Having dominated their class in the 2010 historic racing series this lanky young dude and his classic fast Ford will be a combo to beat at the Zwartkops Golden Age Festival

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#T was one of the races of the season in the 2010 Historic pre-1966 Production Car series, also known as "Etana Legends of the Nine Hour','so-named in honour of the cars that thrilled up to 100 000 spectators in the golden age of motorsport at the old Kyalami. For most of the 1960s, the now defunct Rand Daily Mail sponsored a unique event that somewhat nonchalantly mixed home-grown modified saloons with the cream of international long-distance sportscars. Porsches, Ferraris and Ford GT40s were amongst the trophy-winners, but Renaults, Volvos and Anglias also had their place in the sun - not to mention the annual torrential downpour at around 5 pm.

Some 45 years later on a crisp spring day, a pristine Shelby-ised Mustang Fastback started in second place on the grid at the Zwartkops Raceway, some 30 km north of Kyalami, behind a massive, intimidating Chev Biscayne that looked just like the Batmobile after NASCAR's good ol' boy Junior Johnson got hold of it.

Into the hairpin for the very first time, the Mustang dived for the inside line - fast, much too fast - and spun out. And thence began a fight-back from the tail of the field that kept the crowd shouting and pointing and grinning and shaking heads, and most of the back-markers out on track fearing for their paintwork.

The Mussie at speed. Motivation is provided by a Ford Motorsport 'Crate' motor with 485 horsepower-for you youngsters, that's 362 kW - on tap.

On the final corner of the final lap, the Mustang launched its attack on the Biscayne, which had led all the way. In a beautiful ly-executed display of late, on-the-limit braking, and then fudging the exit line so that the big Chev couldn't slip by on the inside, it was victory spoils to the Mustang, and although there were excellent performances all the way through the field from Minis and Malibus and an indecently-quick Ford Anglia, the Mustang's sally had swept all before it.

That race marked the end of a remarkable season in which a brand new car with a brand new driver had won its class and only just missed scooping overall championship honours.

Time to go and meet the driver of this beast, a wild horse of a car with more than a trace of snake venom in its Detroit veins. By the way he drove, he'd probably be one of those swashbuckling heroes you read about in books on the old Nine Hour legends, playing gross pranks on his pit-crew and guffawing in a coarse manner. Yeah, fun-neeee, but so glad not to be around all that testosterone for the rest of the week.

And there, checking out the tyre-wear on his steed was this young dude who you'd have no problem introducing to your first-born daughter; maybe tossing him the keys to your 911, and saying "hey, bring her back when the mood grabs you, I can see you aren't up to monkey business.You're into poetry, right?"Thomas Falkiner looks much younger than his 27 years. He's lean to the point of skinniness, although there's obviously plenty of steel in that lanky frame of his. His very first race was in the polar-white Mustang just on a year ago, and so many people had told him he was crazy, how could he race a car like that first time out?

The '65 'Stang is one large chunk of metal, and now that it's had its camber altered for the track, big fat Bridgestone Potenza rubber on American Racing five-spoke mags, stiff Koni shocks and a Ford Motorsport "Crate" motor installed, it is indeed a wild ride. "I just love this car," he says in his engaging fresh-faced manner. "The first time I raced it at the Springbok Revival meeting at Kyalami at the end of 2009,1 was so wired I wanted to vomit. I still get like that, but once I'm strapped in, I can smell the brakes, the rubber, I settle down. By the time the race starts, I just wanna win!"

As a young boy his dad,Tim, took him to the last South African Grand Prix run on the old Kyalami track. Nelson Piquet (Snr) put his hand up to signal he was slowing down and youngThomas thought he was waving at him and that was it, he was hooked on cars.

"I studied advertising after school and worked in the industry, but I loved creative writing and started submitting pieces to the SundayTimes, and then got a job there as a sub-editor. When David Bullard left they needed a motoring writer and there I was, it was a no-brainer."

Thomas had always wanted to race, but even karting was beyond his financial reach. But as a young hot-shot motoring hack he contented himself with driving high-powered road cars

The Mussie at speed. Motivation is provided by a Ford Motorsport 'Crate' motor with 485 horsepower-for you youngsters, that's 362 kW - on tap.

Told he was crazy


Thomas writes about cars for a living and has spent some time OJ-ing. But he has the greatest fun when he's behind the wheel. 'You just want to get to the front of the pack,' he says.

Thomas was in his element, having such a feeling for older cars, because, as he says of the Mustang, "This car is just primal.The Crate motor we use gives a guaranteed 485 horsepower, and that is serious. It's rear-wheel drive, everything is so immediate, it's not like a modern car. Don't get me wrong, I respect what modern cars are about, the amazing technology, but by comparison they are so clean and clinical."

His favourite racing drivers reflect an appreciation of the sport's history too. "I dig James Hunt because he was so flamboyant and eccentric, Gilles Villeneuve was a god, and then of course, there was Ayrton Senna."

So suddenly, a month or two after his track d├ębut, the young self-proclaimed closet racing driver found himself rubbing shoulders in the paddock with people for his articles in TheTimes and SundayTimes and, most importantly, enjoying race track time during the occasional high-performance new vehicle launches.

Meanwhile, his godfather Craig Cumming had been getting serious about running a Ford Mustang in the historic racing championship at tracks like Zwartkops, Midvaal and Phakisa. He'd acquired a '65 Fastback, one of the original cars brought into the country by the Ford Motor Company of SA and still carrying its Port Elizabeth assembly plate under the hood.

Historic racer Gordon Law began the task of turning it into a racer for Craig, a job that was brilliantly completed by well-known race and rally-car builder Rod Herring. "I raced a Formula Ford back in the '70s and nearly killed myself in the thing after tangling with a guy called Alastair Gibson, who eventually became chief mechanic for the Honda Formula One racing team," says Craig.

"The car was in pretty good nick as a road car, but I had this dream to turn it into a Shelby racer. After a five-year build the

Mustang was ready to race, but after trying it for a few laps I realised that I would be far better as an entrant and that's when we decided to put the kid in the car."

"The Kid" says he was instrumental in getting his godfather to buy a Mustang after becoming obsessed with the Steve McQueen movie, Bullit. For a child of the 1980s,Thomas has an awesome knowledge of stuff that should be the province of old hippies from the '60s, like who replaced Brian Jones as second lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones - that sort of arcane detail.

His writing style reflects a growing appreciation of young adults for the intrinsic connection between cars and rock 'n roll and, in fact,Thomas has done some DJ-ing in his brief career.

"In my writing I try to always work-in lifestyle stuff which makes the subject of cars more accessible. I don't dig the press release style of motoring journalism, I like to have fun with it."

His fun quotient enjoyed a huge blip in his first race at Kyalami, where he pretty much stayed out of trouble and finished fourth in class. But

he'd only read about in old magazines, like David Piper, star of the Nine Hour in the 1960s, and still very much part of the annual international historic festival at Zwartkops run in late-January each year by Peter duToit.

"Ah man, I was racing against Sarel van der Merwe in my second race. He's like this legend. I was a bit intimidated by him, I didn't get to speak to him, but he was just so... uuh, Quentin Tarantino, you know? He arrives in the paddock smoking, gruff voice, like this presence. He's great."

As the season progressed and Thomas found himself getting to grips with the 'Stang, he impressed even hardened veterans with his skill behind the wheel.

"He drives well, that laaitie" said Alan Poulter, a 30-year veteran in the sport who regularly performs giant-killing acts in his Volvo 122 against Mustangs, the Ford Galaxie driven by Sarel and the DuToit brothers, Mark and Jonathan, who alternate with the Chev Biscayne and the Chev Malibu.

That's high praise indeed from Poulter, a man who can really make a car talk, and a view from where it really counts, because out on the track there are no secrets between racers, each can tell exactly what it takes to go quickly or not, and whether it's just pure horse-power that's giving the edge to a performance.

So well-prepared was the Rod Herring-run Mustang, not to say very, very quick, that the rookie ended up winning his class in his very first year. He also managed to organise serious sponsorship from Etana Insurance, as well as The Times/Sunday Times newspapers, and the livery on the white Mustang looks really cool as it retains a classic feel so much in keeping with the spirit of the Nine Hour and all that the race stands for.

The next biggie on the calendar isThe Golden Age of Motoring Historic Festival, sponsored by Execuline and Etana insurance groups, to be run at Zwartkops on January 28 to 30 and then moving down to Killarney the following week end. As every year, there will be host of international historic cars and drivers competing against our country's finest.

"We are moving up a class to theTrans Am category, so its even more power, bigger brakes, stickier rubber," saysThomas. "But now I'm going to be up against the super-hardcore dudes, Ben Morgenrood and Willie Hepburn, and those guys take no prisoners. I'm getting nervous even now thinking about it, but for sure I want to beat them.

"When you are in the car, it's just you and the car, time out on a Saturday afternoon. You don't worry about your hassles at graft, the girl that didn't call you back, nothing.You just want to get to the front of the pack.Thanks to my godfather Craig, this is all like a dream, it's bizarre that I'm actually doing this. But I love every second of it. It's great." car

So Quentin Tarantino

CAR January 2011

Not for Sale to Persons Under the Age of 18


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