Last year marked the 70th anniversary of Ferrari – arguably the world’s most recognised and powerful brand. The Prancing Horse hosted birthday celebrations in more than 60 countries during the course of the year, giving their loyal fan base a chance to join in on the festivities.
Australia also made the list with a party headlined by two very special guests: a $12-million-dollar car and the country’s only ever Ferrari factory race driver, Tim Schenken OAM.
The latter was tasked with escorting the other special guest, the LaFerrari Aperta. The new limited-edition spider version of the LaFerrari supercar was launched to mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the company and Schenken couldn’t hide his pleasure at being behind the wheel of this beauty.
“It was lovely. Amazing. Even at 60 kilometres an hour it’s a beautiful car to drive. You don’t have to be doing 200 or 100 or whatever,” he said.
“It wasn’t that difficult [to keep to 60km/h]. If you’re used to driving in Australia you have to respect the speed limits, whether you agree with them or disagree with them. And we had a hundred Ferraris following so we couldn’t very well disappear into the distance.”
The 74-year-old, who currently serves as Director of Racing Operations with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2016 for his achievements in Motorsport.
Schenken made his Formula 1 debut at the 1970 Austrian Grand Prix and while he would go on to secure one podium and score a total of seven Championship points in his career, his greatest success would lie in racing sports cars.
His association with the Prancing Horse began in 1971 and although he inadvertently stood up one Mr Enzo Ferrari, he still got the job.
“I thought someone was pulling my leg. It was the Italian Grand Prix in 1971 and I was driving for Brabham,” he recalled.
“A lady came up and asked me to come to the Ferrari truck at the end of practice and I ignored her, I didn’t know who she was. And I did that for two days. And then the second time, I thought ‘Maybe there’s something in this’, so I followed her down to the Ferrari pit and it was actually the wife of Peter Schetty, the then team manager of Ferrari.
“Mr Ferrari had come up the night before to meet me so I was into a hire car straight away, I still had my overalls on, and across to a village, to a hotel there and Mr Ferrari was there waiting. So I could hardly turn him down.”
When it was suggested he must have been keen as one wouldn’t imagine Mr Ferrari waited for too many people, he laughs, “Well maybe he had other things to do as well. But it’s a good story.”
It is a good story, and one that saw him take victory in the Buenos Aires 1000km in 1972, his first for the Italian stable. That year he went on to win the Nürburgring 1000km and finished second in the Daytona 6 Hour, Sebring 12 Hour, Brands Hatch 1000km and the Watkins Glen 6 Hour (pictured below) all at the wheel of the Ferrari 312PB.
While drivers today dream and aspire to join the team at Maranello, the Australian admits the romance of the Scuderia was lost on him at the time.
“To be honest, Ferrari was just another race team. I was trying to be a world champion, driving in Formula 1, so I didn’t really look upon it the way I do today.
“I look at it very differently today. And to be honest, I should have appreciated it more when I was driving for them. We had wonderful times, we had some great victories. As I say, it was just another race team.
“It sounds silly,” he reflects. “But that’s the way it was.”
Ferrari have a rich motorsport history, in both sports cars and Formula 1 – currently holding the record for Constructors’ Championships in the latter, with an unmatched total of 16. When things are going well at Maranello, they go very well. But when things are bad, they are not the easiest team to get along with.
“Now there’s no question what you’re saying, no debate about it. It’s an Italian team, so it’s Latin [and] they’re very emotional,” Schenken recalls.
“Ferrari perhaps show their emotions more externally than Mercedes, who are the other way. Not introverted, but they deal with their problems and issues and victories in a different way.
“The name Ferrari, if you talk about any logo, identity anywhere in the world, Ferrari has to be ahead of everything else. Coca-Cola all the rest of them.”
While the politely spoken Schenken may not have unleashed the racing driver within when parading the LaFerrari Aperta through the streets of Melbourne last year, it was a very different story back in his heyday. It’s a far cry from more exuberant times with the likes of Ronnie Peterson at Daytona.
Schenken laughs in recollection of this story, and then explains:
“So we were racing in ’72, a 1000km race, and the night before we went to go and have a meal somewhere as we were sick and tired of eating at the Holiday Inn. So we asked Mario Andretti where some nice restaurants were and he said there are lots of restaurants on Daytona Beach.
“We went down there and had dinner. Afterwards we noticed some cars driving up and down on the beach and Ronnie said, ‘Look you can get onto the beach there’ (I was the sucker driving), ‘Take the ramp onto the beach’. So full throttle, over the ramp, probably 70mph, onto the beach, big power slide right in front of a police car. It was a 25mph speed limit there.
“So we stopped immediately, but we had no ID on us so we went back to the police station, down into the area where the cells were with all the drunks and others down there. We were sort of stuck because we had no ID. And one of us thought, ‘Hang on now Ronnie wasn’t driving, he could go back and get the ID’, so off he went.
“But Ronnie being Ronnie went out of the carpark with the wheels spinning and suddenly there was an all-points bulletin to stop the car.
“So 20 minutes later he came back in, very sheepish. We were allowed a phone call so I rang Peter Schetty, the team manager, who rang Bill Franz, the owner of Daytona, and they released us.
“We got back, it was late. And we weren’t that welcome the following morning when we arrived at the track.”
When I suggest he most likely left that off his CAMS application Schenken grins cheekily, “I left that off. And lots of other stories like that.”
Images via CAMS, Ferrari, Pinterest