SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES: THE WESTERN PACIFIC MOTOR RACING CHAMPIONSHIP

The Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship delegates meeting, Singapore, April 1971

By Eli Solomon

Are you reading this piece because your interest was piqued by the title? Or perhaps you are a student of motor sports history and find off beat topics interesting? Whatever the case, a bit of an explanation behind the Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship is necessary.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes was written as a sidebar to a bigger piece on the history of the early March single-seaters that raced in South East Asia. It’s a simple enough story of how a plan came into fruition and how local racers benefitted from sponsorship $$$. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes ought to be able to stand on its own as an article. So here goes…

Imagine a regional race series in Asia, one that “was closely” linked to the Australian and New Zealand Tasman Championship? Imagine also a twelve-weekend series from March to May that encompassed circuits in Jakarta, Singapore, Selangor, Bangkok, Macau, Manila and Japan. Naturally it had to be held under the auspices of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship almost materialised in 1973 but for circumstances beyond the control of the sport.

Wait a second! It did materialise – but not till 1976.

BOLD IDEA

This idea for a regional racing series was first proposed by the Automobile Club of Portugal’s Macau branch in May 1969, orchestrated by Fernando Correia Marques. Attending were Donald Thomson, Secretary General of the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS); race organiser Shingo Shiozawa1 from Japan; Guillermo ‘Billy’ Martinez, one of the original members of Cam Wreckers Association in the Philippines; Alan Dingle2 and Tom Schofield from Hong Kong; and Goh Teck Phuan from the National Sports Promotion Board and Ministry of Social Affairs in Singapore.

CAMS’ Secretary-General Thomson drafted a comprehensive evaluation of such a racing series to the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI)/FIA in September 19703. Thomson’s study looked at demographics, the administration of the sport, membership within the national clubs, circuit charges and revenue sources, possible championship dates suitable for each of the countries and finally, desired formula for the racing.

Would such a race series been possible in the region? In the late 1960s the euphoria of motor racing was at its height in Asia. There were GP races annually in Japan, Johore, Macau, Selangor and Singapore. Penang’s interest to host a Grand Prix didn’t materialise till 1970 and cities such as Ipoh in the Malay Peninsula were keen to promote the sport as well. The Philippines was ready to have an annual street Grand Prix, first in Cebu and later on in Manila. Indonesia was toying with the idea of a race at the Ancol theme park outside Jakarta, backed by some big names led by single-seater champion Hengky Iriawan. Executing a sustainable race series in a region that had such a vast diversity of cultures and dialects was going to be extremely difficult.

Hengky Iriawan (left) was involved in the development of the Ancol circuit outside Jakarta until his untimely death in a karting accident in in Ipoh on 23 April 1972. Source: Iriawan Collection.

WHAT SHALL WE RACE?

When the proposal was officially tabled in late April 1971 in Singapore, the two big questions revolved around dates and racing formula. The Japanese favoured Formula 2 (1600cc, two-valve per cylinder engines) and Formula 3 cars (1,600cc but with restricted intakes) for the series. The New Zealanders were promoting Formula 2 or a combination of F2 and big-banger F5000. Singapore, one of the main promoters for this Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship series, bravely went along with the Kiwi proposal while the Australians were promoting Formula 2 (For 1971, CAMS sensibly introduced a two-valve per cylinder restriction which made the Ford twin cam once again the leading engine, and outlawed the Cosworth FVA).

The Malaysians were more pragmatic and knew the limitations of racing on big budgets and were therefore suggested Formula Ford, knowing that the Batu Tiga permanent circuit would still be able to host multiple categories of racing over a championship weekend, unlike the constraints of running a shorter event around public roads.

Folio handed out to delegates at the first meeting of the Western Pacific Motor Racing Championships held in Singapore in April 1971. The background illustrations of cars and bikes followed the cover of the 1971 Singapore Grand Prix race program.

The delegates at the conference for the Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship held at Hotel Malaysia (before it was renamed the Marco Polo Hotel in 1973) in Singapore in April 1971. 1st from right – Goh Teck Phuan; 2nd from right – S.T. Ratnam; 5th from right – Milton Tan; 6th from right – Alan Davis; 8th from Right – Douglas Thomson; 6th from Left – Dr Winston S.B. Lee; 7th from Left – Dato’ Foo Wan Kien. Source: RMA Collection.

Even recently-retired world champion Jack Brabham weighed in with his views – suggesting Formula 2 and Formula Ford as the formula on the basis that it would attract the most entries and take into consideration the financial situation of the enthusiasts in the region. Brabham had one other suggestion – pay close attention to the Saloon and Tourer class of racing. He was spot on as this group not only had a strong fan base, it also made good sense as it attracted commercial backing as well as manufacturer support [see THE NESCAFÉ ESCORTS]. While Formula Ford racing never took off in Asia, Formula 2/Atlantic and Saloons/Super Saloons became extremely popular and a magnet for commercial advertising later on.

WesternPac-Cams-1970-Sept-4-1

PDF of the September 1970 Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship. The report was titled: Report on Motor Sport in the Western Pacific with reference to a Regional Championship. Source: RMA Collection.

WesternPacific-1971-Apr-26

PDF of the Meeting Notes of the 26 April 1971 Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship delegates conference in Singapore. Source: RMA Collection.

All in all, it seemed that the March to May period could accommodate all of the countries involved, Macau aside. Singapore’s street circuit had already hosted an annual Grand Prix from 1961 – but it was a street circuit and subject to government approval. It was also a circuit in dire need of a major overhaul to meet safety standards. Racing in Malaysia, now that there was a permanent track at Batu Tiga, could take place in January, April, August and/or September, to take into account the monsoon seasons, although with a permanent circuit, racing could take place all year round. The Aussies and Kiwis had their Tasman Series during the southern hemisphere summer season and the winter months (June-August) were out of the question. It sounded like a real win-win situation for everyone.

ALL SHOW

When the conference was held in April 1971 in Singapore to discuss the proposal, it was at the height of pipe-dream rumour that a permanent circuit would be constructed in Singapore. Things were moving along and many racing drivers gave their views of such a championship. Kiwi Graeme Lawrence (already a triple-double winner in Singapore and Selangor by 1971) was keen to see a series in Asia that would not take up more than three months and account for the Australian and New Zealand racers – preferably to be held between March and May. Graeme’s father Doug, then President of the New Zealand Drivers Association, weighed in on the discussions as well, saying that a Pacific circuit was overdue. Graeme himself was invited to present his country’s vies on such a Championship at the Conference in Singapore.

By the time the members met up again in Kuala Lumpur in early October 19714, Jan Bussell and Ron Milne were representing Malaysia and pushing from 1,600cc two-valve per cylinder engines instead of the proposal for 2,000cc engines.

The Third Pacific Motor-Racing Conference was again hosted in Singapore over the 1972 Grand Prix weekend in April, chaired by Douglas Thomson (still Secretary General of CAMS), there was talk that an “experimental” championship would be held amongst member countries in 1973.5 The 1972 conference in Singapore was hosted by the Automobile of Singapore and included delegates from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines and of course Singapore.

The events following the Yom Kippur of 1973 (6-25 October 1973) and subsequent oil embargo by OPEC put paid to any thoughts of such a series taking off – for the time being. Singapore’s participation evaporated after the sport was unofficially banned on the island following the last ever hill climb held on the island in September 1973, the little island’s role in regional motor racing on a pyre.

MONEY TALKS

Meanwhile motor racing blossomed throughout the region with races in Penang, Selangor, Manila, Jakarta, Macau, even in Brunei. The Pacific Motor Racing Championship was far from dead just because one participant had withdrawn.

The Team Rothmans decal on Jan Bussell’s McLaren M4C. Source: RMA Collection.

A rare Rothmans Malaysia sticker meant for one of the March 732s from the early 1970s. RMA Collection.

Tobacco brand Rothmans had always been a major contributor to motor racing, usually as title sponsor with the biggest cash pay out. For Singapore’s first post-independence Grand Prix in 1966, Rothmans of Pall Mall (M) contributed S$16,000, the largest of the cash sponsors. When the Malaysian Motor Sports Club6 hosted it first race at the newly constructed Batu Tiga permanent circuit in September 1967, Rothmans not only sponsored the Rothmans Challenge Trophy Race for both the Formula Libre race for cars as well as the motorcycles, the company contributed to the construction of the circuit. This gave the brand naming right to one corner of the Batu Tiga Circuit as well (Rothmans Corner). The cash awards for the main GP races in Malaysia and Singapore invariably came from Rothmans. It went beyond just naming rights and cash awards. [Rothmans’ early involvement in Malaysian motor sports can be found here]

Gerald Vessey, Rothmans’ Malaysian Marketing Director, sat on the committee of the Malaysian Motor Sports Club as its Vice-President (from 1971 till circa 1974) he succeeded John E.D. Clinton as CEO of Rothmans Malaysia in May 1974. Vessey’s position as Vice-President of the MMSC7 was taken over another Rothmans man, Chin Kui Yin (K.Y. Chin) who held the position of Team Manager for the Rothmans racing team in Malaysia.  

Selangor-based Jan Bussell, a pilot and owner of Malayan Air Charter and motor garage Torque Shop, was Rothmans’ first sponsored driver in South East Asia. He delivered with an astonishing second Macau Grand Prix victory in 1971 – in his McLaren M4C. The photo shows the McLaren being unloaded in the paddock ahead of the 1972 Singapore Grand Prix. Rothmans backing was pretty obvious. Source: Bussell Collection.

Rothmans of Pall Mall (Malaysia) made its first direct driver-backing when it sponsored Malaysian-based aviation company owner Jan Bussell and his McLaren M4C/1 at the 1971 Macau Grand Prix8. To their delight, Bussell won the Grand Prix! It was the start of a new level of Rothmans’ participation in Malaysian motor racing – not just as a title sponsor but with direct involvement with drivers and Team Rothmans. Malaysian Sonny Rajah was swiftly roped in as driver number two. RIDES OF MARCH – Part 1 & RIDES OF MARCH – Part 2 detail the history of the March single-seaters that raced in South East Asia from 1972-1974.

SLOW BURN

So was the Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship really dead? In 1976, Rothmans saw the value of a major regional initiative and inaugurated the six-round Rothmans International Grand Prix Trophy Series that included two Grand Prix races at Shah Alam in Selangor, one in Penang, one in Indonesia, one in the Philippines and one in Macau9. Private enterprise was firmly at work.

Jan Bussell in his ex-Vern Schuppan/ex-Hengky Iriawan Palliser WDB3 during practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix in April 1973. By then, Rothmans Of Pall Mall (Malaysia) was backing Bussell in the Palliser and Sonny Rajah in a second March. Source: Bussell Collection.

It was just the shot in the arm that the sport desperately needed and it attracted not just regional entries but international Formula 1 aspirants. The 1971-1975 regulation that permitted a two-valve per cylinder head (favouring the Ford Twin Cam/Cosworth BD) was tweaked. Engine capacity of 1,600cc was retained but engines could now be multi-valve – favouring the FVA/BDM. South East Asian motor sport was entering a new Golden Age. But that’s another story.

For more on the origins of Team Rothmans see RIDES OF MARCH – Part 1.

For more on the origins of the MMSC and the clubs in South East Asia see CLUBBING IN SOUTH EAST ASIA

Words By Eli Solomon

You can reach the writer at Eli@rewind-media.com


Footnotes

  1. They were three Shiozawa brothers. The eldest was Shingo, a race organizer [In 1970/71 Shingo Shiozawa was President of the Nippon Auto Club and organiser of the Indianapolis Champion Race, Grand National Touring Car Race, National Sports Car Race, National Stock Car Race, Continental Champion of Road Race, and King of the Mountain]. The second was Mineo, also involved in organising races. The third was Katsuomi, otherwise known as George Katsura or George Katsu. George Katsu is better known for having purchased John Macdonald’s Lotus 30/40 and giving it a facelift – turning it into the IMAI A-1/RSC which he sent down to Singapore for the 1969 Grand Prix.
  2. Alan Dingle was CEO of Metro Dodwell Motors, Hong Kong. In the early 1970s, Dingle was also Team Manager for John Macdonald’s racing outfit that was based out of Hong Kong.
  3. REPORT ON MOTOR SPORT IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC with reference to a Regional Championship. Document from Douglas Thomson, Secretary General Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, to The President, Commission Sportive Internationale, dated 4 September 1970. See attached PDF – WesternPac-Cams-1970-Sept-4.PDF
  4. The Antjol Indonesian Grand Prix was scheduled for 9-10 October 1971 at Ancol, outside Jakarta.
  5. The April 1972 conference in Singapore took place over two days and was hosted by the Automobile Association of Singapore. Delegates who attended included Douglas Thomson and Brian Dunstan from CAMS Australia; Danny Neal (observer, Hong Kong Motor Sports Club); Ajayapat Singhanla and Nazir Hoosein (West India Automobile Association); N. Asaari (Ikatan Motor Indonesia); Kazuo Susuki (Japan Automobile Federation); Oon Peh Tchin (from Penang), K.A. Lim and David Coode (Automobile Association of Malaysia); A.J. Smithard and Ron Frost (Motorsport Association of New Zealand); J.E. Tuason and Mike del Rosario (Philippine Motor Association); Milton Tan (Chief Delegate, Singapore), W.R.A. Campbell, R. Pestana, Charles Green, Alan Davis, Othman Omar and S.T. Ratnam (from Singapore), and K.Y. Chin (Rothmans of Pall Mall (Malaysia) – as observer).
  6. CLUBBING IN SOUTH EAST ASIA
  7. CLUBBING IN SOUTH EAST ASIA
  8. Bussell first appeared with Rothmans sponsorship on his McLaren at the 4-5 September 1971 Malaysian Grand Prix. In the April 1971 Selangor Grand Prix, Bussell’s entry was under MMSC Team Torque (in his #14 Brabham BT15 Twin Cam 1,594cc).
  9. Rothmans of Pall Mall (Malaysia) results for 2H 1975 showed a 22% rise in pre-tax profits, suggesting a turnaround from the previous year.

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