Friday, March 31, 2017


Frank was a truly iconic Aussie motor racing identity. He was known in motor sport circles around the globe in all categories including Formula One, Formula 2, sports cars, touring cars, and also as a very accomplished race engineer.

His laconic personality, his ability to ‘spin a yarn’ and hold his audiences’ attention was a much-valued quality. His friends all over the world mourned his death in 2009. The cause of death was essentially a form of metals poisoning as a result of injuries from racing and workshop accidents including one which saw his legs burned and scarred.

I live right across the road from Frank and the glamorous Gloria. The couple, married in 1969, had a storied life, living and competing all over the world, and gathering a network of friends among all echelons of the motor racing world.

It was 1967 when I first met Frank, at the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst, west of Sydney. I had a budding career as a motor racing commentator, and I went to interview Frank in the paddock garage of Alec Mildren Racing, where Frank was preparing an Alfa Romeo GT for rising star Kevin Bartlett.

I clearly remember a gem of experience flowing from Frank, when he told the mechanics to grind off all the paint around the holes where the wheel studs were. His reasoning, based on his racing exploits, was that because of the heat generated during racing, the paint could expand and contract, and allow the wheel nuts and studs to come loose, and the car could lose a wheel.

A tiny snippet of advice, but great evidence of Frank’s ferocious attention to detail.

My second personal connection came at that same race meeting at Easter in 1967. Frank needed a lift to the top of the mountain, so I offered to take him in my Cooper S. As we set off Frank said: “Stop here. You’re sitting back too far from the wheel. Move your seat closer.”

The he explained why: “When you’re driving a manual, set up the driver’s seat so that you can comfortably reach over with your right foot and fully depress the clutch. That’s the best indicator of the correct seating position for you, in your car.” Guess what? He was absolutely right!

This advice also became another valuable component of a ‘second career’, which became Frank’s lifelong passion – driver training. He set up a Driver Training Centre on the southern outskirts of Brisbane; wrote a book called ‘Drive to Survive’ and was a very vocal advocate for more extensive training of young licence holders.

I am delighted that Frank received the Order of Australia, for services to motor sport. It is a fitting tribute to his real, and dedicated contribution.

Frank Gardner was honest, earthy, vastly experienced and despite the gruff exterior was a guy who cared deeply for his friends.

Those who knew him best gathered in Melbourne just before this year’s Australian Grand Prix to witness Frank Gardner posthumously elected to the Australian Motor Racing Hall of Fame.

Franks’ widow, Gloria, and children Kristen and Steve, accepted the honour from Brett ‘Crusher’ Murray.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Having just enjoyed long stretches in the Audi Q2 and the Peugeot 2008, I’m pondering which company arrived at the optimum solution.

Both cars are similar spec – small turbocharged engines, slick automatic transmission, good on-board tech, and, Apple CarPlay, plus versatility and practicality.

The Q2 is a means to an end, and that’s for Audi to offer a complete SUV range right up to the Q7.

Alternately, Peugeot has added a ‘baby’ SUV to broaden the 208 range aimed at Francophiles who fancy something other than a regular hatchback.

Both cars drive smoothly, and handle urban roads very competently, but if I was to choose one over the other, then after a long consideration, it would have to be the French car.

The Peugeot handles better, offers better material quality in the cabin, and the three cylinder turbo 1.4L is a much more responsive engine.

I am afraid that Audi’s decision to go with cheaper, and harder, interior trims, detracts from its reputation for quality interiors, and the way the Q2 lurches when pressing on is disconcerting.

It’s a close call, but Peugeot’s 2008 is a nicer car to drive, and I think it’s also much better value for money.


Frank grew up in the small coastal town of Ulladulla, 250km south of Sydney. He lived with his uncle, Hope Bartlett, a significant racing driver and pro golfer at the time. Bartlett encouraged Frank’s interest in all things mechanical and when he showed an aptitude for racing at 17, guided him in his early exploits.

Young Frank Gardner felt confident enough to launch himself into European racing in 1958.

He won a good reputation after his first few outings, and in 1962 joined David Hobbs in his Lotus Elite at Le Mans, finishing eighth outright and also winning the Index of Thermal Efficiency.

In 1965 he had his first F1 drive, in a Brabham-BRM.

Then he joined Jack Brabham’s new enterprise, and built, and raced the Brabham Formula Junior team cars.

In 1966 he joined Alan Mann Racing, competing in a Ford GT40, Lotus Cortina and Ford Falcon. In 1967 he won the British Saloon Car Championship in an Alan Mann Ford Falcon.

Frank only once admitted to being scared, and that was after he was contacted by Porsche’s Huschke von Hanstein in 1969, to help develop the new 917.

"One day the phone rang. 'Hello Frank, this is Huschke  (Porsche's motor sport boss). We would like you to drive our new car at the Nurburgring.' I said that I was busy and recommended Brian Redman. 'Brian Redman has had a crash and is in hospital,' came the reply. Jo Siffert was my next helpful suggestion.
"Jo has had a crash and is in hospital."

Frank said:  'What the bloody hell's going on over there?' Huschke replied, 'Our new car is not so easy to drive!' He wasn't kidding." In actuality, Zuffenhausen's contracted drivers just plain refused to drive this unsorted car.

"I went over with David Piper. He did one lap, came in and said that he was too young to die!

It had no power below 5000 rpm, but over the next 1500 rpm you found another 350 bhp.

I drove it like that throughout the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometres. It poured down all the way through the race, and it was snapping sideways and aquaplaning all over the place.

It was bloody dangerous. I guess it was one of the few times that I was really scared. "

Also, in the late 1960s and 70s Frank competed in the Tasman Series, in a variety of open wheelers, and also managed a race team for patron Alec Mildren – who gave an aspiring young Kevin Bartlett a start in a very quick Alfa Romeo GTA, developed and prepared by Frank Gardner.

In 1977 he decided to return to Australia permanently. That same year he won the Australian Sports Sedan Championship driving his highly-modified Chevrolet Corvair.

Frank continued to race, up until 1983 when he turned fulltime to race engineering and team management.

Then began a famous period managing the Team JPS BMW team with drivers Jim Richards and Tony Longhurst.

Following BMW's decision to switch team management, Gardner joined driver Tony Longhurst’s own team.

They finally beat the mountain in 1988 with a decisive win with Longhurst’s Ford Sierra, co-driven with Tomas Mezera.

BMW returned to Australian racing in 1991 with a BMW E3, managed by Frank Gardner and driven by Longhurst, and 1980 F1 World Champion Alan Jones in the second team car.

Throughout his racing career in Europe, Gardner became known as a solid and reliable driver, especially in long distance races. He was valued for his maturity and skill; but in addition he also became famous for his engineering and design talents. He worked alongside both Jack Brabham, and Eric Broadley at Lola, developing and refining open wheeler race cars for all formulae.

Frank Gardner can easily be described as a quiet achiever, and a giant in the motor racing world. He eschewed the fuss and bother that went with fame, but nonetheless every person he touched during his career remembers him with fondness and respect.

Frank Gardner died in 2009.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


So what do we have here?

Platform: MQB 
Brand: Audi 
Series: 'A' class 
Model:  Mini SUV 

Right, so is this car as useful as a Q3 or Q5? After all, it has a rear skid plate, and raised suspension. Must be a rugged off-roader, right?

Wrong! The Audi Q2 is an effort to fill a gap which doesn’t exist; however it does mean Audi can offer a range of SUVs from klein to grosser.

But, the Q2 is really just an A3 with a different body, raised suspension and, before I forget, a rear skid plate - for the times the bum drags on the ground when you’re off-road. Hah! It's an affectation, nothing more.

This little baby is cute, well-built, well-finished, well-equipped and performs just as you would expect a classy Audi to. But, who will buy it? This is a car for city slickers, but to do what in?

Maybe pick up the week’s fruit and veg from the Saturday market; or take yourself to the beach for a surf; or pick up friends for a night out for dinner.

In styling terms the Q2 departs from the 'creased edge' look of its larger siblings. Audi's new design chief has evolved an 'elongated diamond' feature on the sides, which he says emulates the 'haunches' on the original Audi Quattro rallycar (?). I've altered the contrast in the photo (below) to highlight the shape.

This is an urban conveyance, but not a school express, unless you’ve only got two children, and don't pick up their friends! And, don’t count on taking it on a camping trip for a family, with all the gear.

It’s just a classy little hatchback with a case of ‘tallness’ from longer shock absorbers, and slightly softer spring rates.

The Michelin tyres seem to be quite stiff in sidewall flex so the Q2 rides very firmly on the highway, but is comfortable enough on gravel roads.

However when you start to pump up the speed on the curvy stuff it quickly becomes unsettled, and lurches from each steering change, due to the suspension's slightly longer travel. If you want a snappy-handling hatch, buy an S3.

The Q2 has an excellent level of electronic aids, Apple Car Play, probably the most intuitive control system for its associated tech, and to top it off what looks like soft Napa leather on the seats. 

The hard plastic on the door trims looks very downmarket, and I think makes a big dent in Audi's reputation for quality interiors.

Peformance-wise, there's a 1.4L TFSI petrol; a 2.0L TFSI petrol and a 2.0L TDI diesel. The 1.4L is FWD only, but the 2.0L cars get Quattro AWD and 7-speed DCT auto transmissions.

The powertrains are slick, well-sorted and responsive, even the baby 1.4.
With the seats folded, you get a more-or-less flat floor, but the trunk space (with seats raised) is not quite as much as its A3 sibling. However, you get stung $540 for choosing triple folding backrests, instead of a simple 60/40 split!

Also, despite an increase in headroom, the rear leg space is again limited, compared to the A3.

Fine for short journeys - you know; out to dinner, Saturday markets, the school run, etc.

However, I can't leave without comment on pricing policies. The test car (1.4L TFSi FWD) starts at AUD$41,100, but the option packs bring it to a tearful AUD$44,000! Ouch! You'd better love the Audi image.

The final choice comes down to the fact that you either want a ‘car’ (the A3), or a 'baby SUV thingy' (the Q2). Whichever one you choose depends on your style and taste, because both vehicles service the same needs. The Audi Q2 is a town car, plain and simple, but with aspirations to be a grown-up SUV!

Test car pricing description:
Base price: AUD$41,100
Assistance package: Adaptive cruise-control with Stop&Go function including pre-sense front, Audi active lane-assist, Audi side-assist, High bean assist, Hill hold assist, Park assist, Rollover sensor. AUD$1600
Inlays in brushed aluminium. AUD$250
Interior Lighting Package: Reading lights front and rear, illuminated vanity mirrors driver/passenger, footwell and luggage compartment lighting. AUD$300
17" Alloy wheels with 215/55 tyres. AUD$300
Rear seats folding 40/20/40 with centre armrest. AUD$450
Total for test car: AUD$44,000

I think those packages are very expensive. And, what about the Interior Lighting Package? Unless I'm mistaken most of the items on that list are standard in everything on the market! Come on Audi, that's really 'soaking' the customers!