink at an estimated 380 kph! Some how Perkins didn't go into the woods in a fire ball never to be seen again, and coasted back to the pits. Now they were in 24th place and the Brock and Perkins decided to scrap the rule of conservation and go for it! It worked and they got up into 8th place, with 7th just a few seconds ahead... But sadly there would be no fairy tale ending to this All Aussie Assault.
A link to when Perkins made that mistake. www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYGJ5uy05zg
At 1:57am it was all over. This is what Larry Perkins said, "I came up fast on three slower cars. One went to overtake another and I went for the third lane and misjudged the situation. I didn’t allow enough room and ran out of road. I wasn’t tired, not in the slightest, which is why I don’t even have a good excuse. I was trying to keep up a good pace – around 37s – but perhaps I should have recognised a dangerous situation and backed off. We might still be driving round here. But these things happen. We were behind schedule and I was driving full bore. I suppose I went off at something like 240 kays". Brock's was heart broken. He had put so much effort into this race, and it didn't last the distance. The Australians returned home a little bit dejected and deflated. The car never did though it stayed and still is in Europe.
Bathurst however was different story, Brock and Perkins won by two laps of their second car of John Harvey and David Parsons. That Bathurst is remembered as the last of the "Big Bangers", which means the last time 5.0 Litre V8 Racers would compete at Bathurst. Don't forget the new Group A Holden Commodore had a had 4990cc engine. I know MASSIVE DIFFERENCE.
Brock never went to Le Mans again and then became a hippie. No really, he was in such a state after that his wife Bev put him onto a Melbourne Chiropractor named Dr. Eric Dowker. And I don't know how it worked but Dowker drilled into Brock that these Crystals when put in a certain place, would "aline the molecules" and then make the performance of that thing better. I don't know. Brock would then build something called the Energy Polerizer and that in turn would end the partnership between Brock and Perkins. And in the end it also ended Brock all together with Holden. But that's a story for another day.