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Bathurst winner John French heads Phillip Island Classic celebrity grid

Submitted by on March 2, 2011

Ford hero and Bathurst winner John French will head a celebrity grid of motor racing ‘greats’ at this year’s Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport from March 18-20.

The Queenslander, who is Patron of the meeting, will spearhead the 40th anniversary celebrations of the famous Phase III XY GTHO and its Bathurst victory in 1971.

Around 40 XY GT and GTHO Falcons will be on display to celebrate the historic occasion.

Meanwhile a series of limited edition prints on canvas by artist Mike Harbar depicting the three leading XY GTHO Falcons of Allan Moffat, John French and Fred Gibson in ‘The Dipper’ on the first lap of Bathurst in 1971 will be auctioned at the meeting.

French was a Ford factory driver in 1971 and qualified his XY GTHO alongside teammate Moffat for the Hardie-Ferodo 500. He was on track to finish second in the race with just 30 laps to go, but a blocked fuel filter cost him two pit stops and dropped him to fifth.

Both Moffat and French drove solo in the 1971 race during the unique three-year period (1970-1972) when this was permitted.

Moffat recalls carrying light snacks and a drink in his Falcon but didn’t broadcast it, as that was considered ‘sissy’ at the time.

French says he had some small sandwiches and chunks of banana stored in the Falcon’s centre console, but only drank at the pit stops, which were spaced 30-35 laps apart because of the GTHO’s large endurance fuel tank.

He also said he lasted the full race without a pee – “I was sweating so much” – but Moffat admitted that he had to use the Falcon’s floor mat during his 6hr 9min 49.5sec race.

“It was during a pit-stop and fortunately it took a long time to fill that big gas tank!” he recalled.

Moffat’s only other issue during his 130-lap marathon was an errant beer carton that got caught on his Falcon’s grille. “My pit crew got very excited, but the engine temperature stayed fine so I wasn’t worried,” he said.

French, who previously paired with Moffat to win the 1969 Sandown Three Hour Race in a GTHO and went on to win Bathurst in 1981 when he partnered Dick Johnson in the Tru Blu XD Falcon, said driving the Great Race solo wasn’t a huge feat.

“I’d spent some years racing bicycles on both the road and track and had won 16 Queensland titles, so I was pretty fit,” he said.

Moffat agreed: “I didn’t find it a strain in either 1970 or ’71 to go all the way,” he said. “In fact it was great to know that you were the only person hammering the machine, so you really had a feel for how it was travelling.”

The other Special Guest of the 2011 Phillip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport is Klaus Bischof, the Director of the Porsche Rolling Museum, who is travelling from Germany to oversee the six special sports cars he is sending from the company’s collection in Stuttgart.

His ‘charges’ include the 1987 Le Mans-winning Porsche 962, the outrageous long-tail Porsche 935 coupe ‘Moby Dick’ that reached 366km/h at Le Mans in 1978 and the Type 718 RS60 Spyder that won the 1960 Daytona 24 Hour race.

Other famous motorsport identities attending this year’s ‘Classic, include VHRR Patron Sir Jack Brabham, four-time Australian Touring Car Champion Bob Jane, Australia’s longest-competing racing driver Murray Carter, legendary Holden Dealer Team boss Harry Firth and Australian racing champion Kevin Bartlett.

The 2011 Philip Island Classic Festival of Motorsport has attracted an entry of nearly 500 racing, sports and touring cars spanning eight decades, along with hundreds of special display cars.

It is being organised for the 22nd year by the Victorian Historic racing Register and will again be supported by Shannons, CoolDrive and Penrite.

More meeting details can be found by visiting www.vhrr.com

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