As the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans takes hold this weekend the story of the fastest racecar ever to be designed and constructed in Australia, the VESKandA Group C1 is worth telling.
Not only was the VESKandA extremely successful, but it was borne of humble origins and built on a meagre budget, but its story is so obscure that many would have never heard of it.
In the late 1970’s in Adelaide South Australia, Dale Koennecke and Harry Aust, who had met through working together in the Rothmans International and Tasman F5000 series at Elfin Sportscars, Australia’s version of Lotus, had decided to leave together and set up their own business, K&A Engineering.
Together they designed and manufactured a series of Sports Sedans, which was essentially a no holds barred silhouette sedan formula, and not only won multiple national championships but revolutionised the national championship by innovating their learnings from open-wheelers and building aluminium monocoque mid-engined designs.
In 1983 a client of Dale and Harry, successful local commercial photographer and motorsport enthusiast Bernie Van Elsen commissioned K&A to design, construct and develop an FIA Group C1 in anticipation of entering it in the forthcoming 1984 final round of the World Endurance Championship at Sandown Park in Australia.
Totally privately funded by Van Elsen himself, the design resulted in a six litre Chev powered, full ground effects, glass-fibre bodied, aluminium, honeycomb and divinycell bonded monocoque Group C1 they named the Van Elsen Special K and A, or VESKandA.
It was realised that it would be critical to the development path of the car on track for Van Elsen to engage a driver capable of not only racing such a beast but to be instrumental in its development and so he approached renowned Australian open-wheel talent John Bowe to drive the car at the suggestion of Dale and Harry, who they both had experience working with during their time at Elfin and were impressed with.
The team of Dale, Harry, Bernie, and John soon realised the enormity of the task ahead would prevent them from developing the car in time to be able to compete in the Sandown event, but in early 1985 they realised that they were on to something very special when the development stage of the project turned to track testing and the performance potential of the VESKandA became evident.
Quite soon the performance level of the car increased significantly as they learnt how to tune the mechanical set up to suit the powerful underbody venturis, but disaster struck because the magnitude of rear downforce being created was so high, a rear-wheel suffered collapse failure in a high-speed corner resulting in an accident so severe that the monocoque required a partial rebuild.
Nevertheless, after design improvements and a two-month repair period, the team re-commenced testing and finally, the VESKandA made its race debut in 1985 at its home circuit, Adelaide International Raceway in Round 4 of the Australian Sportscar Championship in dominant fashion by finishing P1 in every FP session, starting from pole in both heats, winning both heats by over a lap and setting the lap record in the process.
Over the period of the remainder of the 1985, 1986 and the 1987 Australian Sportscar Championship seasons the VESKandA became the 1986 champion and an Australian motorsport legend and folklore as the dominant machine was so fast that it was unbeatable, starting from pole position and winning every race that it was entered in, with the exception of the opening round in 1987 at Calder Park when a ruptured fuel line fire not only forced its retirement from the round but cost the team the 1987 title in what became an unexpected three-round shortened championship.
Not only did the VESKandA qualify on pole position for every single Australian SportsCar Championship race that it was entered in, but it also won every race that it finished, set the sportscar lap record at every circuit that it raced at and set the outright lap record at every circuit that it raced at except one, missing out on the record for Adelaide International Raceway that was set by one Alan Jones in Teddy Yip’s Lola T332 F5000 by 0.2 seconds.
Indeed, so dominant was the VESKandA in the Australian Sportscar Championship that when it was announced that the 1987 season would be the competition’s last, many apportioned the root cause to its dominance.
Quite obviously it would seem to be a pointless exercise to go to the lengths of building a fully compliant and developed FIA Group C sportscar without competing on the international stage, but with Australia being so isolated and difficulties in finding sponsorship partners to help with the finance required to launch a European competition program due to minimal market penetration of Group C in Australia and the general publics lack of awareness of the class, unfortunately, it never happened.
With the final round of the 1988 FIA World Endurance Championship scheduled to be held once again at Sandown Park in Melbourne, the VESKandA finally got its chance to measure itself against the best in the world, entered with Bowe sharing his driving duties with his now Australian Touring Car Championship team owner and boss, Dick Johnson.
Up against the exponentially better funded and resourced Walkinshaw XJR-9’s, Sauber C9’s and privateer 962C’s the minnows qualified an admirable eighth and ran comfortably in fifth during the race, only headed by the Jaguars and Mercedes, until the pre-historic engine management system being used on the VESKandA metred the fuel burn incorrectly, and the FIA penalised the team for exceeding the race fuel limit.
Therein ended the story of the VESKandA until the early 2000’s when Van Elsen had the covers pulled off it in its dusty corner at K&A, had it rebuilt and sold it due to its then historic value.
In 2012-2013 in the hands-on its new and current owner, another Australian motorsport enthusiast Paul Stubber, the VESKandA finally made it to Europe with an extensive competition schedule in Historic Group C, racing at Donnington Park, Silverstone, Spa, Imola, Nurburgring and the big one, the Group C Legends at Le Mans, making many aware for the first time of this amazing, quirky, and fast machine from Australia twenty-five years after its heyday.
Interestingly, the VESKandA was not the only KandA chassis built, as in the early 1990’s a second was designed and built to IMSA regulations for a client who intended entering in the US series, and indeed it was landed on US soil for that purpose, but for several reasons, the entry never precipitated.
A third road car version was built by K&A, but in the early 2000s the client disappeared off the face of the earth with their incomplete project.
After its inevitable European tour, the VESKandA was returned to its home soil of Australia and is now a resident at the Western Australia Motor Museum along with Daniel Ricciardo’s first Grand Prix winning Red Bull Racing RB10.
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