There’ll be a new series on Badger this year – Forgotten F1: in which I’ll be taking a look at circuits where you used to be able to see F1 cars running, but not in this millenium. A sort of ABC of historic tracks if you like: Albi, Brands Hatch, Casablanca etc
And first up is Longford in Tasmania. Yes, I know it doesn’t strictly comply as it never hosted an F1 race, but it did see Jim Clark driving a Lotus 33 (which he used to win the 1965 World Championship) and a Lotus 49T, the Tasman version of the beautiful Lotus 49 (which Jim used to win the first of 155 World Championship races that the Cosworth DFV engine would go on to win). And that’s enough for me.
I’m starting with Longford as my occasional hobby of hunting down unused circuits took me to Tasmania just before Christmas. It’s a beautiful place (Tasmania, not specifically Longford) and well worth a visit. Especially if you like a slow pace of life.
In January 2014 we are impatiently waiting for the first test of the year, an opportunity to find out what the new cars will look and sound like. But back in the 1960s there was no testing. There were races.
The Tasman Series was essentially an unofficial mini world championship held over the European winter in New Zealand and Australia. Until costs began to spiral and the series was canned. Plus ca change…
The Tasman Series wasn’t run to F1 regulations – almost, but not quite. In 1961 the F1 engine capacity had been reduced from 2.4 litres to 1.5 (sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it?) and so in 1964 the Antipodeans created a series to run F1 cars with the more powerful, older F1 engines. In essence, they created something better than F1, closer to the classic three-litre formula that came into being in 1966 and stayed with us into the 1980s.
But I digress (if you’re interested you can check out more on the Tasman series here) and it’s time to look at Longford – also known as Launceston, due to the proximity of the larger town (now complete with airport).
Longford was a road circuit along the lines of Le Mans or the original Spa. Except with the addition of wooden bridges and a 90 degree corner underneath a railway arch. The arch is still there, the bridge sadly not.
The approach to the bridge is now an unused road, and the river that was previously raced over is now spanned only by cables.
It is sobering to look at the corner under the viaduct though, not the sort of thing I’d want to be hurling an open-wheeler through, but in those days, if it was there, well, you did it. And quickly. In 1968 Chris Amon set the outright lap record in a Ferrari 330P4 (one of the most beautiful cars ever built) at just over 122 mph. That was about the same as Silverstone in it’s early configuration, which in the 80s Nico Rosberg’s father lapped at over 160mph – and that was after the Woodcote chicane had been added. In short, Longford was fast.
Longford hosted a round of the Tasman Series each year from 1964 to 1968. The last race was held there just five weeks before Jim Clark was killed at Hockenheim. The final race was by Piers Courage in a McLaren; it’s good to remember him for winning something and not the fiery accident that took his life at Zandvoort in 1970. When people talk about Jackie Stewart campaigning for safety in motorsport, this is the reason why.
Recently, racing cars have started going back to Longford once a year for a sprint down the flying mile, but there is a small display of memorabilia (and an old triumph special) in the Country club in the town.