9 HOUR MEMORIES

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By Mario Lupini

For most of the 1950s, South African endurance racing fans travelled to Pietermaritzburg or Cape Town to get their fix. But from 1958, the Highveld became the hotspot for long-distance racing. This trend kicked off with a 24-hour motorcycle event (won by Jannie Stander on a 500cc Velocette) and then a 9 Hour for cars – both at the Grand Central circuit in (what is now called) Midrand.

For ’58, cars you could buy from the showroom floor were the flavour and raced from daylight into the dark. And the fans took to it like boerewors and beer. I was lucky enough to take part in this event, teamed up with the famed, flamboyant and swashbuckling Horse Boyden in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce Leggera. Boyden was a racing driver par excellence and WWII Spitfire pilot-trainer, but this experience came to naught when a Welch plug popped and the car overheated, dropping us from our fourth-place position.

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Our team, Scuderia Lupini, had entered four other cars in the race: a trio of Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti’s and a Ferrari 225S Fontana Barchetta that had the 1952 Monaco Grand Prix victory under its belt. Unfortunately the Ferrari, piloted by the Cape Town duo of Bill Jennings and Don Philp, also suffered technical issues and dropped down the ranks while leading. When the chequered flag fell, Ian Fraser-Jones and Tony Fergusson, driving a Porsche Speedster Carrera, were crowned the winners, with the John Love/Gordon Pfaff Austin-Healey second and the Scuderia Lupini Giulietta Ti of the Pieterse brothers third.

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35 000 spectators, who were also treated to a motor show put on by the organisers (the Sports Car Club of South Africa), went home well pleased with the grand spectacle.

1960 saw the second 9 Hour at Grand Central, and in an effort to attract even more spectators, the International Food Town exhibition and fairground were added to the racing recipe. This year was very memorable for me in that I competed against my two brothers. Again I teamed up with Boyden, but had moved across to the Volvo camp with a works drive. We finished up 7th overall and 3rd in class – beaten by my brother Italo and Andre Pieterse by 0.9 miles in an Alfa Sprint. The GSM Dart-Climax steered by Hugh Carrington and Chris Fergusson took the overall win ahead of the Sarel van der Merwe (SuperVan’s dad) and Van Heerden Porsche Speedster and Wright/Mennie MGA Twin Cam.

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The third and final Grand Central 9 Hour (1961) was an exciting affair, with a great battle between the Dawie Gous/John Love Porsche RS and the Lotus 15-Alfa Romeo of Ernie Pieterse and Gene Bosman. The Porsche won by just 4.5 miles. I was in the Volvo again, sharing with Nigel Payne, but while leading the class, a side shaft snapped. The team managed to replace it by borrowing one from another car. Back in action, we were able to climb back up the order and secured the class honours.

But the most memorable part of the event was not the best one. Italo was sharing a Renault Dauphine Gordini with Boyden and with just 25 minutes left in the race, he rolled nose-over-tail at the end of the straight. I passed the scene, saw Gordini bits strewn all over the track, but soldiered on. When I finished the race, I was told by some ill-informed person that Italo had lost his life. I rushed for the St Johns ambulance with my heart in my racing shoes and found him motionless; thankfully, on hearing my voice, he slowly lifted his head with a pained smile.

For 1961, the 9 Hour moved to the new Kyalami circuit, but I didn’t take part. The race start was slightly different, with co-drivers having to dash across the track at the drop of the flag and hand the ignition keys to the drivers, who were already seated in their cars (new rules meant that drivers had to have their seat belts fastened before the start of the race). Winners were Dawie Gous/John Love (Porsche Spyder), with the Alfa Giulietta Ti of Nick Kingell and Bruce Johnstone second and the Riley/Glasby AC Bristol third.

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A new direction came to the fore in 1962, with two international entries gracing Kyalami – English entries from David Piper and JS Patterson. Piper brought a Ferrari Berlinetta GTO to share with Bruce Johnstone, while Patterson shared a Lola Mk1 Climax with J. van den Broek.

The local Lotus 23-Alfa Romeo of Doug Serrurier and Peter de Klerk looked likely winners until retirement at the 7-hour mark. This left the door open for the Piper/Johnstone Ferrari to take the win, although it wasn’t all plain sailing… spare tyres for the GTO hadn’t arrived in the country and midway through the race they had to borrow a set from Gigi Lupini’s road Ferrari, which was parked behind the pits. I was in a Formula Junior-powered Superformance Ford Anglia with Libero Pardini, which we managed to pedal home in 11th overall and first in class. For the international stars it was a very new experience – the smell of braais drifting across Sunset, swerving for a leguaan gingerly crossing the main straight and the site of Highveld lightning pummelling the Leeukop ridge.

1963 saw the 9 Hour reaching new heights and establishing itself as one of the most popular sporting events in the land. Over 50 000 spectators flooded in to see Piper, now partnered with South African Cooper Formula 1 star Tony Maggs, power the GTO to another victory. If that wasn’t exciting enough, they were also treated to the Bob Olthoff/Frank Gardner Shelby Cobra coming in second and the monstrous Ford Galaxie in the hands of Jack Sears and Australian Paul Hawkins. Another international entry was the British championship-winning Willment Lotus Cortina for Sir John Whitmore and John Love. This car didn’t make the grid, however, after rolling beyond repair in practice, but the duo did race when Basil van Rooyen lent them his Lotus Cortina minus engine (they transferred their power unit). I was not on track but was lucky enough to see the birth of the Renault R8 giant-killer reputation that year, when Colin Burford and Phil Porter finished 4th overall.

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The 7th 9 Hour in ’64 got even more serious: Piper brought out a Ferrari 275LM to share with Maggs, David Prophet and Brausch Niemann co-drove a Lotus 30, Peter Sutcliffe and Dickie Stoop got behind the wheel of a lightweight Jaguar E-Type, Hawkins and Gardiner were back with the hulking Galaxie and Bobby Olthoff and Sears had the use of the Shelby Cobra Coupé. The fabulous 275LM took the win ahead of the GTO and the E-Type.

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International flavour continued in the 1965 affair with eight overseas entries including a Ferrari 355 P2, McLaren Elva, Lola T70, Ferrari 275 and 250LM, Ford GT40 and Porsche 904GTS. I shared an Alfa Giulia with Johnny Fritelli and after blowing the engine in practice, we were fortunate enough to borrow an engine from Chris van den Heever’s Onyx Production Championship car to drive home 5th overall and 3rd in class. At the end of a nail-biting race, the Piper/Dickie Attwood Ferrari crossed the line first after overtaking the ailing Sutcliffe/Innes Ireland GT40. The GT40 wheel bearings held on long enough to finish second ahead of the Hawkins/Epstein Ferrari 250LM.

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Word was spreading around the globe, and the overseas contingent got even larger for the summer of ’66. Entries came in from Belgium, England, France and Holland. The field was exciting to say the least, with a Lola T70, two Ford GT40s, two Ferrari P2/3s, three Ferrari 275LMs, a Ford P40 and two Porsche Carrera 6s joining the plethora of local machines.

By midday there was a crowd of well over 50 000 – this increased to more than 70 000 by the race start, with some 3 000 spectators having spent the night camping at the track. Piper and Attwood were victorious in the Ferrari P2/3, beating the Ferrari 275LM of Peter Clark and Rollo Fielding to the line, while the all-South African crew of Clive van Buuren and Steve Mellet powered their Porsche Carrera home third.

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I was back in action with the Superformance Alfa Giulia Super but, like 23 other starters (from a grid of 40), it failed to finish when it came to a smoky and explosive halt exiting Leeukop with co-driver Chris van der Heever at the wheel.

Business commitments meant that I hung my endurance racing helmet up at this stage, but I kept visiting the 9 Hour as a supporter as it morphed into a 6-hour race (brought on by the fuel restrictions imposed during the international fuel crisis) and then the Kyalami 1000 events. You can bet I’ll have my eye on the newest rendition, which takes place at the famed circuit on 23 November 2019.


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