Feature News Mark WalkerMark Walker November 21, 2020 (Comments off) (41)


THE inaugural visit by the Indycars to Surfers Paradise in 1991 was surrounded by controversy, with an even bigger drama high above the Pacific Ocean almost resulting the most expensive accident in the history of motorsport.


From the outset, the event was mired in disputes, with the Jean-Marie Balestre led FISA upset with the prospect of the Championship Auto Racing Teams, or CART, spreading their wings beyond their native North America.

Life ban threats were issued to anyone who dared to compete or officiate from the CAMS side of the equation, with the undercard coming under sanctioning from Bob Janes’ local racing organisation.

Despite the politicking, the show proceeded, with the massive logistics task of transporting the fleet of 25 race cars, spare chassis, equipment and components for the first time overseas, entrusted to a pair of Boeing 747 cargo jets.

The itinerary saw a two-stop journey across the Pacific, one refuelling pause in Honolulu, the other in Fiji.

CART’s Assistant Operations and Technical Director Billy Kamphausen was on one of the planes, and he retold the harrowing tale of the trip to Lewis Franck, with the yarn originally printed in “The Men and Machines of Indy Car Racing, CART 1991-92”.

With only 600m of decent left on the second leg into Nadi, the call came from the control tower to abort due to debris, which as it transpires was a 767 parked broadside across the runway.

Diverting to Pago Pago in American Samoa, some 1,200km away was an issue: the plane had 1hr 50min worth of fuel for the 2hr 7min journey.

Even without aeronautical engineering credentials, one can see that 17min difference is massively problematic.

With the available options including swimming, the pilots opted to climb slowly, before gently gliding down onto the target runway space shuttle style.

Clearly, the event happened, so the plane didn’t crash… but that would only be telling half of the story.

On final approach, the cockpit on the big bird lit up like a Christmas tree, with a rear rudder failure complicating matters hugely for the already highly stressed pilots, who despite a 55km/h crosswind, managed to bring the Jumbo to rest without damage.

Fortuitously for the flying circus, a former 747 assembly worker was living on the islands, and was able to carry out repairs with only an eight hour delay to proceedings.

The scene of the two jets in Pago Pago clearly caught the attention of the locals, who were also drawn to the foreign visitors by their PPG branded attire, which coincidently was the call sign for the airport.

“Local island television took footage of the race cars on both of the planes,” said Kamphausen.

“At that point we had the run of the airport, our CART credentials got us all over the place, even cleared customs.”

The excitement didn’t quite end there, with the jets now topped up with almost all of the avgas available in the country, the weather had one final play in mind.

“It looked like a tornado,” said Kamphausen on watching the other plane take off first.

“There was a flutter of excitement. That plane reached the end of the runway and its wheels touched the sand berm there, but it lifted off.”

Good grief…

Stay tuned for more classic yarns from this groundbreaking event…

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