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The Sundown Grand Prix

 

One of the most unique events in Canadian road racing history was the annual Sundown Grand Prix. Except for a few years in the early 1960's, it ran from 1959 to 1976. The race, organized by the North Toronto Motorsport Club, began in the late afternoon and finished 6 hours later in the complete darkness. It also featured a Le Mans style start.

Roger Penske, winner of the 1959 O'Keefe Sundown Grand Prix

The inaugral event was July 25, 1959 and was held at the Harewood Acres circuit, near Jarvis, Ontario. O'Keefe Breweries was the sponsor of the 6 hour event that featured 50 entries. That first Sundown was won by Harry Blanchard and Roger Penske in a Porsche RSK. Three laps behind in second place was the Ferrari of Ralph Durbin and Max Goldman. Francis Bradley had a rough weekend. He had engine trouble with his own car in practice and had to withdraw. Bernard Vihl came to the track with a Porsche RSK but no co-driver. He teamed up with Bradley for the race. Late in the race they had moved up to second place but with Bradley driving, the car dropped out with gearbox problems. Almost half the field failed to complete the race.

The second event was also sponsored by O'Keefe and the Sundown returned to Harewood. It was later in the year this time - October 1, 1960. It was a cold night as about 3000 fans at the 1960 Sundown witnessed a see-saw battle between Peter Ryan / Roger Penske and Francis Bradley / Ludwig Heimrath. Each team was driving a Porsche RS60. Ryan led the early laps until Heimrath passed him on lap 6. Heimrath held the lead until nearly the half-way point when he spun out avoiding a crash in the esses, handing the lead back to Ryan. In the end, the victory went to Ryan and Penske as they finished about a minute ahead of Bradley and Heimrath. The time difference was made during the pit stops to change drivers. The pit stop for Ryan to hand the car over to Penske took three minutes while it took five minutes for Bradley to take over from Heimrath. Twenty-three cars finished the race out of 40 starters. The total purse was $2700, with $800 to the winners.

O'Keefe was eager to sponsor the first two races because, at the time, it was illegal for brewers to have direct advertising on TV, radio, etc. The laws changed in 1961 and no sponsor was found. Due to this, the Sundown disappeared for a few years but returned in 1964, this time at Mosport. The entire 1964 event was held in very rainy conditions that held the crowd down to about 1300 spectators. Lap speeds were kept down as competitors had to deal with the spray of the car in front of them. The Austin-Healey 3000 of Don Kindree and Al Pease took the victory in the shorter, 4 hour race. Placing second was the Volvo P-1800 driven by Albert Hoogenbloom and Roly Stinson, two laps behind the winners. Only 22 cars started the race, with 18 finishers.

Drivers race for their cars in the Le Mans-style start in 1965

Eppie Wietzes and Craig Fisher, driving a Comstock Mustang, dominated the 1965 race by leading all but 2 laps. The lead was lost briefly when they had to pit for a black flag due to removing their head light covers too early in the race. The Comstock Mustang began experiencing brake problems with about two hours remaining. This allowed the Austin-Healey 3000 of Don Kindree and Al Pease to close in slightly each lap but time ran out and Kindree / Pease finished second, only 11 seconds behind. Sam Burd crashed hard in turn 4 and had to be taken to hospital.

1966 winner George Eaton

The 1966 Sundown saw a duel between the Cobra of George Eaton / Craig Fisher and the Ford GT40 of Eppie Weitzes / Francois Favreau. Weitzes and Favreau eventually dropped out at around the five hour mark with rear end failure. With no other serious challengers, Eaton and Fisher cruised to a 25 lap win over Martin Chenhall and Gary Magwood in a MGB. The car count was down again - this time only 15 cars started the Sundown. Nine were running at the end.

The Sundown was reduced to 100 laps in 1967 for a race time of about 3 and-a-half hours. The start time was moved to 8:00 pm. Due to the shorter race, entries were limited to one driver only. The race began in a light rain with Bill Brack taking the early lead in the 27 car field. Maurice Carter, in a Camaro, took over the lead when Brack pitted. Brack retook the lead on lap 81 on the now dry track. Gord Dewar passed Maurice Carter in the late stages as Carter's car began to falter. Meanwhile, Brack was pulling away up front. He was forced into the pits with 8 laps to go to serve a penalty for having too many men over the wall during an earlier pitstop. Brack remained in the lead during his stop and won quite easily in his Lotus 47. Dewar and Carter finished second and third.

In 1968 the Sundown was back to a 6 hour contest. The Sundown had always been the headline event of the weekend, supported by other regional classes. That changed in 1968 as it shared the headline with the SCCA Formula A cars. Maurice Carter and Nat Adams ran a steady race and took the victory in their Camaro. Rainer Brezinka and Horst Petermann, driving a Porsche 904, finished in second, 2 laps back. Eppie Weitzes was the first car away from the Le Mans start but dropped out with a clogged fuel line. Stan Ward and John Cordts led many of the early laps but had to drop out due to gearbox problems in their Shelby 350.

The 1969 race also shared the bill with now renamed SCCA Continental Formula A series. The Sundown was dominated by Rainer Brezinka and Horst Peterman in their Porsche 906. Brezinka and Peterman started from the pole and led every lap. They set a race record average of 83.61 mph and beat the second place entry of Mo Carter and Al Mason by 13 laps. Mason and Carter were held up by a 20 minute pit stop for a faulty alternator which put them back to 13th place. They eventually worked their way back to second. The winners picked up $240 for their efforts.

Harry Bytzek, in his Porsche 911T, was the first away in the Le Mans start of the 1970 race. Martin Chenhall passed him and then immediately drove off in turn 8, damaging the front of the car. Chenhall, who was sharing the driving duties with Gary Magwood, made a few pit stops for repairs but eventually retired the car on lap 9. Maurice Carter was one of the last away from the grid but very quickly began making up ground. He worked his way through the field and took the lead on lap 5. The car ran smoothly for next 135 laps and the duo of Carter and Craig Fisher had built up a lead of 10 laps. That all went away on lap 140 when Fisher noticed flames coming through the floorboards. An electrical fire put the Carter / Fisher squad out of the race. This handed the lead to
Willy Goebbels and Gerhard Hirsch in a Porsche 911S. They held on to the lead for the remaining 2 hours and won the race. Oddly enough, the second place position went to the dune buggy driven by Bill Heemsoth and Uwe Falkenburg. Seventeen of the twenty five starters were running at the end.

The slower "B" cars started first in the 1971 Sundown and once they were off the grid, the green flag was thrown for the "A" cars. The "A" cars had caught the tail end of the "B" cars by the end of the first lap. In took 4 laps for the 427 Cobra of John Risley and Dave Fram to take the lead. Maurice Carter and Craig Fisher passed them soon after. The two cars exchanged the lead a couple more times on pit stops. The Carter / Fisher Camaro suffered a broken rear axle while trying to catch the Cobra after one such pit stop. The broken axle put them out of the race, leaving Risley and Fram alone in the lead. While running in second place, the Porsche 911 of Jacques Bienvenue and David McConnell blew an engine leaving Klaus and Harry Bytzek in second. The lead Cobra of Risley and Fram suffered transmission problems, keeping it stuck in fourth gear. The Bytzek Porsche closed in but ran out of time and the 1971 Sundown was won by John Risley and Dave Fram.

Fritz Hochreuter and Ludwig Heimrath won the 1972 Sundown by two laps over Klaus and Harry Bytzek who drove a Porsche 914. Finishing in third was Bill Adam and Maurice Carter in a Corvette. The Le Mans start was dropped for 1972 and would not be used again. Pre-race favourites Roger and Maurice McCaig dropped out due to electrical problems with their Lola T212. Heimrath had originally planned to drive an additional car as well - the Hans Hefti / Imfield Porsche. That car dropped out after only forty-five minutes, leaving Heimrath to drive with Hochreuter only.

BF Goodrich became the title sponsor of the Sundown Grand Prix in 1973. The 1973 event was part of the Dominion to Independence Day Sprints on the July 1 weekend.
Ludwig Heimrath and Craig Hill took the victory by four laps over the Byztek brothers, who finished second for the third year in a row. The race was halted by a red flag at about the 90 minute mark when Willy Goebbels spun in turn 4, bounced off both guardrails, rolled, slid down the track and finally came to rest back on his wheels. Goebbels was unhurt in the incident, but officials called for the red flag to clean up.

Rain delayed the start of the 1974 race, with action finally getting underway at 7:20 pm. The midnight curfew meant the race would not be the full six hours, but rather about four hours and forty minutes. Maurice Carter and Ludwig Heimrath swapped the lead several times in the first few laps. This battle ended on lap 33 when Carter's engine blew. Heimrath shared the driving chores with Craig Hill for the second year in a row. Heimrath and Hill led most of the remaining laps without much challenge. The only time they lost the lead was during a pit stop. Finishing 2 laps behind, were Jacques Bienvenue and Marc Dancose in a Porsche 911 RSR. BF Goodrich returned as title sponsor.

The start of the 1975 BF Goodrich Sundown Grand Prix was delayed until 6:07 pm from its scheduled 5:30 pm start. An earlier curfew of 11:30 pm meant the 1975 race would only be about 5 hours and 22 minutes. It appeared that there was going to be a repeat of the previous three years, when Ludwig Heimrath took the lead on the first lap and led for the first four and a half hours along with co-driver Rudi Bartling. Their race ended with electrical problems. Harry Bytzek and Horst Kroll took the lead and won the race. Kroll was a last-minute driving partner for Bytzek. Bytzek had withdrawn his entry earlier in the afternoon when he was without a co-driver. Although a long-time racer himself, Kroll had been at the track as a spectator that weekend. Bytzek spotted him in the pits and asked him to co-drive. Kroll agreed and had to send someone back to his home in Toronto to get his driving gear. The winners received $1300. Forty cars started the race and there were 18 finishers. Marcel Talbot and Jacques Bienvenue finished second.

Gary Hirsch and Ray Brezinka dominated the 1976 BF Goodrich Sundown Grand Prix. Both were former winners of the event (known as Gerhard Hirsch and Ranier Brezinka back then). They qualified on the pole and led every lap in their six year old Porsche 908. The margin of victory was 11 laps over Klaus Bytzek and Rudy Bartling. Hirsch and Brezinka had built up a 16 lap lead but with 37 minutes to go Hirsch pitted to clear dirt from the fuel pump and to make repairs to a broken exhaust manifold. This would be the last year for the Sundown Grand Prix as title sponsor BF Goodrich did not return.

The Sundown Grand Prix name has returned for 2005. On May 21, the 3 hour Victoria Day Sundown Grand Prix will be run at Mosport.


Sundown Grand Prix Winners

July 25, 1959

Harry Blanchard/Roger Penske

Harewood Acres

Porsche RSK

234 laps

October 1, 1960

Peter Ryan/Roger Penske

Harewood Acres

Porsche RS60

-

August 22, 1964

Don Kindree/Al Pease

Mosport

Austin-Healey 3000

4 hours, 101 laps

August 21, 1965

Eppie Wietzes/Craig Fisher

Mosport

Comstock Mustang

6 hours, 198 laps

August 20, 1966

George Eaton/Craig Fisher

Mosport

Cobra 427

6 hours, 201 laps

August 19, 1967 Bill Brack Mosport Lotus 47 3.5 hours, 100 laps

August 25, 1968

Maurice Carter/Nat Adams

Mosport

Camaro

6 hours, 190 laps

August 23, 1969

Rainer Brezinka/Horst Peterman

Mosport

Porsche 906

6 hours, 204 laps

August 22, 1970

Willy Goebbels/Gerhard Hirsch

Mosport

Porsche 911S

6 hours, 188 laps

August 21, 1971

John Risley/Dave Fram

Mosport

Cobra 427

6 hours, 203 laps

July 2, 1972

Fritz Hochreuter/Ludwig Heimrath

Mosport

Porsche 911S

6 hours, 204 laps

June 30, 1973

Ludwig Heimrath / Craig Hill

Mosport

Porsche 911RS

6 hours, 207 laps

June 29, 1974

Ludwig Heimrath / Craig Hill

Mosport

Porsche 911 Carrera RSR

6 hours, 174 laps

June 29, 1975

Harry Bytzek / Horst Kroll

Mosport

Porsche 911 Carrera RSR

5 hours, 22 minutes, 198 laps

July 3, 1976

Gary Hirsch / Ray Brezinka

Mosport

Porsche 908

5 hours, 40 minutes, 207 laps


Program covers


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1976

 

The photos on this page appeared in Canada Track & Traffic and were taken by John Plow.

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