Retro: “Larrikin” Larry Perkins
Every now and then, a driver truly captures our imagination. Larry Perkins, a prime example of this, literally did it all during his long and illustrious career behind the wheel. “Larrikin Larry” was the perennial Aussie battler who cemented himself as one of Australia’s greatest ever touring car drivers following an often overlooked shot at Formula One stardom.
Larry Clifton Perkins was born in Murrayville, Victoria, on the 18th of March 1950. With racing ingrained in his DNA, Perkins promptly began winning races all over Australia. With the 1971 Australian Formula Ford championship and the 1972 Australian Formula 2 crown under his belt, he boarded a plane to Europe with a mission to make it to the top.
It wasn’t long before Perkins tasted the summit of world motorsport with a maiden start in the 1974 Formula One season. It was a baptism of fire for the impressionable Australian, who was exposed to the perilous Nurburgring in his very first shot at the big time. Driving under the banner of the Dalton-Amon International squad, he failed to qualify for the race in a sub-par chassis. Compounding his misfortune, the team’s financial resources were exhausted two rounds later and Perkins was forced to go back to the drawing board in preparation for the following year.
Resiliently, Perkins bounced back in 1975 to win the European Formula Three championship on an unimaginably tight budget. A year later, Perkins’ pursuit of Formula One success continued. In his first two races driving for the Boro team from the Netherlands, Perkins made an exciting impression. He occupied 13th position at the conclusion of the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama and then nabbed 8th place at the following Grand Prix in Belgium. Perkins secured a drive at Brabham during the second half of the season, however he could not repeat the glittering results achieved with Boro in the opening races of 1976.
1977 proved to be his final year in Formula One, and the flailing Brabham outfit once again produced an uncompetitive entry. A seat at Surtees presented itself during the season, and Perkins drove the TS19 chassis to a splendid 12th position at Zolder having started from 23rd on the grid. However, he didn’t manage to qualify for the Swedish or French Grands Prix, and with that, Perkins’ Formula One journey had run its race. Though he showed glimpses of talent throughout a segmented three year career in the world’s top motorsport category, he was ultimately the victim of recurrently unreliable entries and unfortunate mistakes.
Perkins headed back to Australia to continue his professional motorsport career. He resumed open-wheel competition throughout the following two years and won the Formula 5000 Rothmans International Series in 1979. However, a switch to touring cars was inevitable, and Perkins ultimately made tin-top racing his forte.
Alongside Melbourne socialite, Peter Janson, Perkins made his Bathurst 1000 debut in 1978. The combination steered their Holden Torana A9X to third position at the completion of the 1000 kilometre event. Six years later, the easy-going Victorian had already notched up three Bathurst 1000 victories. In 1982, 1983 and 1984, Perkins won the famed event alongside the great Peter Brock for the Holden Dealer Team. They were a truly unstoppable combination, and claimed victory in the “Last of the big bangers”, which proved to be the final race under Group C regulations.
Perkins claimed an additional three Bathurst 1000 victories during the subsequent decade. Arguably, Perkins’ greatest victory at Mount Panorama came in the 1995 edition of the great race. Perkins and his co-driver, Russell Ingall, literally came from last to first during the race after the six-time Bathurst victor clashed with Craig Lowndes before the first turn on the opening lap. It was a truly stunning effort and consistent with the incredible resilience displayed throughout Perkins’ career.
A number of other disciplines were on the Victorian’s radar throughout a career spanning over 30 years. Perkins claimed the Australian Rallycross Championship in 1979 for Kruger Motors, while he placed 10th in the Australian AMSCAR series at Amaroo Park in 1982. During 1984, Perkins launched an assault on the Le Mans 24 hour alongside Peter Brock, however the combination failed to finish the race in their Porsche 956. Four years later, Perkins narrowly missed an outright podium at Le Mans after sharing a Jaguar XJR-9 with Derek Daly and Kevin Cogan for Tom Walkinshaw Racing. He also tasted competition in the 1987 World Touring Car Championship piloting a selection of Group A Holden Commodores, however Perkins failed to score points in all three Oceania-based events.
Larry Perkins eventually retired in 2003 having never won an Australian Touring Car Championship. However, in a country that arguably places greater significance on the Bathurst 1000 compared with the championship standings at the end of the season, Perkins will forever be considered among the greatest ever drivers from “Down Under”.
Image: F1 Fanatic
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