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Interview: Five minutes with Tim Schenken OAM

By Chris Thompson | Photos: Nathan Jacobs & Getty Images, 30 Oct 2017 Features

Tim Schenken

MOTOR speaks with the only Australian to drive for a factory-backed Ferrari team

He’s probably the only person in the room who could get away with – even gently – leaning on the rear wing of a Ferrari F50, but he still notices what he’s doing and stops himself.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have been doing that!”

A light wipe from the cotton sleeve of Tim Schenken OAM and the red paint is again unmarked. Over the last five decades, Schenken has built up one of the most internationally impressive motorsport resumes an Australian can have.

After travelling to the UK at the age of 22, racing F1 cars for Brabham-Ford, becoming Ferrari’s only Australian driver, and winning the 1000km of Buenos Aires race in its final year, Schenken has seemingly done it all.

Bernard CahierGraham Hill and Tim Schenken (Photo: Bernard Cahier, Getty)

“For someone who fell in love with motorsport at the age of 12 to still be involved with it now, I’m 75 next year, is pretty special,” Schenken told MOTOR after lifting his arm from the F50.

“I work for CAMS, so I’m the race director for the Supercars series, and I’m the Chairman for the committee of the Australian Grand Prix – and the clerk of the course. In fact, I’ve been the clerk of the course since the first one in Adelaide in ’85.

“I’m also involved with the FIA, on the Touring Car Commission and I’m vice president of the Circuit Commission which is responsible for circuit safety. I’m also one of the inspectors so I’m often doing track inspections, across pretty much all of Asia.

“And I’m one of the permanent stewards for Formula E, which has me doing about four races a year. Last season I did Mexico, New York, and Berlin, So I’ve got a full life and I enjoy it.”

Presently, Schenken is with Ferrari to celebrate the brand’s 70th anniversary, after having been associated with the Prancing Horse for most of his life.

“Working with Ferrari has been sort of in-and-out, I was invited to be part of this, and on Monday I led the parade in the LaFerrari Aperta from Albert Park to Langwarrin to a function there. We had 100 cars following us at 60km/h, but even doing 60 you can appreciate a Ferrari.”

Aside from those he’s raced, Schenken finds it hard to pinpoint the most significant Ferrari in his life. “They’re all fantastic. Once you’ve driven Ferrari, whether it’s old or new, there’s something special about it. And maybe that’s just the mystique of the man and the brand, but they’re all lovely to drive.

“But I haven’t actually driven most of the cars that are here. Even when I drove for Ferrari, I can’t think of many road cars I did drive. Sometimes at Fiorano, when there was a break, we’d jump off the track into a road car then head up and have a wander around the factory. Not sure you could do that today.”

Victor-Blackman,-Stringer.jpg(Photo: Victor Blackman, Stringer)

The oldest Ferrari on display in the Motorclassica hall did however grab Schenken by the nostalgia strings. “Well even this here, the 195 EL Coupe, I mean just look at it. It’s a lovely car to look at and I feel like it’d be lovely to drive. As it would with many of these older cars. But no one invites me to for some reason.

Maybe they’ve read about my exploits on the road from when I was younger. I guess they didn’t want to risk their cars.”

But you’d expect Tim Schenken, of all Australians, to at least have a small collection of the things. If not road cars, maybe a race car?

“Personally I don’t really have a collection of cars. I probably missed a few great opportunities, in fact I often tell the story of the 312P at the end of 1972.”

Ferrari 312P sideThe 312P, of course, was the car which Schenken drove to his first victory for Ferrari in the Buenos Aries 1000km in January 1972, then later at the infamous Nurburgring 1000km.

“Enzo Ferrari offered the drivers the opportunity to buy those cars for 12,500 pounds. When you look at it today you think ‘well, bloody hell you should have bought them all!’

“But to put things into perspective, I bought a lovely house in Maidenhead which is just outside of London on the river – not in the river – for 7500 pounds.”

“At that time I was a professional racing driver so I thought, you know, why would I want to buy the car? People pay me to drive their cars, and even at that time I didn’t really appreciate what Ferrari was about.

“I have to admit, I didn’t really then."

RacingOne,-Getty.jpg(Photo: RacingOne, Getty)

But since then, once media coverage of motorsport picked up and Ferrari became a more widely-known brand among even non-motoring folk, Schenken began to see that what he had been part of what incredibly special.

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“It must be the most recognised name and logo in the world ahead of Coca-Cola and the rest. I don’t even think you have to be into motoring – people just know what a Ferrari is.

“In those days there was no media attention really, so when you looked at the London newspapers, if Graham Hill or Jackie Stewart won a race you’d see an inch or so in one column in the sports section.

Tim Schenken OAM“If there was a fatality that would always be front-page of course, but there was nowhere near the media hype there is today.

“Now I think it still holds that same romance, maybe more so. If I was driving for Ferrari today, I’d be a sensation!

“I was just a race driver in those days.”