Statistics, Pedantry and Australians in Australia

A number of television pundits and reporters have spent the weekend noting that the 2012 Australian Grand Prix was the first to run with two Australian drivers.

This is not quite true.

Having been inaugurated in 1928, the most recent event was the 77th to hold the title “Australian Grand Prix”.
Although the race has been short of Australian drivers – bar Mark Webber and more recently Daniel Ricciardo – since it joined the World Championship in 1985, the race has plenty of local history.

After suffering a five-day weather delay, the 1928 running of the event* took place at Phillip Island in Victoria and was won by Adelaide native Captain Arthur Waite.
Driving a super-charged Austin 7, the World War I veteran claimed the race by 3-and-a-half minutes from John McCutcheon in his Morris Cowley. Cyril Dickason came home 3rd the Austin 12 machine.
The format of the race ensured Waite met with little rearward antagonism. Prior to the start, the field was split into two, with each-half running 16 laps. Running in the second heat, Waite finished seven minutes clear of the next man, Arthur Terdich.
Once each race was complete, the times from the two heats were compiled onto a single list, finalising the result. For his troubles, Terdich was classified 4th overall.

Prior to his Phillip Island adventures, Waite also won the Easter Small Car Handicap at Brooklands, before taking the Grand Prix Cyclecars at Monza in 1923. A year later, Waite raced at the fifth Le Mans Mans Grand Prix (not the 24 Hour Race), taking 3rd in the 750cc Voiturette Class.

Bar a few minor gaps, the Australian Grand Prix has been run almost continuously since its inception, although its position in the motor racing world received a huge boost when it gained Formula 1 status.
However, that did created a barrier for national racers to compete in the nation’s key event.

Run to Formula Mondial rules, the 1984 Australian Grand Prix from Calder Park hosted sixteen homeland drivers, with fifteen taking to the starting grid**. It was won after 100 laps by Roberto Moreno in the Ralt-Ford, who came home 30 seconds ahead of former world champion Keke Rosberg, while Andrea de Cesaris finished 3rd.
Newly crowned triple-world champion Niki Lauda, suffered a collision while lapping Terry Ryan on the 41st lap, ensuring his day was quickly finished.

* {note 1}
Technically, the opening event was called the “100 Miles Road Race” and did not obtain the title of Australian Grand Prix until some years later.

** {note 2}
Touring car racer Peter Williamson suffered a large accident during practice, effectively writing off his Toyota-powered Toleman.
Emerging from wreckage somewhat unscathed, Williamson announced his immediate retirement from single-seater racing, while Toleman withdrew from the rest of the weekend. By the time qualifying had begun, the team were packed up and ready to leave.

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