History of Formula Vee in South Africa
Few racing Formulas, have succeeded for as long and been as successful, as this low cost single seater Formula. Over the years, it has provided hundreds of young men and some young women, in South Africa, the opportunity to compete in Motor Sport at National Championship level. The Formula is run by true Motor Sport enthusiasts, which has ensured that it never deviated too far from its original objective, to provide close competitive racing, at an affordable cost, in real racing cars. The continued support for the Formula shows that the need for such a class of racing still exists today.
The idea behind Formula Vee racing, was born in the United States of Dave Charlton and Tony Jefferies while in America. It began when Hurbert Brundage conceived the idea of a single seater racing car, powered by a Volkswagen Beetle engine and using a number of other Volkswagen components. The first prototype was built for Brundage by Enrico Nardi, in 1959 and has been lovingly restored by Paul Schiemer, for Herbert’s son Jan Brundage.
Based on this idea, other cars were built and this led to the formation of a Formula Vee Racing Association, in America, on the 18th January 1963. The category is still well supported in that country today and from those humble beginnings, the Formula spread across the United States and the rest of the World, arriving in South Africa in 1965.
At a meeting of interested persons, the Formula Vee Association of South Africa was formed and on the 15th May 1965, three Formula Vee cars competed at a Club Race Meeting, at Kyalami. Six weeks later, the first Formula Vee race in South Africa, was run at the same venue.
In its first year, the Formula was restricted to 1200cc air cooled John LoveVolkswagen Beetle engines. For the 1966 season, Formula Vee was granted Transvaal Championship status. This first Championship, was won by Dave Charlton, driving a Peco Vee and with assistance from Volkswagen S A, he was sent to represent South Africa in a Formula Vee race, at the Nurburgring in Germany. Unfortunately he crashed early in the race. The following year, 1300cc engines were introduced and run together with the 1200cc cars, in two separate classes. Once again a Transvaal Championship was run and this time, it was Tony Jeffries in a Capital Vee who took the honors. Again the Champion was given the opportunity, to represent South Africa overseas. Tony was sent to compete, in an International Vee race in the Bahamas. Ninety six cars, from fourteen countries, entered the event, which the Americans declared a Formula Vee World Championship race. Not only did Tony qualify for the 200 mile final but led for most of the race, in his Pretoria built Capital Vee. In the end he won the race by 13,2 seconds, from the Austrian Champion Dieter Quester, with Jochen Rindt finishing third and Dr Helmut Marko fourth. These three drivers, all became well known racing drivers. Dieter Quester won the European Touring Car Championship, four times. Jochen Rindt posthumously won, the Formula One World Championship, driving for Lotus and Dr Helmut Marko, also became a Grand Prix driver.
In 1968, Formula Vee attained South African National Championship status for the first time. That year, it was Meyer Botha’s turn to represent South Africa overseas and he was sent to Daytona, in the United States of America. In the final, he had worked his way up to sixth place, after starting near the back of the grid but then he made contact with another competitor and was flipped out of the race. Fortunately, he escaped with no more than a broken nose but that put paid to any chance of repeating Tony Jeffries’ success, from the previous year. The last of these overseas trips, saw Terry Townsend represent South Africa at the Nurburgring in Germany.
A number of top South African drivers, competed in Formula Vee, during it’s early days. They included, Cooper works Grand Prix driver Tony Maggs, six times South African National Driving Champion John Love and top Formula One and Sports Car driver Peter De Klerk. Many ex Vee drivers also moved on, to compete successfully in other categories. They include National Driving Champions, like Dave Charlton and Tony Martin. Formula Ford Champions, like Desire Wilson (Randall), Roly Nofke, Braam Smith, Basil Mann and Heinrich Lategan and Formula GTi Champions, like Basil Mann, Marco Dos Santos, Etienne Van Der Linde and Johan Smith, while ex Vee drivers Malcolm Cochrane and Tony Scott, also won the Formula GTi Class B Championship. Judy Charlton (Witter), became the first woman to win a circuit racing SA National Championship, securing the Formula Vee title, in 1973 and then went on, to share the 1977 Group One Championship, with Sarel Van Der Merwe. More recently, Marco Dos Santos and Heinrich Lategan, also distinguished themselves as privateer entries, in the South African Touring Car series, while George Ferreira won the 2001 SA Vodacom Sports Prototype Championship, Darren Murphy claimed the 2003 SA Junior Production Car Championship and Lee Thompson won the 2007 National Polo Cup Championship.
There have been a number of ex Ulrich Peterson Kyalami pits 1970sSouth African Formula Vee drivers who went on to compete successfully overseas. Mick Formarto did dome Formula Ford racing in the UK.. Tony Martin won the Daytona 24 Hour Sports Car Race, Basil Mann won various European Formula Ford 2000 Championships and Rad Dougall won both British Formula Ford 2000 Championships, in 1977. Rad then moved on, to compete in the European Formula Two Championship, finishing fifth in the Championship, in 1979. Dave Charlton had a few Grand Prix drives overseas and in 1980, Desire Wilson became the first woman, to win a Formula One race, while competing in the British Formula One series. Prior to that, she had also won Formula Ford 2000 races in England and went on, to win some Sports Car World Endurance Championship races, sharing the De Cadinet Ford, with Alain De Cadinet. She also had a once off drive in a works Tyrrell, in the South African Grand Prix (a non Championship event that year, due to a dispute between the FIA and FOCA). Desire then moved to the United States of America, where she also raced Champcars, for a while. Toby Scheckter went on, to compete overseas, as did his brother Thomas who became a Jaguar Formula One Team test driver, before moving to the United States, where he became a regular Indy Car driver. Our youngest SA National Formula Vee Champion, Etienne Van Der Linde finished second, in the 1997 British Formula Renault Championship and then went on to win the 1998 Formula Opel Euroseries Championship and Wesleigh Orr, had a few outings in the Mexican Formula Renault Championship, before spending the 2007/2008 A1GP season, touring the World as the A1 Team South Africa rookie driver.
Over the years, South Africa’s Formula Vee drivers, have had thousands of spins, hundreds of crashes and been involved in more, close multi car battles, than you could possibly imagine. Eventually, the reign of the Volkswagen Beetle Air Cooled motor came to an end an in 1990, the Water Cooled Volkswagen Golf 1300cc motor, was introduced. This move, proved to be a resounding success and a new chapter, in the history of Formula Vee racing in South Africa, was opened. For the first year, the new motor was run alongside the old Beetle motor, for a one year transitional period and by the end of the year, Heinrich Lategan had become the first driver, to win a South African National Formula Vee Championship, in a car powered by a water cooled engine and was also the first competitor from the Orange Free State, to win the title. More recent changes, to the regulations, have seen the introduction of a performance camshaft, twin carburetors and the introduction of disc brakes, while in 2004 the category upgraded the motor to 1400cc, after Volkswagen SA stopped production of the 1300cc unit. Then in 2005, the category moved away from road tires for the first time in it’s history, with the introduction of the Dunlop Formula R Semi Slick.
Anniversary events were organized,for the 21st and 25th Anniversaries, of the category in South Africa. Then in 1995, the 30th Anniversary event saw a number of overseas competitors came over, to compete in our event, including five times American Champion Bill Noble, five times German Champion Urwin Gasser, the 1997 and 2003 German Champion Joachim Lutz, the 1995 British Champion Andres Serrano and an Australian Champion, Daniel Orr. In addition to them, another American driver, another British driver, three more Germans and a Swiss driver, made the trip to South Africa, for the event.
A couple of years earlier, four South Africa drivers had competed in the American 30th Anniversary, at their own expense, including the only person at that time, to have won the South African National Formula Vee Championship three times, Gawie Gouws. Then in 1996, no less than nine South African drivers, more than likely, the biggest contingent of South African drivers to have raced in an overseas event, went to Germany for their 30th Anniversary, run on the new Nurburgring Circuit. The South African contingent distinguished themselves, with Victor Marcon, Symm Grobler, Peter Hills and Jack Tocknell, finishing second, third, fourth and fifth, in their race and Gawie Gouws, being the second of the British spec cars to finish, in his second heat.
Rob Opeka competed at the American 35th Anniversary event, in 1998 and in 2000, a small contingent of German drivers, came to South Africa, for the South African 35th Anniversary. The following year, six South Africans competed at the German 35th Anniversary event, the last race meeting at Hockenheim, before the circuit was changed dramatically, for the 2002 German Grand Prix. In 2005, South Africa celebrated the 40th Anniversary, with another event, that included overseas participation, from Germany and was run with the Altech Grand Prix Masters, at Kyalami. A week later, the annual Formula Vee Two Hour Endurance event at Zwartkops, also formed part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations and once again, a contingent of South African Formula Vee drivers visited Germany in 2006, to compete in their 40th Anniversary, at the Nurburgring.
The category continues to write new pages, to it’s long and illustrious Three Champions Gawie Gouws Stan Levin and Geoff Thorntonhistory, with Alan Holm equaling Gawie Gouws’ three National Championships, the first driver to achieve that, in three consecutive seasons, after Gouws had won his three Championships, in three different decades. Holm then went on to claim an unprecedented fourth title, in 2009. The Formula Vee Motorsport South Africa NLDTF supported development program, is also making its contribution, to the record books and in 2008, seventeen year old Courtney Steenveld, racing at his home circuit in Cape Town,two days after his father’s funeral, became the first development driver, to lead a National Championship race and the first development driver, to finish race in the top three. A few days before his eighteenth birthday, he won, at Phakisa and went on to finish third, in the 2008 South African National Formula Vee Championship. In 2009, he became the first development driver to start a National Championship Formula Vee race, from pole position and the first development driver, to head a South African National Championship point’s log. Then in 2010 Zaahir Essa came out of the development program and missed out on the Championship by one point.
After all these years, the Formula still continues to fill the roll of a low cost, entry level, National Championship Formula, providing close, exciting, action packed racing. The ideal platform, to launch South Africa’s motor racing stars of the future.