One of the greatest things about club motorsport is that sub-cultures quickly establish themselves. There are Porsche guys, Alfa guys and VW guys.
There are Ford guys.
At Killarney International Raceway in our beloved Cape Town, a number of racing Escorts have been patiently waiting in their garages to be unleashed after lockdown. It was a long wait, but finally testing was allowed to resume on specified days.
The fanatics wasted no time at all in getting back into the saddle. Friend of Carbs and Coffee and local Ford racing enthusiast, Jonathan Gunn, invited us to a special experience – the return of historic race cars to Killarney’s tarmac.
When we feature a car, it involves driving on public roads with the owner in the car as well. The idea is to focus on the way the car makes you feel in real world conditions, without driving stupidly or putting anyone at risk.
This was different. There’s a 4-point harness instead of a normal seatbelt. There’s nowhere for the owner to sit. There’s a racetrack instead of a public road. The track was…wet.
With one half of Carbs and Coffee sadly stuck at home with day job commitments, Andrew Thomas flew our flag at the track and met up with the Ford faithful as they fired up their gorgeous machines.
We’ve done a bit of racing in our lives, but only in karts. Karting is pure and certainly makes a decent driver out of you, but they don’t have any body roll and they carry far less momentum in the wet. Also, they aren’t exactly collectible.
Luckily, since everyone was wearing masks, it was difficult to see the nerves. It was also impossible to see the smiles on everyone’s faces.
After admiring the gorgeous cars on display in the pit lane, it was time to experience this particular Escort out on track. Classic cars always bring a smile, but historic race cars somehow take it to the next level. The labour of love in keeping these cars running optimally is a case study in traumatic bonding.
Speaking of trauma, it started to rain just as the Escorts rolled out the pits. On slicks.
It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been better. As the rain got harder, lap 2 dished up an historic rendition of swan lake. The Escort’s rear end was having none of it in turn 3, thankfully at a speed that reflects respect for another man’s car.
Despite the relative (and appreciate) lack of theatre in the spin itself, the Escort did manage to get stranded. Jono made his way to the rescue with the pit marshall and her V8 towmobile. Talk about getting the full experience.
Fully expecting a public beating upon arrival at the pits, our man sheepishly exited the vehicle. More a reflection of Jono’s personality than anything else, he concluded “that’s racing” and sent Scuderia Thomas back out on track.
With the benefit of a drying track and a stark reminder of how slicks behave in the wet, 5 or so laps were completed without incident. It was glorious.
Having completed this stint, the opportunity presented itself to catch up with some of the stalwarts of the sport and review some of the eye candy on offer. It was also a useful learning experience, being told after the fact that when it rains at Killarney, you take a wide karting line (off rubber) at T3 because the water runs onto the normal line due to the gradient.
Well, now we know. There’s no replacement for circuit experience.
Speaking of experience, everyone pointed our man in the direction of the most knowledgeable Escort racer of the lot: Louis Powell. He’s owned no fewer than six Alfa Juniors in addition to his Escort, so he’s clearly a man of taste.
He noted that his love for the Escort and Ford in general stems from the fact that the range of vehicles had something for everyone, from the humble Escort right through to the iconic GT40. The likes of Ferrari doesn’t have that level of resonance with the man in the street, being unobtainable for all but the luckiest among us.
The Ford vs. Ferrari fight that played out in the 60s on the global stage has been replicated locally with far more modest budgets (but arguably even more passion) in the form of Ford vs. Alfa.
Instead of driving his own car on this wonderful day, Louis was screaming his way out of lockdown in the Willie Ras Zakspeed Escort with a truly orgasmic sounding Cosworth motor.
The point about being a relatable car certainly hits home. The Escort was a rally hero, campaigned by the likes of Sarel. The Mk1’s 50-50 weight distribution and low weight in general made it a terrific base for a rally car. The modified race bits that get everyone excited were available straight from the factory or dealership.
It was a different time to be alive. A time long before masks, lockdowns and general unhappiness with the state of affairs. It was a time when the Kyalami 9 Hour featured everything from Lolas and Chevrons down to Escorts.
Speaking of the 9 Hour, that’s where Jonathan Gunn’s love of these cars started. As a kid watching the race, he adored the roars of the race cars against the highveld backdrop. Every race series has its critics, but the Millstock Cars series at Killarney goes a long way towards giving kids today a taste of that incredible time in history.
It’s difficult to focus on the Ford marque in South Africa without making some reference to the Perana name. This was a range of high performance cars developed and produced by Basil Green cars in Johannesburg. The Escort Perana was the first Pinto-powered Escort in the world, which leads us neatly into our next Escort racer.
Franco Donadio is an interesting guy. Fiercely and proudly Italian, he perhaps knows something the rest of us don’t and chooses to run a Ford instead of an Alfa. A South African stock car champion, he switched to main circuit after people said that stock car drivers can’t race.
His car runs a Pinto engine. It also always runs at the front.
As is always the case in club racing, the paddock features a number of gentleman drivers and a selection of those who swing their own spanners. Herman de Kock is one such man, who seems to take at least as much pride from maintaining his car as he does from racing it, bringing a real grassroots feel to the sport. We love it, especially since we started out in Clubmans karting which follows the same principle.
Wayne Lotter of Killarney Gardens Motor Spares is a passionate classic racing petrolhead who looks after his own car and a number of the machines you can see in these pictures.
The list goes on. Special mention must go to Arnold Lambert from Lambert Racing who looks after and prepares a number of the Fords in his incredible workshop near the bottom of the pit lane, adorned with Ford memorabilia and home to the Sarel van der Merwe Escort rally replica.
Historic racing is about passion and respect for where we’ve come from as petrolheads. It’s incredibly sad to think that each year gets us closer to a time when these noises might not exist anymore at most tracks worldwide.
We hope that day never comes. If it does, we salute those who have fought not just to keep their own passions alive, but to pass the baton on to younger generations. It’s a baton we accept with great pleasure and appreciation. We will try not to swap ends through T3 ever again.