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The photos covering the present day lap of Lobethal were taken by Australian motor racing journalist Ray Bell at the beginning of 2002. Much of the information about this circuit is from Ray’s archives and those who have helped him explain to the world just how great a circuit it was.
The first corner after the start
When I spoke to Whiteford, he described a hump-backed bridge followed by a curve, more of a kink, and from the start of the race this was the first little trick in the circuit. On this long, very fast leg of the circuit, roughly parallel to the railway and the Onkaparinga River, it was mostly flat and mostly flat out. Just six or seven gentle sweeps or kinks and the crowd at the hotel in Charleston to keep the drivers interested as the tachos showed top revs for almost three and a half miles.
Now into the village of Charleston
Then carne Kayannie Corner, a sharp intersection with an included angle of about 60 degrees, with a gentle downhill rush across the river then a climb to the brow of the hill overlooking the town. Here it got interesting as a sharp brow led into the esses, downhill esses that were tight enough to claim a lot of cars and provide plenty of spectators with a great view.
The straight that led into town came from the last left hander fairly level, but then the road simply dropped away and heavy braking was the order of the day as the T-intersection with the main street was reached.
Looks innocent enough, but you get airborne here…
At the bottom of the hill it looks like the road narrows and goes straight ahead… Not true: There
was a gate there, and this was the driveway into the Onkaparinga Woollen Mills, where the
blankets were made. The gate was left open as an escape road.
Trough Lobethal town
Gumeracha Corner, the intersection where the road to Gumeracha goes off, this is the entry to the corner, which climbs as it departs from the built-up area.
The circuit then climbed again, with a dip towards the end of the shopping centre before swinging right and beginning the roller coaster ride that sorted the men from the boys. It’s this section that defies adequate description, the three miles of ups and downs, of blind brows, of fast curves between the dairy farms that made Lobethal a legend. The Charleston section tested the engines, the run to town tested the brakes and handling, but like nowhere else in Australia – and I include McPhillamy Park, the Needle’s Eye, and every other fast corner – this stretch tested the commitment of the drivers.
Still climbing the hill and heading into the glorious and exciting run towards Mt Torrens.
It staggered me that the lap speeds recorded were possible, so I asked the 1939 AGP winner how they could have done it. “With those comers following so soon after the blind brows,” I asked, “you can’t turn a corner with your wheels off the ground, and you had to be airborne . . ?”
His response defied the capacity of a wheel rim to contain the overstressed wire spokes, the very thought that there was a conscious perception of risk. “We turned the car before we got airborne.” Forty years later he still remembered how it was done, but no way could he do it.
That completes the series, by the way. You have now done a lap of Lobethal… see the green sign? That’s the junction where we started coming up.
© Text and pictures: Ray Bel
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