Spotlight: Tim Schenken

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 26/07/2020
  • By Connor O'Brien

Tim Schenken has lived two contrasting lives in elite motorsport.

The first was filled with the glory and glamour that comes with being a top-level race car driver; the second has been even more enduring if far more thankless, as Supercars’ Race Director.

Schenken has been with Motorsport Australia – previously known as CAMS – for three-and-a-half decades now.

His absence from the Truck Assist Sydney SuperSprint last weekend, having been unable to secure a permit to travel up from Melbourne, was just the second race meeting he’s missed in the modern Supercars era.

The fact he’s been pulling the strings behind the scenes for so long though is indicative of the enjoyment he finds in the role.

“I’m a lover of motorsport. To be involved at any high level, it’s wonderful,” Schenken tells Supercars.com.

“You know, the challenges are probably a little bit like running a team.

“We sometimes say in race control, we’re managing a field of 24 cars, we’re team managers for those 24 cars in a way.

“You’ve got to be alert and concentrate, because when things happen, you have got to make decisions very, very quickly – a bit like a driver, a bit like a team manager.”

That’s hardly new territory for Schenken.

Younger motorsport fans might not realise the now 76-year-old is one of only five Australians in history to have stood on an Formula 1 podium. He’s in good company in that exclusive club, joined by Sir Jack Brabham, Alan Jones, Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo.

That achievement came racing for Brabham’s team at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix.

That Schenken would set course for a career in F1 came about by total chance as it were.

“I was born in Sydney, we moved to Melbourne when I was 12,” he explains.

“In the first term at school I met a local lad whose father had a race car. I went around to look at the race car and something about it captured my imagination and I was hooked from then on.”

From there, he built a homemade go-kart. Next came the decision to leave school as soon as possible to get a job that could generate savings to underpin his career.

After racing locally, he set sail for London, a five-week trip that would have him arrive in the first week of 1966.

He didn’t know anyone there but had an idea of the landscape having fanatically read a variety of English motorsport magazines.

“When I got to London, I went and got a job as a mechanic with The Chequered Flag,” he recalls.

“That was a sports car business in England and they were running what was called the works-assisted Brabham Formula Three team. I was working as a mechanic on road cars, not on the race team.”

Schenken would work his way up the ranks on the driving side, eventually landing an F1 drive for Sir Frank Williams in 1970.

The chance to join the Brabham squad as teammates with two-time champion Graham Hill came the following season, although funnily enough Sir Jack was not the idol he’d long looked up to.

“Because I bought all those English magazines, my idol was actually Stirling Moss.”

Another podium beyond his Austrian success would evade him as his career transitioned towards sports car racing, representing brands including Ferrari, before retiring at the end of 1977.

By that time, he’d already co-founded Tiga Race Cars with Kiwi F1 driver Howden Ganley, building cars and running a race team.

Schenken though became eager to return Down Under, writing letters to organisations such as CAMS in search of an opportunity.

His break came via 1976 Bathurst 1000 winner John Fitzpatrick, albeit in the US on the outskirts of San Diego. Fitzpatrick had hired Schenken to run his IMSA program from 1982.

After two years there, a gig with CAMS presented itself, giving Schenken and his young family a chance to relocate home to Australia.

“I arrived at the right time because we had a Group C World Championship race at Sandown, the Grand Prix came to Adelaide in ’85, Shell got behind the Australian Touring Car Championship, Channel Seven were telecasting it,” says the father-of-three.

“So I just sort of caught the crest of a wave and I have pretty much been on it ever since.”

And so he has, being a fixture through the various evolutions of what has become Supercars.

Throughout, he feels the championship has built itself a strong reputation on the world stage, and a race control team able to operate at a high level.

“We’re quite well advanced,” he adds.

“If we had the live feeds from the cameras on all of the cars, that would help us further – but we’re only a few steps behind Formula 1 to be honest. I think we’re tracking along very well.”

Motorsport is so ingrained in Schenken’s life that even at 76, he has no plans to call it a day anytime soon.

“I’ve had two lifetimes, because I’ve had a lifetime in Europe as a professional driver and then another one here,” he says.

“I don’t know what I would do if I had to stop.”

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