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The Tasman Series

If you ask a motorsport fan to name the premier open wheel series of the world, they will most likely either say IndyCar or Formula One. However, from the mid 60’s to mid-70’s there was another. In 1964 top tier single seater racing headed outside of the northern hemisphere as one organized series for the first time. The Tasman series taking place in Australia and New Zealand, provided an oasis for the freezing European drivers to escape to during the winter months. For those familiar with kart racing, it was much like the SKUSA Winter Series or Rok Florida Winter Tour. Or for those not familiar with kart racing, it is much like the avid Canadian golfer heading to a tropical destination to keep the joints in working order during the long winter.

Jochen Rindt in his lotus 49. (R.Mackenzie )

In terms of talent the series attracted stars such as home-grown star Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Derek Bell, Chis Amon, Denny Hulme, and many more. The series did not only provide a chance for high profile drivers to get back into a groove before the season but also a chance for local drivers to prove themselves at an international level. This was done with varying success although kiwi Graham McRae did manage to win 3 Tasman championships consecutively from 1971 to 1973. He would go on to start a Formula One race at the 1973 British Grand Prix in which he retired on the first lap.

Historic Shadow DN6 f5000 car in action (unknown)

In terms of cars, the series was unique as it used chassis regulations similar to those of Formula One but with a smaller engine in the back. Instead of the 3000cc Formula one engines in use at the time, they opted to use the 2500cc engines used in F1 up until 1960. This improved costs for the teams as they did not have to develop an engine specifically for the series. As a result, juggernauts of the time Lotus, and Ferrari both travelled down to partake in the events in preparation for the season. It also proved to be a great series for Bruce McLaren to develop his young racing team and gain valuable information to bring over to his Formula One and Can Am projects. Frank Williams also frequently challenged works teams in a Brabham BT24. Despite the smaller engine size, the regulations by no means made bland engines. Ferrari opted to run updated and enhanced versions of it’s 1950’s Dino V6 engine, while BRM opted to run reduced capacity versions of their v12 engine of the time.

Unfortunately, by the late 60’s to early 70’s the costs associated with Formula One started to rise and as a result most of the big European names left. In order to try and grow the field they allowed Formula 5000 cars to compete. These cars were a rival formula to the popular and competitive Formula 2 regulations. As a result, most drivers frowned upon racing in the category as it was regarded as too big a risk to take for moderate reward when one could simply race F2 instead. Sadly, the Tasman series had dried up by 1975 and the series decided to disband. Although most of the races lived on through other series. Currently the New Zealand Grand Prix still runs annually at Hampton Downs race track in the prestigious Toyota Racing Series.

- Calum Dunbar