1 March 2024

Racecars run warm-up laps of National Arboretum ahead of weekend's motorsports action

| James Coleman
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F1 car at the Arboretum

F1 at the National Arboretum … do revheads dare to dream? Photo: Photox.

The National Arboretum was established in 2003 by former chief minister Jon Stanhope as a place of tranquillity where Canberrans could wander through forests of exotic trees and connect with nature.

Turns out it has another use.

The roads throughout the site were converted to a makeshift racetrack on Thursday (29 February) as part of a promotional shoot for the inaugural Canberra Festival of Speed, coming to Thoroughbred Park in Lyneham this weekend.

READ ALSO A different kind of horsepower is on track at Thoroughbred Park

It’s safe to say any tranquillity was shattered because the cars included Cameron Hill’s V8-powered Chevrolet Camaro, a limited-edition Aston Martin Vantage GT12, and perhaps, most jaw-droppingly (and certainly ear-tinglingly), an actual F1 car.

The ‘LC88 Lola’ might not have enjoyed a particularly glittering career – it was piloted by Frenchman Philippe Alliot during the 1988 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide and wound up in ninth place – but it’s now among a very highly sought-after breed of F1 machines.

“It’s what you would term ‘unobtanium’,” proud owner Brenton Griguol says.

“Post 2000, F1 became very complicated, especially in the hybrid era since 2012, so no one can actually buy one and run one now because you need a proper full-on F1 team to do it.”

The F1 car will be among more than 200 rare and exotic machines set to tear around a new purpose-built tarmac ‘show circuit’ at Thoroughbred Park over Saturday evening and all day Sunday. This technically makes this the first time an F1 car has performed in Canberra.

The story of how it ended up with Brenton in Melbourne began when Alliot’s team couldn’t afford to pay him for the 1988 season, so they gifted him the car instead. From there, it wound up in San Francisco in the US, “never used”.

F1 car at Arboretum

All of those ‘stickers’ are actually hand-painted on. Photo: Photox.

“I’d been looking for one for quite a while – it’s a boyhood dream, you know – you always want to own an F1 car!” Brenton says.

He describes the ’80s as the glory days of F1 when the car’s shape wasn’t stuck with various aerodynamic eccentricities and the mechanical design was simpler. This was before vinyl stickers, so the sponsor’s logos and names are hand-painted.

“It was very much in original condition. The only thing I did was have the engine rebuilt to the same specifications when it ran in 1988.”

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Brenton says he’ll drive “spiritedly” on the weekend, but it won’t be a simple case of jumping in and going for it.

“It’s got to be preheated, so I’ll spend most of Saturday morning preparing.”

The high-revving V8 engine makes just under 500 horsepower. Couple this with a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis that weighs next to nothing, and the maths has the car reaching 200 km/h from a standstill in less than six seconds. Brenton estimates 0-100 km/h in “under two seconds.”

“In saying that, you don’t drive this to the max, and I’m older now and just haven’t got the same reflexes. You drive within your limitations, and I know what it will cost if I bend it.”

Unlike the Arboretum, with its risk of stray wildlife, the new circuit at Thoroughbred Park is fully sanctioned by Motorsports Australia. It includes all the usual traits of a start/finish line and concrete safety barriers.

The cars will be divided into groups – the first takes to the track at 4:15 pm on Saturday and the last at 3:35 pm on Sunday.

Events organisation Project Supercars, founded by Martin Tanti and Peter Bakavgas, says the result will be unlike anything ever seen here.

“We have such a thriving car culture here in Canberra, but it’s mainly static car shows, so people think that’s how car shows have to be,” Martin says.

“The fact we’re getting F1 cars and these amazing supercars come out on a circuit and be active just blows people away.”

The Canberra Festival of Speed will be held at Thoroughbred Park, 1 Randwick Road, Lyneham, from 4 pm to 10 pm on Saturday, 2 March, and 9 am to 4 pm on Sunday, 3 March. Free parking is available. Buy tickets online.

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Definitely an increase of small-brained dangerous driving this weekend. Nothing like early Jan though.

Lauren Miller6:55 pm 01 Mar 24

Stunning to see these cars at the Arboretum!

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