2017 Leyburn Sprints preview

From an electric sports car, to a home-built special and a priceless ex-factory Toyota world rally car, the 22nd Historic Leyburn Sprints in August is set to maintain its reputation for the unique, unusual and unbeatable.

The starting line-up is expected to total almost 210 cars dating from the 1920s to modern-day for the annual round-the-houses time-trials on August 19-20, which commemorate the running of the 1949 Australian Grand Prix (AGP) at Leyburn.

The tiny Darling Downs town around 210kms west of Brisbane is usually quiet, but comes alive for the Sprints. With little fixed accommodation available, most competitors and many spectators camp around the track environs or at a dedicated camping ground. The only pub, the 1863-licensed Royal Hotel, is a hub of good cheer.

“Leyburn’s relaxed atmosphere and country hospitality are special, but the amazing array of cars is the real drawcard,” Leyburn Sprints spokesman Chris Nixon said.

“The historic star will be Colin Schiller’s MG TB single-seater, one of the original 1949 grand prix entries. A blown engine forced it out of that race after 21 laps, but the MG has contested five AGPs in a long and lively career that has now come full circle.

“The un-supercharged 1939 MG is making its first appearance at Leyburn since 1949. Its light weight and well-developed engine suggest it will be highly competitive.”

Darling Downs enthusiasts will welcome “home” the RJ1 Repco Holden Special, a single-seat racer built around 1965 by Ray Jorgensen of Pittsworth and making its Leyburn debut.

Jorgensen set records at Toowoomba’s Echo Valley and Warwick’s Weewondilla II hillclimbs and won the first event at the MG Car Club’s Mount Cotton track in 1968. The car was sold around 1970 to the late Ron Wingett and competed successfully for 20 years.

Wingett’s sons Steven and Jason recently completed a 1000-hour restoration of the RJ1 and will run it at Leyburn in preparation for an appearance at Mt Cotton’s 50th anniversary event next February.

Even before Canberra entrant Phil Pratt turns a wheel, he’s virtually guaranteed the inaugural lap record for electric cars.

Pratt converted his 1999 Hooper Group 2C sports car to electricity last year and reports its performance so far is similar to – but quieter! – than the previous petrol-powered version.

The Hooper EV’s stealthy, efficient performance will be starkly contrasted by the 1996 Toyota Team Europe Celica GT-Four of Adelaide’s Stuart Bowes.

The turbocharged, all-wheel drive ST205 Celica contested the World and European Rally Championships in the hands of legendary Belgian Freddy Loix, while Mathias Kahle drove it to the 1997 German Rally Championship.

Bowes, for many years one of the world’s top professional rally photographers, is now satisfying his passion for the sport from behind the wheel. He’ll also be bringing his other car, a 1975 Mercedes-Benz 450SLC safari rally replica.

Driven by Stuart’s brother Angus, the big German V8 might find Leyburn’s tight corners and chicanes a challenge to its handling, but it promises to be loud and spectacular.

The community-run Sprints are supported by Tourism and Events Queensland’s Queensland Destination Events Program and assist local organisations and projects including, this year, the Leyburn State School.

Adult tickets are $20 a day or $30 for the weekend, with children under 14 admitted free. Racing starts at 8am on Saturday and Sunday and the event will feature many off-track attractions, including a Show ‘n’ Shine, Vintage Caravan Display, markets, cafes and licensed bars.