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Grand Prix at the Cape



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Pieter de Klerk


Otello Nucci Alfa Special




1964 Rand Winter Trophy (1 August 1964)


Only now, with the FIA still embroiled in a war of words with the European Commission over their supposed F1 monopoly, is the world motorsport authority comtemplating to abandon Europe for sunnier regions of the world that possess more common sense and healthier wallets. It would be a drastic move that would create a stark contrast with the emphasis on Europe the leading championships of the world have had ever since the dawn of motor sports. Before the war the greatest championship up until that time was the AIACR European Championship that ran between 1935 and 1939 while after the war the World Championship has always concentrated around a long European summer season. By and large, what is called the FIA F1 World Championship has been a northern-hemisphere plaything.

Although the other developed parts of the globe got their own Grand Prix sooner or later several southern-hemisphere regions kept a burning need to stage a full-fledged championship of themselves with their home drivers competing in pukka Grand Prix cars or the nearest possible equivalent. Conventiently, these championships usually centered around their summer period, which slotted in nicely with Europe's long and cold winter months. So for the main events of the season, organizers could provide healthy grids with various 'name' drivers. In the forties and fifties, South America was the sunny place to be, many a European driver and team flying across the equator to compete in the Temporada, which was suitably tailored to F Libre 'rules', meaning that GP cars were very welcome indeed while the locals in their usually under-par and second-hand imported machinery could compete with them on the same level. In the early sixties, the Temporada role was taken over by South Africa, which offered a compressed series of F1 races held around New Year's Day (including the South African GP, by then part of the World Championship). Then, during the sixties, the European off-season emphasis shifted once again, now to Antipodean soil and its Tasman Series. Here, the organizers applied rules of their own, or rather those of the Intercontinental Formula that became a fluke in Europe at the start of the sixties, which allowed the biggest European-based constructors to tune down their F1 cars or send upgraded F2 machinery.

The Temporada concept only became obsolete in the seventies when South America, South Africa and Australia/New Zealand all stepped down to F5000, F Atlantic or touring cars for their major driver series, whereas Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, later followed by Japan and Australia, got their own F1 GP.

Going back a couple of decades and the Temporada heydays, the South American and later the South African seasons ran through for the remainder of the year, and usually the major local runners equipped themselves with the best GP machinery they could get their hands on. South America's star drivers of the fifties, Chico Landi of Brazil and Oscar Galvez of Argentina, raced their Ferrari and Alfa against a host of local racers and usually came out on top. It was small pickings compared to the healthy GP scene that evolved out of the F Libre South African Drivers Championship which was run to an assorted bunch of sports and sprint cars in the late fifties. In 1960, changing to regulations very similar to European F2 (which were, as is commonly known, about to become the new F1 rules), the series saw a sudden influx of European F1/F2 single-seater chassis, an import situation that was to remain all through South Africa's period of not-so-splendid isolation, until the last South African Drivers Championship run to F1 regulations, late in 1975.

The core of the new-style South African Gold Star Championship was formed by the December and January "Temporada" events that specifically ran to F1 regulations - instead of the almost-F1 rules which restricted the local runners to 4-cylinder engines, usually the Alfa Romeo engine taken from the Giulietta, the Ford 105E or Coventry's Climax FPF. These events, such as the Rand GP (at Kyalami), the Cape GP (at Killarney) and the Natal GP (at Westmead) attracted most of the top British GP teams, such as Lotus, BRM, BRP, Reg Parnell and Rob Walker, while Ferrari was also seen on occasion (winning the 1963 Rand GP with Surtees). Also, GP regulars like Graham Hill stepped into the local machinery while the best South Africans were invited to race a pukka GP car.

Soon the South African racing scene was thriving, the locals (which also comprised several white Rhodesians) also going about constructing their own cars and specials. For instance, take the entry list to the 1962 Rand GP, which saw the nicest and strangest mix of racing cars ever put forward for the same event. Alongside Clark, Taylor, Ireland and Ginther, the locals did their thing in a pleasantly unassorted bunch of cars, ranging from a Ford 105E-engined Lotus 7 - very competitively run by Brausch Niemann at that! - to Rauten Hartmann's Netuar-Peugeot. Other South African specials included Gordon Henderson's Scorpion and Tony Kotze's Assegai, both powered by the ephemeral Alfa Giulietta engine. Their main opposition came from a range of Alfa- and Climax-powered Coopers and Climax- and Ford-powered Lotuses, the Alfa being the most popular because of budgetary reasons. On the Lotus camp were the likes of Syd van der Vyver (the 1960/1961 champion), Neville Lederle (the 1962 champion), Ernest Pieterse (the 1963 champion), Gary Hocking, Bob van Niekerk and the young Dave Charlton, still run by Ecurie Tomahawk before making the successful switch to Scuderia Scribante and six consecutive SADC titles. The main Cooper assault was formed by John Love (the other six-time Gold Star champion), Mike Harris and Trevor Blokdyk. These drivers also belonged to the top-class locals who were invited to qualify for the South African GP.

Opposing the huge fleet of Coopers and Loti, Doug Serrurier ran the Otello Nucci-entered LDS (which stands for Louis Douglas Serrurier), another self-built machine. First, the LDS cars were based on Coopers before Serrurier switched to making Brabham adaptations in the later sixties. During the early sixties, Serrurier had a nice business going by selling his cars to various customers also competing in the Gold Star series. These included Gold Star race winner Fanie Viljoen (driving for George Mennie), as well as Gene Bosman and Errol Hammon, while Sam Tingle was undoubtedly the best known LDS customer.

Quickest of "self-built" gang however was Pieter de Klerk in his handsome, well-crafted Alfa Special, also entered by Otello "Jack" Nucci, a great sponsor of local drivers. With De Klerk, Nucci supported a man who might have gone on to great things had he been equipped similarly to the all-conquering John Love - and hadn't been a South African. Judged by the remarkable results De Klerk managed with his self-built Special, he was an exceptional driver. And indeed he was. Whilst not getting the same results as Rhodesian John Love (who during his time in the South African series scored more wins than Alain Prost in F1!) or South African Dave Charlton (the second man to win the South African Drivers Championship six times), Piet was certainly up there on talent. In the car he built together with his friend Pat Phillips he beat the better equipped favourites on various occasions. And he upset some of the European greats as well - including one J Clark! During the late-season Rand GP at Kyalami, which was run to proper F1 regs, allowing the Europeans to join the locals for some Christmas fun, De Klerk took an amazing third behind the Ferraris of Surtees and Bandini, which was to become 1964's successful pairing for the Scuderia, and overtaking Clark in the process…

Only in his later years he switched over to a leading team to join John Love at Team Gunston, later moving over to rivals Scuderia Scribante to race their 49C alongside Charlton's 72. But by then the initial speed was somewhat lost as Pieter happily filled Gunston's and Scribante's second seat, probably having returned rather demoralised from a short and lacklustre European career in sportscars.

After debuting in the 1966 Monza 1000kms for Mike de Udy's private Porsche team, with which he had to endure a very unsuccessful half-season, Piet raced at Le Mans for Porsche, taking sixth with Udo Schutz, unquestionably his best sportscar achievement. After that he switched to Richard Groves' Austin-Healey, which at least allowed him a finish at the Hockenheim GP, while he returned to the De Udy team for the late-season Springbok Series at home, taking second at the Dickie Dale 3hrs at Roy Hesketh. The following year, he drove the Surtees-run Lola-Aston Martin at Le Mans, sharing with Chris Irwin, but this led to a fuel pump-inflicted retirement on lap 25. He also drove Edward Nelson's GT40 and was entered in John Wyer's Mirage team for the BOAC 500 at Brands but did not get to drive the Rodriguez car after team mate Dick Thompson crashed the car on lap 87. At home in the Springbok championship, Pieter shared David Prophet's GT40 but without any luck.

Debuting the homebuilt, largely unsponsored special in 1962 he was up against 1960 and 1961 champion Syd van der Vyver - for whom Pieter used to be a mechanic! - driving an ex-works Lotus-Climax, Ernest Pieterse who had abandoned his Heron for a similar car and Doug Serrurier's LDS. Pieter won the Governor General Cup at the Mozambique track of Lourenço Marques and was to repeat the feat in 1963, also winning the Rand Autumn Trophy, when Neville Lederle, also in a Lotus-Climax, was the man to beat. Now in a three-year-old car Pieter went on winning in 1964, taking three events including the Rand Winter Trophy, beating John Love across the line after a thrilling finale and challenging the Rhodesian for the all-out title. Pieter's other wins include the main event of the Marlborough Races that year and the Mashonaland 100. It seemed the car was getting better by the season!

In a tribute to a great design, Lewis Baker is now rebuilding the Alfa Special with Pieter's help. Pieter is going to drive it in January 2001 at the International races in the Cape Town historics at Killarney. At least, that's the plan… Let's hope they succeed.

Reader's Why by Hans Swart

De Klerk stakes his claim for the South African Driver's Championship by taking overall victory in this race, beating his arch-rival John Love by an aggregate of 0.5 seconds.

The South African Drivers Championship was dominated by John Love for most of the 1960s, but occasionally another driver would mount a serious challenge to his supremacy. Few did so with more dedication and determination than Peter de Klerk. He was born on 16 March 1936 in the picturesque historical village of Pilgrims Rest, situated amongst the mountains of Eastern Transvaal. After training at the Johannesburg Technical High School as motor mechanic, he relocated to Durban and was by then already fascinated by the racing scene. At the end of 1957 he ventured to Britain and got a job at the Lotus works, experience that would stand him in good stead as a constructor later on. Returning to South Africa, he worked for then SA driver's champ Syd van der Vyver (who garnered the SA championships in 1960/61 with a Lotus-Alfa), and later successful Alfa Romeo campaigner Ernest Pieterse. He also had a few races in his friend Pat Phillips' Wishart-JAP FIII single-seater, which he helped fettle in a small shed lit by paraffin lamps! By mid-1960 the young enthusiast, armed with valuable hands-on experience, embarked on the the construction of the Alfa Special with Phillips.

The South African championship had been the domain of imported Cooper and Lotus chassis, and were regularly powered by locally prepared Alfa Romeo, Ford or Borgward engines if the ubiquitous Climax powerplants proved too costly. The Alfa Romeo unit was a popular choice due to its advanced design, light weight and high specific output, even in producton form. Some racers took local ingenuity a step further by building their own chassis, although closely based on their imported counterparts. Thus we had Doug Serrurier building his LDS racers, initially copied from Cooper and later Brabham, Ernest Pieterse's Heron-Alfa, and Tony Kotze's Assegai-Alfa. De Klerk's Alfa Special probably included several features from the Lotus 21 and was also powered by a reworked twin-cam Giulietta engine, bored out to a nominal 1500cc. Resplendent in that classic dark red Alfa Romeo shade, the car was meticulously finished and attracted only positive comments.

The car rolled out of the Alberton-located workshop in early 1962 and Peter debuted at the Autumn Trophy, finishing fourth behind established campaigners Love, Serrurier and Tingle. When he followed this with a second at the Roy Hesketh Easter races, the legendary local racing supporter Otello Nucci bought Phillips' share in the car and took Peter into his racing stable. The Alfa Special was continually developed and Peter's driving skills honed, enabling the combination to make their GP debut at the 1963 SAGP at the East London GP circuit, where Peter qualified 16th but retired after 54 laps with gearbox problems.

In 1964 Peter gave John Love a close run for the SA championship which brings us to the quiz photograph: the Winter Trophy race at Kyalami was run in two heats, and a furious scrap saw de Klerk winning the first by 1.7 secs fron Love's Cooper-Climax. In the second heat Love turned the tables, though de Klerk hung on grimly to lose the heat by 1.2 secs but win overall. This battle is still fondly remembered amongst local enthusiasts and the closeness of the championship played a significant part in kindling interest in the local single-seater formula.

The championship was later decided at the Spring Trophy race, Love winning it with 48 points to de Klerk's 45. Although tough contenders on-track, the two men had mutual respect as reflected in Love's biography (John Love, by Adri Bezuidenhout, published by Res Publica, Pretoria 1970). Love paid credit to de Klerk as follows: "Peter was really good. The first time he drove his maroon Alfa Special he proved to be competitive. He adapted to racing very quickly and was giving drivers like Pieterse, van der Vyver and myself a good run for our money. He was also a very consistent driver." De Klerk reciprocated by stating that "John Love is a good driver, a good organiser and a good guy." South Africa didn't have a world championship GP round in 1964, but in the other premier event on the SA racing calendar, the Kyalami 9-hour endurance race, Peter shone once more by taking 2nd overall in a Ferrari 250GTO co-driven with Love.

The 1965 World Championship got off to the earliest start possible, and on the 1st of January Peter's Alfa Special was 17th on the East London GP grid and finished 10th out of 15 finishers. In the national championship he showed well once more but Love clinched the title yet again. The Alfa Special however was increasingly unable to compete with the larger capacity Repco motors, and newer Cooper and Brabham chassis, and was sold on to Leo Dave who persevered with it for another couple of seasons. On the sportscar front de Klerk scored a 4th place in the 9-hour, sharing a Porsche 904 with Mike de Udy.

De Klerk switched to a Brabham-Climax and finished 8th in the 1966 national championships. He also had an offer from de Udy to do sportscar championship races in Europe, but nothing much came of it. Somewhat demoralized, there was a bit of a lull in his career but in October 1968 he made his comeback at the Rand Spring Trophy at Kyalami, driving the ex-Love Brabham-Repco to 4th place. 1969 saw him attempting the SAGP once more, finishing 9th in the Jack Holme-owned Brabham, and in 1970 repeated his exploit but finished well down in 11th place. It was obvious that Love's main challenge now came from the likes of Dave Charlton and Basil van Rooyen for supremacy in the local championship. Still, de Klerk scored a fine win at the mid-1970 Republic Trophy race at Kyalami, driving the Gunston Brabham BT26-Ford.

The plan for 1971 was to campaign a 5-litre Lola T160, but when this failed to materialize de Klerk secured a seat in the Scuderia Scribante/Lucky Strike Lotus-Ford 49C by mid-year. A couple of placings were scored but de Klerk was never really in the hunt. Paired in the team with Charlton (Lotus 72D) for 1972, Peter was taking something of a back seat and at the end of the season came the announcement that Eddie Keizan would be campaigning a Scribante/Lucky Strike Tyrrell for 1973. At least, in the twilight of his career, Peter had taken a sportscar victory in a Chevron B19 at the 1972 Natal Easter 6-hour endurance race, the last major success of a driver whose professionalism and total dedication earned him a special place in South African motorsport history.