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David Piper - The Golden Age of Motor Racing

Page 1 of 3

Broadcast date : 4th March 2007


This year saw the 10th anniversary meeting of the Springbok Revival series of races, organised by the South African doyen of classic car racing, Peter du Toit. The races are run at his Zwartkops track near Pretoria in February, and a week later at Cape Town’s Killarney track.

There’s little doubt that this was the best event yet, with over thirty overseas entries and massive support from South Africa’s Historic Car racing brigade, bringing the total number of cars on the track to over 300!

The sub-title of the Springbok Revival series is the Golden Age of racing, and there are few racing fans who’ll dispute that the late 1950's through to the early 1970's was a time when racing drivers were heroes, and the pace of race-car development was absolutely mid-boggling.

Single-seaters, saloon cars and sports cars all share the limelight, but it’s the classic sports cars that take pride of place. 

Going into the 1965 Kyalami nine hour race with this Ferrari P2, English privateer David Piper already had a hat-trick of wins to his credit. He was challenged by the very swift Ford GT40 raced by Peter Sutcliffe and Innes Ireland, which led most of the race. Yet with co-driver Richard Atwood, he came through to take the lead in the final hour and score the first of this car’s Nine-Hour wins.

Preceding the P2 Ferrari in 1963 was the P1, one of the most beautiful Ferrari sports racers of all time, and this car epitomised Ferrari’s dominance of Le Mans from 1960 to 1965.

During this period, Ford tried to buy out Ferrari, and when that didn’t work, developed its own sports racers, such as the Cobra and Ford GT40.
But Ferraris, then and now, were still the machines with mass appeal, and each time he returns to this country – and he’s been coming here since 1962 – David Piper makes sure his prancing horsepower show has at least a few of the cars that endeared him to South African fans.

What made our South African events unique in the sixties was that it mixed up saloon cars, road-based sports cars and the world’s finest and fastest sports cars in one spell-binding event.

With five Nine-Hour victories to his name after the 1966 event, David Piper went through a lean spell in the 1967 and 1968 events, when he was beaten by the Ford GT 40-based Mirage, driven by Jackie Ickx, David Hobbs and Brian Redman.

But in 1969, David and Richard appeared with a car that was destined to end Ferrari world dominance in sports car events.

This secret-weapon from Stuttgart, the Porsche 917, was the most ambitious car Porsche had ever built until that point. The rules for that year’s Le Mans stated that at least 25 examples had to be built, and somehow Porsche managed it.

No-one expected the Porsche 917 to win that year at Kyalami, especially after it cracked its exotic magnesium twelve-cylinder engine block in practise.

But Jo’burg engineering firm VOMS, famous for servicing the Putco bus fleet, welded it up and it hung on to give David Piper and Richard Atwood a record sixth Nine-Hour win.

A car that never won the Nine-Hour, but was runner-up on more than one occasion, was the Lola T70. These cars were generally rated as far superior to the GT40. They were lighter and often ran more powerful five-litre and six-litre Chev V8 engines. 

In the hands of Peter Horsman this car was the fastest of all at Zwartkops in February 2007, running modern-day Wesbank V8 times.

For sheer grunt, though, nothing was going to beat the McLaren M8F, making its first appearance in the Springbok revival series.

This car is rated at 800-plus horsepower, or 600 kiloWatts in non-American terminology, and runs an 8,7 litre Chevy competition V8.

It has the staggered intake trumpets typical of Can Am racers from the early seventies, and as you can see, its owner is a keen sports fan.

A good question would be, why not fit air filters and solve the problem both on and off the track? The answer is, keep the car as original as possible.

Owner Michiel Campagne says that in Europe this past season he has been running at 330 km/h at tracks like Spa, and similar McLarens would fly past him!

Scary stuff, but the Springbok Revival series has a gentler side that appeals.

David Cotteringham from the UK was the man enjoying the South African summer in his MGB hardtop, followed by fellow UK driver Mike Knight in a Healey, which he shared with Francois Rousselot.

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