RIDES OF MARCH – Part 2

March racing cars in South East Asia (a three-part series)

PART 2 – 1974-1977

Updated: 29 January 2022

Link to: PART 1 – 1971-1973

By Eli Solomon

Jan Bussell’s March 73B at his Torque Shop garage on Jalan Sungei Besi in Kuala Lumpur. Alongside is a Lotus Elan in for a rebuild.

Malaysian Grand Prix in April 1974 was the litmus test to see if the sport could weather the global oil crisis and the one South East Asian government’s decision to ban all forms of motor racing on its land. Initial indications suggested that the South East Asian racing season would not just be spared, it would blossom.

A good foreign contingent of racers joined up for the first race of the 1974 season with participants from New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and Hong Kong joining Malaysians at the Rothmans Malaysian Grand Prix at Shah Alam 6-7 April 1974 . Things were looking up – not just for the Grand Prix but also for the Improved Touring Cars/Super Saloons races where Nestle entered a newly acquired Gp2 Ford Escort for local saloon car expert Harvey Yap [see FORD NESCAFÉ ESCORTS for Nestle’s presence in Malaysian motor sports].

WEATHERING THE STORM

Team Rothmans now had a pair of March open-wheelers cars for the Grand Prix. Sonny Rajah was the team’s lead driver and now had a new Brian Hart engine to go into his 732/712M (at a cost of $17,000 or ~£3,000). Jan Bussell now owned the ex-Sonny Rajah 73B [see RIDES OF MARCH – Part 1] and a new engine to replace the broken block from Macau in 1973. This left Percy Chan with just his ex-John Dimsdale Lotus 691, a mid-1960s Brabham, and care of Harvey Simon’s Elfin 600.

The Malay Mail of 31 January 1974 ran a scoop on Sonny Rajah’s Formula 1 ambitions. All smoke and mirrors or was there really a works drive for the young Malaysian with an abundance of natural talent?

MARCH THE THIRD

Rothman’s K.Y. Chin 2 soon revealed the purchase of a third March – which the Malay Mail (13 March 1974) revealed to be a 732. The local journalist then went on to state that, “The purchase of Percy’s car is being handled by racing driver Vern Schuppan who is directing the assembly of the car.”

Chin revealed Rothmans’ plans: “The new purchase fits in with our plans to assist deserving newcomers to the sport…By building up our team with new race cars we want to attract new blood and so help better the general standard of racing drivers in Malaysia.” Now there were three March single-seaters on Malaysia.

This third car had Percy Chan’s prints all over it. The car was due to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at the end of March, together with Sonny’s new Fuel Injection system, which was a complex system to understand, let alone install.

By the middle of Grand Prix week (the Grand Prix was held 5-6 April) there was panic in the Rajah and Chan camps. Chan’s car wasn’t exactly a 732 but a 722 tub with 732 suspension and body. The crates only just arrived on Wednesday the 3rd, from London – all eight boxes of it. Sonny’s Fuel Injection piping was in one of those boxes.

FLAT OUT

Once the boxes were unpacked, Sonny had his freshly rebuilt/reconstituted 732/712M at the circuit and was frantically working on the injection unit’s plumbing while Chan remained in his workshop frantically piecing his car together. By now he would have realised that his tub did not resemble that either of the other Team Rothmans March cars.   

It was always going to be an uphill battle working on an open wheeler out on the equator with barely a handful of mechanics capable of turning a spanner on such machines. Naturally Chan was exasperated. Would either car make the 9.45am grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix? Only Jan Bussell had a car that was ready for action and he made it out for a practice run during the late afternoon on Wednesday 3rd April.

Contrast this with John Macdonald’s racing operation from Hong Kong, now crewed by Sonny’s ex-mech Michael Jackson 3. Jackson had Macd’s Cathay Pacific-sponsored Brabham BT40 Hart all set and ready to got at Batu Tiga a week earlier. Although Hong Kong didn’t have a race track, John was still able to test out the new fuel-injected Hart alloy engine at the HK Motor Sports Club’s Lai Yeu Mun Hill Climb two weeks before shipping the car and its two engines to Shah Alam.

Macdonald’s was a thoroughly professional outfit with Alan Dingle as team manager, and Jackson as crew chief. But Macdonald had been at it for a very long time. As had top contended Graeme Lawrence from New Zealand. Team Rothmans Malaysia and its drivers still had a long way to go.

Come Friday qualifying, Macd blitzed the circuit with a 1:21.1 fastest lap. This sat him on Pole for the Grand Prix. Lawrence (Surtees TS15) was second with a 1:21.4 while Sonny acquitted himself remarkably well with a 1:21.9 to seal his place on the front row of the grid. He managed it after just three laps on the track, hampered by fuel injection issues.

There was an additional practice session in the afternoon and here Percy Chan made his appearance. Behind Sonny was Bussell (1:24.1) and Albert Poon and his Brabham BT40 (1:24.2). Chan was sixth but damaged the front end of the car when he went off into the catch fencing on the back straight during the rain-hit session. One more all-nighter for the driver.

The grid for the 1974 Malaysian Grand Prix with John Macdonald on pole, Graeme Lawrence in second and Sonny Rajah (#1 March 732/712M) in third. Jan Bussell’s March 732 (#14) sits behind Macdonald’s Brabham BT40. Note the Nescafé sticker on Sonny’s rear wing. [see FORD NESCAFÉ ESCORTS for Nestle’s presence in Malaysian motor sports].

Sonny and his March were just four laps from winning the 50-lap Malaysian Grand Prix when an oil feed problem forced him into the pits and out of the race. Albert Poon, a lap behind, gladly took the win. Jan Bussell and Percy Chan finished second and third respectively – a pretty good showing for the March and Team Rothmans cars.

Sonny and his March were just four laps from winning the 50-lap Malaysian Grand Prix when an oil feed problem forced him into the pits and out of the race. Albert Poon, a lap behind, gladly took the win. Jan Bussell and Percy Chan finished second and third respectively – a pretty good showing for the March and Team Rothmans cars.

F2 DOWN UNDER

Sonny Rajah’s entry in the 1974 Australian Van Heusen Formula 2 barely registered in both Malaysia and Singapore but then again, motor racing was off the radars in Singapore and the Malaysians were too enamored with saloon car racing to bother about open wheelers.

Sonny finished a respectable sixth in Round 1 of the Australian F2 season at Hume Weir on 16 June. Perhaps the local media were interested with covering the 1974 World Club in West Germany and with Australian soccer results than they were about how a Malaysian was doing at some unknown circuit of the edge of an unknown lake4.

The cover of the June 1974 edition of RCN. Featured within were several articles on the Van Heusen F2 series. Just three March cars were entered in comparison to the nine Birranas and five Elfins.

Sonny Rajah to Run! 26-year-old Sonny Rajah was listed as a Singapore driver.

A snippet from the June 1974 edition of RCN.

It wasn’t a spectacular season for the 26-year-old Malaysian racing for the first time in Australia. His best finish was third in Round 5 of the series at Symmons Plains5 on 22 September 1974. At the final round (8) of the series at Lakeside in Queensland on 8 December 1974, Sonny crashed the 732/712M in practice on Friday and Did Not Start the race. The extent of the damage is not known and their writer’s recollection of racing at Lakeside is that it is a very technical circuit with little room for error.

So that was it for the young man South East Asia. There was a lot of promise but Sonny was from the wrong end of the world to make it big in a very expensive sport.

UPHOLDING THE NAME

With Sonny Rajah and his 732/712M now in Australia contesting the Formula 2 series, it was left to Jan Bussell and Percy Chan to uphold Team Rothmans and March honours for the Penang and Selangor Grand Prix later in the year.

In South East Asia the Filipinos had been ahead of the game when it came to motor racing, embracing not just continental single-seaters but American motoring as well. Arsenio ‘Dodjie’ Laurel had set a very high bar when he won back-to-back Macau Grand Prixs in his Lotus 22 in 1962 and 1963 and a new crop of open-wheelers enthusiasts was about to emerge in the 1970s, led by Joey Bundalian and later on by Pocholo Ramirez.

Joey Bundalian had acquired Henky Iriawan’s Eflin 600CS [chassis 6910] sometime in 1971. The Elfin purchase was funded by a consortium of Filipino motor sport enthusiasts, led by Eddie Echauz. They paid Iriawan $7,000 (P 45,000 then) for the car. They also sent Bundalian off to the Jim Russell driving school in the UK. By the time he raced his #173 Elfin in Singapore and Macau in 1973, it was somewhat outdated by the proliferation of monocoque-tub single-seaters. The 6910 was dispatched off to Manila and another open-wheeler was acquired.  

JOEY’S MARCH

Round 2 of the Greenhills Grand Prix race series took place on 7 July 1974 in Manila and while John Macdonald romped home to a fine win in his aged Brabham BT10 Hart Twin Cam6, Joey Bundalian finished third in a black March with Levis sponsorship.

In December 1974 it was entered for the Macau Grand Prix by the Philippine Tourism authority and sponsored by Team Levis-Lincoln. Bundalian’s crew consisted of Denganeg Luna and engine man Bobby Smith7. Could this have been the David Purley-Lec Refrigeration Racing car/Team Harper-Dieter Quester 722-10 with replacement 73B bodywork/tub? Team Harper last ran it in Macau in 1973 and Bundalian appeared in a March the following year. The question remains unanswered.

Joey Bundalian’s 732-look March at the Ortigas track at Greenhills on 14 July 1974. Source: Ocampo, Junep. Fast Lane – Motor Sports in the Philippines.

Allen Brown, in his OldRacingCars.com website, mentions the Team Harper March 722-108: David Purley’s 722-10 started life as an F2 March 722 but photographs show it had been rebuilt with a 1973 tub as well as 1973 bodywork by July 1973. This car was raced by Dieter Quester in Macau in November 1973, entered by Team Harper. Given that Harper’s efforts in Europe in 1974 were with a pair of March 742 with BMW M12 power, it is possible that the March Joey Bundalian acquired for the 1974 season was the ex-Purley-Quester car that last raced in Macau in 1973. Bundalian continued to race his March through to 1981.

MARCH TO PENANG & SELANGOR

When the Penang races were held 31 August-1 September 1974, Sonny Rajah was racing his March 732/712 in Australia. That left just two Selangor-based Team Rothmans March cars – Jan Bussell’s 73B and Percy Chan’s 722. The Chan 722 (with 732 body) belonged to Rothmans of Pall Mall (Malaysia). The writer is unaware of the terms of the agreement between Bussell and Rothmans over the latter’s 73B.

The fifth Penang Circuit Races were held between 31 August-1 September 1974. The official program cover featured Jan Bussell in his March 73B.

Bussell’s 73B at rest in the Penang paddock. He finished sixth.

Just two Team Rothmans March cars lined up for the 1974 Penang Grand Prix in September. Jan Bussell had his #14 73B and Percy Chan has his #15 March 722. Chan crashed into the Shell billboard during the wet practice session but his mechanic Martin Howard had the car ready for the race. Chan retired after lap 25 of the Grand Prix (engine) while Bussell ambled home in sixth.  

Just two Team Rothmans March cars lined up for the 1974 Penang Grand Prix in September. John Macdonald won in his Brabham BT40.   

The Selangor Grand Prix took place the weekend after Penang. As with the official Penang program cover, the Selangor Grand Prix cover featured Jan Bussell in his March 73B.

A rare shot of Percy Chan and his March 722, taken at the Selangor Grand Prix on 8 September 1974. Percy finished third while fellow Team Rothmans man Jan Bussell (in his #14 March 73B) finished second. Note the absence of the forward facing roll bars on the #15 March.

In both the Penang and Selangor races, the only Filipino in an open-wheeler was Pocholo Ramirez, in an Elfin 622. Exactly a year later, Pocholo would appear in a March with Team Rothmans colours.

Once more the win went to Hong Kong entrant John Macdonald. John led for the first 23 laps before being overtaken by Albert Poon in the second Brabham BT40. Albert (who set FTD at 1:22.5) pitted on lap 43 but did not rejoin the race, thus allowing John to regain the lead and win.

Jan Bussell’s March 73B lent itself to this Ovaltine advert in December 1974. 

THREE IN MACAU

There were just three March cars entered for the 1 December 1974 Macau Grand Prix in a grid of just 11 cars that included 9 single-seaters and Jim Sweeney (ex-Richard Wong Porsche 906 Carrera) and Keith Dinnerville (ex-Taki Porsche 906). To pad the grid, Guia 200 cars were permitted to race in the Grand Prix which then added Herb Adamczyk’s Porsche Carrera RS, Siu Man To’s BMW 2002, Mike Jean’s Toyota Celica TA2 and Neville White’s Porsche 911S.

There were no Malaysian single-seater entries – perhaps a result of the oil crisis, perhaps because the key drivers were indisposed, perhaps budgets were very tight by the end of the year. Sonny Rajah too was indisposed as he was committed to the Australian F2 series with remaining races on 27 October and 8 December. Jan Bussell had recently remarried (October 1974) and Rothmans Malaysia may have wanted to focus on events at home instead.

Vern Schuppan was entered in the Teddy Yip March 722-40 (the #111 car now sporting the 732 look); Joey Bundalian had his black March “732” and Grant Swartz had his 73B-13. There were three March cars against four Brabhams, a single Chevron and a single Elfin making this a dismal grid of Grand Prix entries. There was no Team Harper March 722 entered. In its place Bob Harper had entered David Purley in a Chevron B27. Had the March changed hands and ended up with Bundalian following the previous year’s Grand Prix?

The 1974 Macau Grand Prix grid with Vern Schuppan’s #111 March 722 to the right. Joey Bundalian’s March can be seen between John Macdonald’s #11 Brabham BT40 and pole-sitter David Purley in the Team Harper Chevron. Source: Colour & Noise – 40 Years of the Macau Grand Prix.

Purley was on pole, Macdonald was second in his Brabham BT40 and Vern Schuppan made the front with third in his #111 732-looking 722. Grant Swartz was in 6th in his 73B-13 and Bundalian started 7th in his #5 March. When the chequered flag fell after 40 laps of racing, Schuppan won in the March with Bundalian in sixth, the last of the finishers (with 33 laps).

FOREIGN TALENT

There is one March that was raced by Indonesian Chepot Hanny Wiano9 in 1974 that never have made it over to Asia. The car was a March 743, entered by Ippokampos Racing. Tony Vlassopulos was involved with Ippokampos, a ship brokering business. For the 1974 2-litre Formula 3 season, Ippokampos apparently provided a £150,000 budget to run a two-car team. Australian Buzz Buzaglo was one of the drivers, Hanny Wiano was the other.

Holbay offered the Ippokampos pair overhead cam motors as part of the Holbay sponsorship. Sadly, the Holbay engines were unable to match the power of the Italian-prepped Novamotors. Chepot was entered for most of the season’s races but DNA-ed a bulk of them. The #5 car DNF-ed at the 5 May 1974 Silverstone race. He is registered with a 7th place finish in the #4 March 743 at the Snetterton round on 12 May 1974 (crashed into the pit rails on a big last lap effort). He DNA-ed between May and July that year. At the 28 July 1974 Snetterton F3 race weekend, Ippokampos Racing’s entry was a TBA (to be announced) in a #7 March 743.

NEW SEASON, SAME CARS

The 1975 South East Asian kicked off with the Malaysia Grand Prix on 29-30 March 1975. The Third Inter Club Championship on 15-16 February 1975 preceded the Grand Prix but since our focus is on the major motor races, we’ll leave the club events to the local motor racing gurus to write about.

March racing cars featured on the program covers of the Malaysia, Selangor and Penang Grand Prix in three of the four GPs held in 1974 and 1975! The cover featured is of Jan Bussell’s 73B at the 29-30 March 1975 Malaysia Grand Prix.

There are a couple of takeaways worth noting about the sport in Malaysia. For one thing, the cover of the Grand Prix program came courtesy of Rothmans of Pall Mall (Malaysia). The Malaysian Motor Sports Club, organiser of the Grand Prix races, had its office c/o Rothmans at Virgina Park, Jalan University, Petaling Jaya. The MMSC’s General Committee consisted of K.Y. Chin as Vice-President while Graham Searle10(Rothmans/Dunhill) was club Auditor. The MMSC were in secure hands. Mind you, Chin was also Secretary of the Meeting!

#1 in the program was Harvey Yap making his debut for Team Rothmans in the March 722 raced by Percy Chan earlier. The other March entry included the #14 Jan Bussell March 73B. The official program did not list Percy Chan’s nor Ron Murchison’s #6 Chevron B8 entries. Officially there were just two Team Rothmans entries – Harvey Yap and Jan Bussell.

Percy’s work commitments had left him out of a drive for the year so Rothmans gave the March drive to top saloon car man Harvey Yap. When Percy found he could actually make the race weekend, Rothmans leap in to help with a financial contribution so he could lease a car for the Grand Prix. Step in Sonny Rajah and his March11752/732/712M. The car was back in Selangor following a season of racing in Australia. The local media now referred to the car as a March 752 – probably because it now looked like a 752. [See Appendix 2 – THE TUBS OF MARCH]

Bussell and Harvey were doing lap times of under 1:23 in practice so all seems favourable for Team Rothmans. Percy, on the other hand, had never raced Sonny’s March. John Macdonald had other ideas and in qualifying, the Rothmans-Cathay Pacific Brabham BT40 set a 1:21.0 lap to steal pole. In second was Albert Poon in his newly acquired Chevron B29 – his lap time was 1:22.6. Harvey showed his class by completing the front row of the grid with a 1:24.2 fastest lap. Jan Bussell was fourth and Chong Boon Seng was fifth.

The race started in wet conditions and Macdonald had fitted the car with hand-cut slicks. This, according to his good friend and crew member Angus Lamont, proved to be an excellent decision. When the track eventually dried out, Macd was so far ahead that he couldn’t be caught before the end of the race. A punt by Albert Poon late in the race saw both drivers spin off but the Brabham BT40 made it back on track. Macd then deliberately drove through puddles off the racing line to try and keep his tyres from overheating, M$5,000 in the bag.  Graeme Lawrence finished second in Albert Poon’s old Brabham BT4012(and earned RM$2,000) and Steve Millen was third in his Chevron B20 (earning him RM$1,000).

Harvey Yap’s race ended on lap 15 when his motor dropped a valve. Percy’s drive ended with a wobbling wheel on lap 27 (of 50).

DANCING THE TANGO

What we do know is that Harvey Yap raced the ex-Percy Chan March 722 while Bussell raced his March 73B at the Malaysian Grand Prix on 30 March 1975. The Bussell car was superior, with fuel injection, a proper 73B tub, forward facing roll bars etc. The Percy Chan car, which had 732 front bodywork, was a 722 tub car and did not have forward facing roll bars.

Following Bussell’s departure for Zaire13 (or Nigeria, depending on who you ask) on 15 May 1975, his 73B was assigned to saloon car expert and Ford Malaysian man Harvey Yap. The very-likable Filipino Pocholo Ramirez ended up doing a deal with Rothmans Malaysian for the ex-Percy Chan 722, which for all intents and purposed was listed as a March 732.

Pocholo Ramirez in the ex-Percy Chan Team Rothmans 732-looking 722. Unlike Jan Bussell’s 73B, there are no forward facing roll bars on this car. Undated photo.

The photos of Pocholo Ramirez above and Harvey Yap below illustrate the differences between the two Marches. The third photo shows Brian Tyler in his March 73B in 1976 and further corroborates the hypothesis that Brian Tyler’s car was the ex-Bussell 73B and not the ex-Percy Chan 722.

This image from the Singapore Motor Sport Club’s September 1975 Gazette shows Harvey Yap in the #1 Rothmans March, the first time Harvey raced Jan Bussell’s 73B (rather than the Percy Chan 722). Pocholo Ramirez would use the March 722 from September 1975 till the Macau Grand Prix in 1976.

The Selangor Grand Prix of 15 August 1976. Brian Tyler’s wing mirrors, rear wing and front facing roll bars suggest that this car was the ex-Bussell 73B that arrived in Asia in August 1973.

There is one other variable in this otherwise seemingly sound analysis of the two Rothmans March cars in 1975. Ian Grey and the #71 March 752!

GREY AREA

While official race programs have been known contain incorrect information, they are still the best source for information on a particular race meeting. So when an entry appears that is either new or inconsistent with previous entries, red flags are raised.

Two race meetings in Malaysia in 1975 contributed to this. The first was Penang Grand Prix that was held 31 August/1 September 1975, and the second came the weekend after, at Selangor. Both contained entries for a third March, listed as the #71 March 752 of Ian Grey. Indeed, counting Sonny Rajah’s updated (yet again) 752/732/712M, there ought to have been four March cars in Malaysia. Or are we over counting?

If we go back to the 30 March 1975 Malaysian Grand Prix, we note that Percy Chan had Rothmans financial support for his entry. Percy’s 732-looking 722 had been assigned to Harvey Yap so Rothmans provided support for Percy to lease Sonny’s 752/732/712M – which now boasted 1974/75 bodywork – a reprofiled nose, fully enclosed roll hoop, higher engine cover and side radiators (uncorroborated for 1975 but certainly so in 1977 photos of this car in Penang).

The Malaysia Grand Prix in March was thus a one off drive for Percy in Sonny Rajah’s March. So, come August 1975, did Sonny Rajah lease out his March to Ian Grey. Would Grey, who was up until then a regular saloon car entrant (which his Porsche 911S), have ventured out and imported a March 752, or would it have been less complicated to “lease” Sonny’s March 752/732/712M before committing to open-wheeler racing?

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE

The sixth Penang Circuit Races held 31 August/1 September 1975 was still categorised as a circuit race rather than as a Grand Prix. Prize money for GP cars (50 laps) was RM$3,000 for the win, $1,500 for second, $900 for third, $700 for fourth, $500 for fifth, $300 for sixth, $200 for seventh and $100 for the eighth place finisher.

The official program showed three March entries: #1 – Harvey Yap in a 73B (listed as a 732); #88 – Pocholo Ramirez in a 722 (listed as a 732); and #71 – Ian Grey in a 752.

Pocholo was a non-starter after some cylinder head trouble during practice, which necessitated a new head (which was meant to arrived from Hong Kong before the next weekend’s races in Selangor).

Team Rothman’s lead driver was now Harvey Yap in the ex-Bussell 73B. He started on the front row (second to pole setter John Macdonald’s 1 min 0.02 sec lap). Sadly a damaged rear upright resulted in a DNF for Harvey and his 73B. The writer has not been able to determine if Grey started in the third March.

The drivers headed down to Selangor for the Selangor Grand Prix over 5-7 September 1975. Top three places had higher prize money paid out than the Penang Circuit Races – $5,000 for the win; $2,000 for second; $1,000 for third; $700 for fourth; $400 for fifth; $300 for sixth; $200 for seventh; and $100 for the eighth finisher.

It wasn’t a big grid in comparison to the Malaysian Grand Prix over Easter. Once more there were three March entries – the two Team Rothmans cars and Ian Grey in a #71 March 752. Just seven entries are listed in the official program.

This was another Macdonald benefit; his new Ralt RT1 Camlex started on Pole, set FTD and won the race with a new lap record. Steve Millen finished second in his Schollum Racing Chevron B20, Albert Poon was third in his Chevron B29, Harvey Yap was fourth in the #1 March 73B and Chong Boon Seng brought up the rear in his Brabham BT30. It appears that Pocholo’s car DNS-ed. Nothing more is known of the Ian Grey March 752 entry and there was no mention of the car/driver combination in the Malaysian press (Grey and his family resided in Johor at the time).

Interestingly, this three-race March 752 14 appearance might have included the Philippines as well – presumably anyway, given that there was a #71 March 752 entry for the Fifth ARAP Philippine Grand Prix at El Grande at Paranaque, 13-14 December 1975. That aside, with close to four months between the Selangor Grand Prix in September 1975 and the December Philippine Grand Prix, drivers like Pocholo Ramirez may have wanted their cars back home – Manila in Pocholo’s case.

So it stands to reason that Pocholo’s entry at the El Grande race was in his March 722. And since entries included John Macdonald (Ralt RT1 Camlex), Albert Poon (Brabham BT40) and Japanese Rikki Ohkubo (Brabham), there would have been entries from Malaysia/Singapore as well. Sadly, the writer has not been able to source the programs for the 1975 races in the Philippines.

Junep Ocampo’s Fast Lane – Motor Sports in the Philippines, featured these two single-seaters at the El Grande race in December 1975. The car behind looks to be Joey Bundalian’s 72215while the #71 car is not known.

MACAU INTERLUDE

March representation had thinned out significantly at Macau in 1975 and when the Grand Prix was held on 16 November, just three March cars made appearances.

Vern Schuppan had been allocated his old faithful 722 when his Ralt failed (booting fellow Australian Max Stewart out in the process), Grant Swartz had his evolving 73B and Australian Ken Shirvington made his Macau Grand Prix debut with a March 73216.

None of the South East Asian cars from the Rothmans stable raced in Macau in 1975 (Pocholo Ramirez leased John Macdonald’s Brabham BT40 for the Grand Prix) but 1976 was going to a whole new ball game.

SLOW BURN – ROTHMANS DELIVERS

In SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, I wrote about the proposed Western Pacific Motor Racing Championship. The Western Pacific Championship might have died a slow death following the 1973 Oil Crisis but the dream continued to burn bright.

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 at Ancol in Indonesia, one in the Philippines (the BF Resort Village in Pamplona, Las Piños) and one in Macau. Thankfully private enterprise was firmly at work rather than thumbing things down with government blanket bans on the sport of motor racing.

A scan of an original sticker issued to participants entered in the 1976 Rothmans International Grand Prix Trophy Series. 

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 regulations that permitted a two-valve per cylinder head (favouring the Ford Twin Cam) were tweaked. Engine capacity of 1,600cc or under was retained, but engines could now be multi-valve – favouring the Cosworth FVA/BDM. South East Asian motor sport was entering a new, and increasingly less affordable, Golden Age.

The series winner would win US$8,000 (just over RM$20,00017 or just over HK$40,000), second place would yield US$4,000, third US$2,000, fourth US$1,000 and fifth $500. There was also a Clubman Trophy – for drivers who had not won a Grand Prix event and racing in Class B (see below). Foreign drivers were not eligible for this award. Winner of the Rothmans International Clubman Trophy would take back US$1,500 (RM$3,800), second place yielded US$1,000 and third US$500.

In comparison, the 1976 Rothmans International Series (four rounds) in Australia had total prize money of AUD$13,500 per round (RM$40,500). A win yielded AUD$2,500 (RM$7,500). The only catch was that the Australian series was for Formula 5000 cars.

Sonny Rajah, regardless of the state of his finances in 1975, must have been determined to race his car in the inaugural Rothmans Championships in 1976 because it was both prestigious as well as the culmination of half a decade of lobbying for a proper regional racing championship [See SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES].

Naturally there would be much chatter as to foreign entries for the series, apart from the regular attendees such as Graeme Lawrence, John Macdonald and Albert Poon. The rules too had been radically altered – which instantly put the local races out on a limb because the engine to have was the expensive Cosworth BD built by one of the top builders of the day – Swindon or Nicholson or the tried and tested Cosworth FVA18. These engines produced an estimated 220+ bhp but had to be sleeved down to under 1,600cc to meet with the regulations.     

Engine rules were as follows:

A: Single-seater racing cars of free design employing four cylinder racing engines equal or inferior to a cubic capacity of 1600cc unsupercharged and complying with FIA Formula LIBRE.

B: Single-seater racing cars of free design complying with FIA Formula LIBRE employing four cylinder racing engines equal or inferior to a cubic capacity of 1600cc unsupercharged with a maximum of two valves per cylinder.

The first leg of Rothmans Championship kicked off with the Malaysian Grand Prix over the 24-25 April 1976 weekend but things didn’t go to plan. Torrential rain in Selangor in April knocked things out of sync and the Grand Prix never materialised, much to the disappointment of entrants and spectators.

As there was no race to report on, the writer will mention three of the March entries for the season.

LAWRENCE’S 76B: The first was Graeme Lawrence in his newly acquired March 76B. The car had only touched down from London on the Thursday night before Grand Prix weekend. Both Lawrence and Sonny Rajah missed out on official practice on Friday – which meant starting at the back of the grid.

Lawrence recalled that it was Rothmans Malaysia who approached him: “It was K.Y. Chin19 who asked me whether I would be interested in driving a March 76B that they had bought. When he [Chin] went to Australia, Victor Liew and Albert Anthony continued K.Y.’s good work in supporting me. Graham Searle20, of Dunhill was also very supportive,” Lawrence recalled in an interview done some years ago. This would suggest why the 76B continued to race in the region up to the Macau Grand Prix in 1978 and after that with Filipino Romeo David from the May 1979 Penang Grand Prix till 1982.

TYLER’S MARCH: Brian Tyler, better known for his interest in vintage cars21, was a 39-year-old South African living in Malaysia. He first showed up in a March 73B at Malaysian Grand Prix (24-25 April 1976), the first leg of the brand new Rothmans Championships. 

While it was never stated where the car came from, the livery, bodywork and timelines clearly indicate it was the 73B that Jan Bussell raced from 1973-1975, and the car Harvey Yap was assigned following Bussell’s unexpected departure from Malaysia in May 1975.

SONNY’S 752: Sonny Rajah was planning his comeback after a year out of the sport. Recall his March 712M had been leased out, first to Percy Chan and later (possibly) to Ian Grey. Sonny’s #21 entry now sported 752 bodywork and word had it that it was meant to be driven by Nick Van Nugteren for the Malaysian Grand Prix in April. Sonny must have had a change of heart – or some backing that emerged that permitted him to make a return instead of leasing out his March.

SEASIDE MARCH – Penang Grand Prix 1-2 May 1976

Four March cars entered for what was effectively the first round of the 1976 Rothmans International Grand Prix Trophy. They were: #77 – Brian Tyler in his 73B; #1 – Graeme Lawrence in his Team Rothmans March 76B [the program listed it as a 76D]; #4 – Sonny Rajah in his March 752 [not listed as a Team Rothmans entry]; and #88 – Pocholo Ramirez in his March 732 [also not listed as a Team Rothmans entry].

Prize payout had improved for 1976. First would get $4,000; Second would get $1,500; Third would get $900; Fourth would get $700; Fifth $500; Sixth $300; Seventh $200. Regional class positions would see drivers get $1,000, $750 and $500 for first-third places. There was also a trophy for first lady driver to finish (there was just Diana Poon entered).

The Seventh Penang Grand Prix coverage in Penang’s Straits Echo dated Monday 3 May 1976. It was a successful debut in Penang for Graeme Lawrence and his March 76B. John Macdonald set FTD at 58.4 seconds in his Ralt RT1.

The Penang round wasn’t a stroll on the esplanade for Lawrence and his new March 76B. There were fuel leaks and ignition issue to keep him and brother Brian occupied all weekend.

Of the 11 starters just six completed the Grand Prix. The order of finishing was as follows:

1 – Graeme Lawrence – March 76B [9 points]

2 – Albert Poon – Chevron B29 [6 points]

3 – Ian Grey – Chevron B20 [4 points]

4 – Grant Swartz – Lola T460 [3 points]

5 – Brian Tyler – March 73B [Regional First, plus 9 points]

6 – Diana Poon – Brabham BT40 [Regional Second & first woman to finish, plus 6 points]

Brian Tyler’s March was marred by transmission issues with just fourth gear left to use. Sonny Rajah’s race was over after just a couple of laps. He missed Saturday practice and for the main race, his March had to be push-started. Pocholo’s race came to an end on lap 11. All in all a good set of results for the March drivers – an overall Grand Prix win for Lawrence and a Regional Class win for Tyler.

RETURN TO SELANGOR – 14-15 August 1976

Selangor Grand Prix, August 1976. John Macdonald (Ralt RT1) sits on pole. Alongside are Albert Poon (Chevron B29) and Graeme Lawrence (March 76B).

Graeme Lawrence in his Rothmans-Cathay Pacific March 76B in the paddock at Shah Alam, August 1976.

Graeme Lawrence finished second in Selangor in August 1976 but set FTD at 1:20.7. He was still leading the Rothmans International Grand Prix Championships.

Brian Tyler in his March 73B at the Selangor Grand Prix in August 1976. He finished sixth overall (behind Diana poon in the Brabham BT40) and third in Class [B], the Rothmans International Regional [Clubman] Trophy Class. Class B was won by Pocholo Ramirez in his March 722 (he finished fourth overall).

Of the ten cars on the grid, Graeme Lawrence (March 76B) sat on the front row in third while Sonny Rajah mustered a fourth place start in his March 752/732B/712M. Brian Tyler was in seventh in his 73B while Pocholo didn’t set a time and was placed ninth for the start of the race. Joey Bundalian and his March 722 were on the entry list but not featured in qualifying or the race.

The finishing order:

1 – John Macdonald – Ralt RT1 [9 points]

2 – Graeme Lawrence22

– New lap record at 1:20.7 (lap 36).

3 – Albert Poon

4 – Pocholo Ramirez (first in Class B)

5 – Diana Poon (second in Class B)

6 – Brian Tyler

7 – Grant Swartz

8 – Rad Ocampo

9 – Sonny Rajah – retired on lap 23

MARCH TO JAVA

The XV Indonesian Grand was held on 24 October 1976. It was the first time Formula 2 cars were included at the 4.47km Ancol Circuit.  The circuit was situated at a leisure complex built on reclaimed land adjacent to Tanjong Priok and was mainly used for motorcycle and go-kart racing and therefore was slightly narrower than the Batu Tiga track.

Wearnes’ Dickie Arblaster accompanied that Rothmans-Cathay Pacific racing team of John Macdonald (Ralt RT1) and Graeme Lawrence (March 76B). They found good workshop space reasonably adjacent to the circuit. Macdonald set pole with a 1:45.9 lap, Lawrence was second with a 1:46.2 and Ian Grey was in third in his Chevron B20. Albert and Diana Poon started at the back, having arrived late for qualifying.

In the Grand Prix held on Sunday 24 October, Macd led from start to finish while Graeme Lawrence DNF-ed. Poon finished second in his Chevron B29 while Grant Swartz finished third in the Flying Tigers Lola T460. In fourth was Hong Kong’s Adrian Fu in the 2-seater BMW. Ian Grey’s B20 Chevron had fuel feed problems and Pocholo Ramirez had bearing issues in his March 722. The event was part of the Rothmans International Trophy for 1976.

SMOKING GUNS

At this point, John Macdonald was leading the Rothmans Championship with 18 point from two wins; Albert Poon was second with two seconds and third; Graeme Lawrence was in third with 15 from one win and a second place. The BF Resort Village Las Piños Grand Prix in October 1976 did not count, nor did the Penang race 7-8 August 1976. This left just the Macau Grand Prix on 14 November to decide on the inaugural Rothmans Trophy.

THIN ON MARCHES – MACAU 1976

Cover of the 1976 Macau Grand Prix program.

For the 14 November 1976 Macau Grand Prix, Alan Jones had the Schuppan-Theodore Racing Team March 722, Graeme Lawrence has his Team Rothmans-Cathay Pacific #9 March 76B, Sonny Rajah was back in Macau with 752/712M (752 bodywork and running #21) and Swindon-built Cosworth BDM, Ken Shirvington had his March 732 (he made his Macau debut in the car in 1975), and Pocholo Ramirez had his ex-Percy Chan #88 March 722 with 732 kit.

Joey Bundalian was not entered but there was a Singapore entry – Brian Tyler in the #74 March 73B. Double crashes in practice saw to it that Tyler did not start the race. Sonny Rajah was equally unlucky, a fire resulted in him missing the race altogether.

Graeme Lawrence clawed his way from sixth and by lap 25 was in second place after Rupert Keegan pulled in for a new nosecone and wheels. Lawrence finished behind eventual winner Vern Schuppan in the Theodore Racing Team Ralt RT1.

Alan Jones was using Schuppan’s old March 722. He finished fourth while Albert Poon finished third in his Chevron B29. The remaining March cars – Flying Tigers Racing Team’s #18 March 73B entry for Richard Rapp was replaced by Grant Swartz in his Lola T460 (Swartz finished sixth), the 73B sitting it out.

Pocholo Ramirez didn’t make the start in the #88 March and Sonny Rajah’s March caught fire in practice forcing him out. Not an altogether successful Macau Grand Prix for the March entrants, save for Graeme Lawrence and his 76B. John Macdonald DNF-ed – and that just about swung it in favour of the Kiwi when the Rothmans Trophy points were tallied.

The final tally for the Rothmans Trophy Championships had Graeme Lawrence in top place with 21 points, Albert Poon in second with 20 points and John Macdonald in third with 18 points.

Pocholo Ramirez’s sliding throttle fuel injected March 722 receiving attention in Macau, 1976. The absence of forward facing roll bars indicates that this was a pre-73B tub March.

OPERT’S DEI

Racing Car New ran a full page information sheet on the Rothmans International Trophy Series for Asia in its March 1977 edition. It wasn’t the lack of entries that would kill the series. [See SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES]

Qualifying rounds for the 1977 Rothmans Trophy Championship were as follows:

April – Malaysian Grand Prix

May – Penang Grand Prix

August – Selangor Grand Prix [cancelled – circuit closed]

October – Indonesia Grand Prix [no FIA approval]

November – Philippines Grand Prix [no FIA approval]

November – Macau Grand Prix

The regulations for the Malaysia Grand Prix on 23-24 April 1977 saw a revision for the single-seater rules. There were now three classes compared to 1976 when Class C (Formula Atlantic) was not a separate class. The reason for inclusion of Formula Atlantic as a separate class was because Malaysia was to adopt that formula as its National Formula for the 1978 season onwards.

Class A – All foreign competitors residing outside of the Region plus regional competitors using four valves per cylinder, fuel injected engines.

Class B – Restricted to competitors residing in the Region driving cars powered by twin cam, two valves per cylinder engines.

Class C – Restricted to competitors residing in the Region using vehicles complying with Formula Atlantic regulations.

1977 – THE GRAND PRIX SHUFFLE

There were multiple alterations to the official entry list following publication of the Grand Prix program. Sonny Rajah’s #3 March entry was revised to #9; Ken Shirvington’s entry was scratched (#4 – March 752); Theodore Racing replaced the #6 entry for Alan Jones and the Ralt RT1 entry with 27-year-old Formula 1 driver Patrick Tambay; Grant Swartz’s #7 Flying Tiger Line Lola 460 entry was scratched; there was a question mark next to Cherie Schloemer’s #20 Brabham BT30 entry; Narching de la Merced’s #22 Chevron B34 entry was scratched; and Beng Suswanto was added, replacing Swartz’s #7 Lola T460 entry with a yellow Lola T460.

The grid now consisted of several new entries/cars – thanks to the salesmanship of American team owner Fred Opert23. All the cars purchased from Opert were Chevrons – B34s for the Filipino contingent of Pocholo Ramirez, Narcing de la Merced, Rad Ocampo, and Eddie Marcelo (B39). All these cars were grouped under Class C – Formula Atlantic. Pocholo’s old March 722 that DNS-ed at Macau in November effectively disappeared from circulation until the Penang Grand Prix on 22 May 1978, when it appeared in the hands of Romeo David [See RIDES OF MARCH – Part 3].

The Atlantics/Formula Pacific grid now consisted of the following:

#17 – Eddie Marcelo – Chevron B39

#18 – Rad Ocampo – Chevron B34

#22 – Narcing de la Merced -Chevron B34 (scratched entry)

#74 – Joey Bundalian – March 752

#81 – Rolly Abadila – Modus

#88 – Pocholo Ramirez – Chevron B34

#7 – Beng Suswanto – Lola T450

The twin cam, two valves per cylinder Class B consisted of:

#8 – Chong Boon Seng – Chevron B29

#20 – Cherie Schloemer – Brabham BT3024

#41 – Nick Van Nugteren – March 75225

#66 – Diana Poon – Brabham BT40

#77 – Brian Tyler – March 73B26

Brian Tyler’s very tidy ex-Bussell March 73B at Batu Tiga in April 1977. The car was no longer running Rothmans livery and single stalk wing mirrors had replaced the three-branch mirrors following his disastrous visit to Macau in 1976.

Nick Van Nugteren’s March “758” was featured in Singapore’s Straits Time of 15 April 1977. What looked like a March 75B was the facelifted ex-Grant Swartz March 73B.

Class A’s March entries included Graeme Lawrence in the #1 March 76B and Teddy Yip in the March 752/722. Sonny Rajah had his March 732 but now sporting 752 bodywork.

There would be some shuffling around in the Theodore Racing camp – the Ralt replaced by the March. Patrick Tambay broke the track record during practice on Friday in the Theodore Racing Ralt RT1-9 BDM with a blisteringly quick 1m 19.7s lap but switched cars to the March 722/752 T-car, necessitating a back of the grid start for the #5A for Sunday’s 50 lap Grand Prix.

Tambay was a class above the rest and by lap 6 he passed John Macdonald (Ralt RT1) for the lead. Second was Steve Millen (#69A Chevron B35 BDA Hart), third was Albert Poon in his new Chevron B34 BDM and fourth was Rad Ocampo in his #18 JRC sponsored Lola T460, which had only just arrived from the US.

Diana Poon won Class B in her Brabham BT40 (overall fifth, behind Rad Ocampo – winner Class B) while Brian Tyler and Nick Van Nugteren picked up second and third in Class B respectively.

NOTE: The Batu Tiga Circuit was closed following Harvey Yap’s tragic accident in the Saloon car race in his KFC-entered Ford Escort Mk2. The ensuing legal case and track refurbishment pending FIA approvals meant that racing in Selangor ceased for a year, until the 27-28 May 1978 Malaysia Grand Prix27.

Drivers and teams headed up to Penang for the following weekend’s circuit races (The Eighth Penang Circuit Races, 1 May 1977), the tragedy at Shah Alam still fresh in everyone’s minds.

Patrick Tambay (#6 – March 722/752) sat on pole with John Macdonald in second (#11 – Ralt RT1), Steve Millen in third (#69 – Chevron B35), Graeme Lawrence (#1 – March 76B) in fourth, Albert Poon (Chevron B34) in fifth, Beng Suswanto (Lola T460) in sixth, Pocholo Ramirez (#88 – Chevron B34) in seventh and Sonny Rajah in eighth (March 732)28.

Tambay (#6) led into the first corner. Macd retired with ignition trouble. Lawrence pitted early but when he returned to the track he was flying, moving to second, behind Tambay. Tambay’s engine then started to leak oil and he was out after leading for 37 laps. Millen chased Lawrence but rear wheel lugs of the Chevron B35 sheared off on lap 47. Poon finished second, Pocholo was third (Atlantic class C winner). Ian Grey finished fourth in his black Chevron B20 with Eddie Marcelo fifth.

Cherie Schloemer lead the Group B field at the start but her distributor slowly loosened and the Brabham BT30 started to misfire. A collision with Narcing de la Merced put her out on lap 47. The Van Nugteren March 752’s radiator came loose and he spun off at Chartered Bank Corner. This left Brian Tyler and Diana Poon to battle it out more more for Group B honours. Brian Tyler won, Diana finished second and Cherie Schloemer finished third. Another minor March triumph. Tyler then tried to sell his March 73B in September 197729.

Sonny Rajah continued to race in Asia in 1977 with his March reworked with side radiators and 752 front nosecone. The red/white “March 752” car made it appearance at the Malaysian Grand Prix 23-24 April 1977 and at the Penang Grand Prix the week after.

THE NUT’S MARCH

One of the March cars that ended up residing in Singapore from the mid-1970s was a Nick Van Nugteren’s car. This has been established to be the ex-Grand Swartz 73B, upgraded to March 75B nosecone/bodywork. Swartz last raced it in Macau in 1975, the year Macau adopted Formula Atlantic rules for the Grand Prix (though there was a grace period that covered 1976 and 1977). For 1976, Swartz had a Lola T460 that he debuted at the 24-25 April 1976 Malaysian Grand Prix (which was rained out before the start!).

It is interesting to note that Nick van Nugteren was said to be entered in Sonny Rajah’s #21 752/712M at the April 1976 Malaysian Grand Prix though this did not materialise. Could it be that the Swartz March was sent down to Shah Alam along with Swartz’s Lola T460, and the March purchased by Nugteren? Swartz had the Lola up in Penang where his #7 car finished fourth following lower left suspension failure in practice. Nugteren however wasn’t entered in the official program for the Penang Grand Prix the following weekend.

The first race Van Nugteren had in the March 75B was at the 23-24 April 1977 Malaysian Grand Prix where the #41 car ran with Win Lighter colours.

An undated/unattributed photo showing Nick Van Nugteren with his 752/73B March on the SIA aircraft loading dock. Directly behind the March is the Schloemer Brabham BT30 and right at the rear is Chong Boon Seng’s Chevron B29. The cars were being prepped for the trip to Macau for the Grand Prix in November 1978.

Singapore-based Nick Van Nugteren’s March 75B with Metro, Win Lighters and Tamiya stickers on display from 26 December 1976 to 11 January 1977 at Metro’s People’s Park Complex retail store.

Big Mohan’s advert in the Singapore Straits Times on 17 and 18 September 1977 (pg.5). The March was on display at Mohan’s flagship store at Orchard Shopping Centre. By 1985 Mike Melwani’s Mohan’s Department Store had shut down due to the retail slump in Singapore.

HK Tourist Association’s Orient – The Visitors’ Newspaper of 16-22 November 1979 featured the #41 March 752/73B of Nick Van Nugteren.

MARCH TO MACAU & A VERY SHORT SEASON

September’s Selangor Grand Prix (set for 24-25 September 1977) was cancelled following the tragedy of the earlier Saloon car accident. The circuit remained closed till the following year. To add to the woes of the entrants, the FIA had not given the green light to Indonesia and the Philippine and so both races were cancelled.

That meant that the last round of the 1977 Rothmans Trophy Championship was the Macau Grand Prix on 20 November 1977. There was much talk about Rothmans pulling out of the series if there were less than four Grand Prix races on what was meant to be a six-leg circuit, a provision in the original rules.

Plus the circuit lost one of its biggest supporters from Hong Kong when John Macdonald retired from competitive racing following the Penang Grand Prix in May 1977.

Steve Millen took the Rothmans title following two second place finishes – Selangor in April and Macau in November.

At the season finale in Macau, six March cars were entered versus seven Chevrons, two Ralts, four Lolas and two Brabhams. It was a Chevron 1-2 in the end, Ricardo Patrese winning in his Formula Pacific Chevron B42 with Steve Millen second in his Chevron B35. Australian Andrew Miedecke finished third in his Formula Pacific March 763/76B. The South East Asians March contingent now consisted of just Nick Van Nugteren in his March 752/73B.

POSTSCRIPT – The UNKNOWNS

While we have been able to establish the lineage of the Bussell 73B, the Percy Chan 722/732, Sonny’s 712M, the Graeme Lawrence 76B (to Romeo David), and the Grant Swartz car – which appears to have gone to Nick Van Nugteren following its transformation from 73B to 752 look, which is what Van Nugteren purchased it as.

Two cars remain unaccounted for: The first is the Ian Grey #71 March 752. The writer had yet to see a photo of the car (the photo earlier in this article from Junep Ocampo’s Fast Lane – Motor Sports in the Philippines (at the El Grande race in the Philippines, December 1975) does not confirm anything. Do our readers have any ideas, recollections, photos to help determine the origins/history of the Ian Grey #71 March 752 entry? Or was it Sonny Rajah’s car on load to Grey? Or perhaps Grant Swartz prior to his switch to the Lola T460?

The second is the Joey Bundalian car – though the timeline suggests that this was the Team Harper 723-12 that Bob Harper entered for Dieter Quester in the 1973 Macau Grand Prix.

End of Part 2. Part 3 covers the period 1978 until the last Formula Atlantic/Pacific races in 1983 and features the ground effects generation of cars.

Link to Part 1 – Rides of March 1971-1973

Romeo David’s ex-Graeme Lawrence March 76B features in Part 3 of RIDES OF MARCH.

APPENDIX 1 – NUMBERS GAME

In terms of numbers, how did the March racing cars compare with Brabhams, Chevrons, Lola, Lotus and Ralt etc in the Far East?

Grand Prix/Major Race Victories for single-seaters from the 1960s through till the last of the Formula Atlantic/Pacific races in 1983 (including Macau). The events include the Malaysian National Championship races as well as the various ARAP races in Manila. Class wins are not included.

NB: There are instances where Lotus sports cars have won major races in the Far East – Albert Poon won the 1965 Malaysia Grand Prix in Singapore in his Lotus 23B; 1968 Johore Grand Prix was won by Lou de Marco in a Lotus Super 7. Neither is included in the results below.

Brabham: Macau = 3; Singapore =1; Selangor =11; Penang =2; Johore =1; Philippines = 9; Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 27

Chevron: Macau =2; Singapore =0; Selangor = 1; Penang =1; Johore =0; Philippines = 0; Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 4

Elfin: Macau = 0; Singapore =1; Selangor = 5; Penang = 1; Johore =0; Philippines =1;

Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =1. Total = 9

Lotus: Macau = 4; Singapore =1; Selangor =0; Penang =2; Johore = 0; Philippines = 0;

Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 7

McLaren: Macau = 1; Singapore =1; Selangor = 1; Penang =0; Johore =0; Philippines = 0; Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 3

March: Macau = 1; Singapore = 1; Selangor =10; Penang =4; Johore =0; Philippines =1; Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 17

Merlyn: Macau = 0; Singapore =1; Selangor =1; Penang = 0; Johore =0; Philippines = 0; Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 2

Palliser: Macau = 0; Singapore =0; Selangor =1; Penang = 0; Johore =0; Philippines = 0; Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 1

Ralt: Macau = 6; Singapore =0; Selangor =7; Penang =4; Johore =0; Philippines = 1;

Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =1. Total = 19

Surtees: Macau = 0; Singapore =0; Selangor =0; Penang = 0; Johore =0; Philippines = 1; Others (Indonesia, Brunei) =0. Total = 1

The results show March cars joint top winners in Penang (four wins) and second to Brabham in Selangor (March had 10 wins, Brabham 11 wins). The first of the Brabham victories came in April 1968 at the First Selangor Grand Prix with Albert Poon in his Brabham BT21-Alfa Romeo while Sonny Rajah kicked off the Selangor run for March cars with his Malaysian Grand Prix victory in April 1972 in his March 712M.

Brabham’s success in the Philippines is due to John Macdonald and his BT10, which won 6 races in the 1974 season.

Total victories still goes to Brabham with 27 while Ralt, a relatively latecomer to the scene with John Macdonald’s debut (and victory) in Penang in September 1975, had 19. March cars were third most successful with 17 victories.

This is hardly a like for like comparison of cars over a very broad period of time (Lotus snatched its first victory in Macau in 1962 with Arsenio ‘Dodjie’ Laurel winning in a Lotus 22 Formula Junior). The simple conclusion is that the cars from the tribe of Ron (Tauranac of Brabham and Ralt) were the most successful in the Far East, with March the best of the rest.

End Appendix 1

Appendix 2 – TUBS OF MARCH

Tracking chassis/tub numbers for any racing car is a tedious task fraught with danger. My late friend and contributor to Rewind Magazine, Dr. Mike Lawrence, wrote about this in his book The Story of March – Four Guys and a Telephone. In his Introduction to Appendices he wrote: “March’s own records say four F1 cars were made in 1973, but since these were merely modified 721Gs I maintain no F1 cars were built in 1973, so while they were entered as 731s no such animal existed in the metal, only in the paperwork. The picture becomes more complicated as, say, 741s were stripped down and rebuilt as 751s, and 751s became 761s, and as a 771 became a 891…” That’s just the Formula 1 cars.

It is an accepted fact that the 712 (and its derivatives), the 722 (and its derivatives), the 732 and the 742 and its derivatives are basically all quite similar. Works and some favoured customer cars got better quality aluminium in the construction of their tubs. One March type could easily morph so easily to another – a 712 into to a 732 to a 752-look (though from the 752 through to the 772, the tubs were structurally different).

Now let’s see what Mike Lawrence said about the junior formulae. “Damaged frames went back to Arch Motors and serviceable frames were returned, end of story…There was, too, an exchange deal operating in the early days of the monocoque cars: you took your damaged tub to Bicester, paid the estimated cost of repair and came away with another tub while yours was repaired and entered the exchange pool. It was an imaginative scheme from the customer’s point of view, but it does demonstrate some of the pitfalls of placing too much emphasis on chassis plates.”

All this makes tracing the pre-Asian history of the South East Asian car a very interesting exercise.

End Appendix 2 – Click HERE to Return to where you left off.

Words by Eli Solomon

SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

Newsome, Philip. Colour and Noise: 40 Years of the Macau Grand Prix. A.S. Watson (1993).

Newsome, Philip. Teddy Yip – From Macau to the World and Back. Blue Flag Press (2012).

Mosley, Max. Formula One and Beyond: The Autobiography. Simon & Schuster (2016).

Lawrence, Mike. The Story of March. Motorbooks International (1990).

Hodges, David. A-Z of Formula Racing Cars. Bay View Books (1998).

Solomon, Eli. Snakes & Devils: A History of the Singapore Grand Prix. Marshall Cavendish (2008).

Ocampo, Junep. Fast Lane – Motor Sports in the Philippines (undated).

Hill, Peter R. The Fred Opert Story. Veloce Publishing. (20 October 2020).

Acknowledgements

Angus Lamont, John Macdonald, Martin C. Galán, Bambi Hernandez, Michael Jackson, Allen Brown, Harvey Yap, the late Francis Jan Bussell, Nick Van Nugteren, Vern Schuppan, Brian Tyler, the late Dr. Mike Lawrence, the late Percy Chan.

Footnotes

  1. Percy advertised his Lotus 69 for sale in May 1974: Lotus 69 – reliable 187bhp RES twin cam. Firestone slicks, FT200 gbx, Bravier system. 3rd in National Open 1972; 5th in Malaysian
    GP 1973; 3rd in Penang GP 1973. Asking RM$16,000.
  2. Chin Kui Yin (K.Y. Chin) was Secretary of the April 1974 Malaysian Grand Prix committee, a job new to him. At the time he was Personal Assistant to John Clinton, Managing Director/CEO of Rothmans of Pall Mall (Malaysia). Chin first got involved with the MMSC back in 1969 when the idea of setting a Rothmans racing team was first formulated.
  3. Jackson jumped ship and joined John Macdonald’s Hong Kong-based outfit following the 1973 Macau Grand Prix.
  4. Hume Weir Motor Racing Circuit was based outside Albury-Wodonga on the Victorian side of the Murray River.
  5. Symmons Plains Raceway was located about 30km south of Launceston in Tasmania.
  6. See COSTIN’S MULE
  7. Robert ‘Bob’ Smith was closely associated with the Echauz family – the backers for Joey Bundalian’s March. Smith was a pivotal figure in Philippine motor sports during the 1950s-1960s. He was also one of the founding members of the Camwreckers.
  8. https://www.oldracingcars.com/march/73b/
  9. Hanny Wiano was also known as Chepot or Tjepot. He was born on 5 February 1948 and was sponsored by Indonesian oil company Pertamina to attend the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School in 1972. He returned to Asia with a GRD 272 which was entered in the 1973 Singapore Grand Prix. Chepot could have been associated with Indonesian Adhiguna Shipping, which sponsored his racing activities in the early 1970s. The shipping connection may also have resulted in him getting a shot with Ippokampos Racing in 1974.
  10. At SAMRA, Graham Searle of Rothmans had replaced Wearne Brothers’ Mike Otty as Chairman in August 1980. Searle went on a drive to attract drivers from the various Formula categories, many of whom were Formula 1 aspirants. This in turn would attract new sponsors and advertisers. The drive attracted top Formula 2 drivers Roberto Moreno and Tiff Needell, amongst others. But Searle also made sure the local drivers were taken care of – for the first time starting money was officially given to drivers in a Malaysian motor race.
  11. New Straits Times, 26 March 1975: Chan in While Rajah is out.
  12. Lawrence’s Surtees TS15-4 was used in practice but for the race Lawrence ran Albert Poon’s Brabham BT40.
  13. Bussell was apparently in Zaire for 9-10 months before joining Gulf Air, based in Abu Dhabi. Bussell’s MACAir ended up under Bumiputra control while his Torque Shop garage appears to have been wound up. He never returned to race in Malaysia.
  14. For the 1975 season, March built 14 75B Formula Atlantic single-seaters. As Allen Brown writes in www.OldRacingCars.com: “The March 74B had been developed significantly during 1974 with the addition of the side radiators, nose and other features from the works Formula 2 cars, and the new March 75B was a tidy up of that design, using a very similar monocoque. March had designed a completely new and wider monocoque for Formula 2, but the 75B and its sister car, the Formula 3 753, which shared the narrow monocoque that had evolved out of the 1971 design, were given the same nose, cockpit surround, square-topped roll hoop casing and engine cover as the new F2 design.” March built 14 75Bs for the 1975 season and 12 of these went to America and two stayed in the UK. None of the Asian cars in 1975 were 752 or 75Bs.
  15. While the writer is unable to confirm the chassis for the Bundalian March (it was thought to be 723 chassis 12), it is worthwhile to note that the March 722 was a 1972 Formula 2 car while the 723 was a 1972 Formula 3 car. As the chassis/tub, suspension and steering were identical in both the 722 and 723, it would not have been difficult to have a car adapted for a different series.
  16. According to Allen Brown in his www.OldRacingCars.com website: March 732 [15 as ‘9’] (Ken Shirvington): A new car for Andy Sutcliffe at Karlskoga run by Brian Lewis Racing and replacing 732-9, crashed by Mike Beuttler earlier in the year. To save paperwork, the team put the chassis plate onto the car and it still wears it today. Sold to Ken Smith in New Zealand after Sutcliffe’s money did not appear and raced by him in the 1974 Tasman series. Then rebuilt as a ANF2 car with a Ford twin cam for the 1974 Australian Formula 2 series and sold to Ken Shirvington mid-season.
  17. The Singapore dollar remained at par with the Malaysian Ringgit until 1973. For our purposes we use parity between the Malaysian Ringgit (RM$) and the Singapore Dollar (S$) for the period 1970-1980.
  18. John Macdonald’s Cosworth FVA replaced his Camlex 2-valve per cylinder motor. The FVA set Macdonald back (£5,000).
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Tyler co-authored the book Vintage Motoring in Malaya (July 1977). Stonor, Henry & Tyler, Brian. Vintage Motoring in Malaya (July 1977).
  22. Even though John Macdonald won, Lawrence was still leading the Rothmans International GP championship after this round at Shah Alam.
  23. Hill, Peter R. The Fred Opert Story. Veloce Publishing. (20 October 2020). https://www.bookdepository.com/Fred-Opert-Story-Peter-R-Hill/9781787115651?ref=grid-view&qid=1642905726975&sr=1-1
  24. The ex-Chong Boon Seng Brabham was usually entered as a BT36 though the chassis is thought to be BT30/14. the Ecurie Ecosse car first run by Graham Birrell in Formula 2 in April 1970. [see https://www.oldracingcars.com/brabham/bt30/#id-BrabhamBT30/14]
  25. Nick Van Nugteren’s March was mentioned in Singapore’s Straits Times of 15 April 1977 pg.29. There was no mention of where or from whom the car was acquired but the photos shows a 752-bodied March with exposed roll hoop.
  26. New Sunday Times, 27 March 1977, mentions Tyler was working hard to get his March 732 ready for the Malaysian Grand Prix 23-24 April. “Tyler is rebuilding the car which will be powered by a brand new Holbay twin-cam engine capable of developing about 200bhp.”
  27. The circuit reopened with the Malaysia Grand Prix 27-28 May 1978. It was rescheduled to coincide with move of the state capital to Shah Alam. There was now a new manager for the circuit – SAMRA with six firms – Rothmans, F&N, Shell, Nippon (associate member), Wearnes and Goodyear as founding partners. See RIDES OF MARCH – Part 3 for details on the formation of SAMRA. As the events at the Batu Tiga Circuit grew in stature and size, the need soon arose for further funding and a more professionally-run body to oversee the circuit and its activities. A non-profit organisation, the Shah Alam Motor Racing Association (SAMRA), was thus established in 1978. It was unusual in one respect: its members comprised of Malaysian companies; namely, F&N, Goodyear, Rothmans, Shell, Wearne, Nippon Paint, Syarikat Guan Hoe Suzuki and Inchcape. Each invested RM$70,000 to upgrade the facilities around circuit. SAMRA had the desirous effect of lifting the burden of administrative and financial responsibility from the MMSC
  28. Singapore Motor Sports Club’s May/June 1977 Gazette report by Del Schloemer states the pole time was 57.6 seconds, set by Steve Millen, with Graeme Lawrence in second and Patrick Tambay in third. Allen Brown’s https://www.oldracingcars.com/atlantic/results/seasia/1977/penang/ has pole set by Tambay at 58.1 seconds with Macdonald second at 58.2s and Millen Third in 59.2s. John Macdonald’s records show Macd on pole with a 58.8s lap.
  29. Tyler’s advert (who was based in Kuala Lumpur) appeared in Singapore’s Straits Times of 30 September 1977 (p.21) and 3 October (p.18) – MARCH 732 RACING car 190 BHP engine. Many spares, tyres and wheels, excellent race ready condition. Will sell to best offer.

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