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Memories come racing back
Alf Costanzo in his Lola, which will race at Barbagallo Raceway this weekend. Picture: Mick Oliver

Top driver Alfredo Costanzo climbed into the Lola F5000 wearing his street clothes, donned his helmet and in four or five laps went almost two seconds quicker than anyone had ever gone around the Wanneroo Park circuit.

He hopped out of the car, told the mechanics what gear ratios he wanted, discussed a couple of other changes and left.

It was the Thursday before the 1979 Australian Grand Prix and it was the first time Costanzo had ever seen the track.

Motor racing identity John Hurney was there 33 years ago doing what he normally does, getting his hands dirty helping paint the trackside white lines, and witnessed that extraordinary spectacle.

"Alf was just blindingly quick. He simply took off his dress shoes and drove in socks," he recalled.

It was little surprise then to Hurney that come race day Costanzo had secured pole and very real thoughts of his first Australian GP win.

But luck plays an integral role in this hairy business and Alf's ran out in a famous first corner crash with Larry Perkins on that warm day in March.

Costanzo led from pole in the Alan Hamilton Lola T430 on the first of 63 scheduled laps and collided with Larry Perkins' factory Elfin MR8 on the right-hander as the latter tried an ambitious move to overtake on the inside.

The Elfin went over the top of the Lola, bits of bodywork went everywhere, their race shot and eventually won by Johnnie Walker in a Lola T332 from John Bowe's Elfin MR8.

That disaster obviously spurred on Costanzo big- time - he claimed the coveted Australian Driver's Championship four years in a row from 1980.

"His skills bore equal fruit in either the brutal F5000s or the more highly strung 1.6-litre Formula Pacific cars," Hurney said.

Costanzo retired from frontline open-wheelers soon after placing fourth behind Brazil's Roberto Moreno, Finn Keke Rosberg and Italian Andrea de Cesaris in the 1984 Australian GP at Calder and has lived most of his life in Melbourne.

It was the last domestic Australian GP before the arrival of the Formula One World Driver's Championship in 1985.

This weekend, WA motorsport fans have a rare chance to pay homage to Costanzo, one of the country's greatest racing drivers, who turns 70 in January and is here as a guest of Grace and Joe Ricciardo, beaming parents of Perth F1 star Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo Sr owns the TIGA Formula Atlantic 81 Ford Mondial, one of the two such cars entered by Alan Hamilton's Porsche Cars Australia team, in which Alf took out the CAMS prestigious Gold Star title in 1982 and 83.

Costanzo is scheduled to do demo laps in the Tiga during the three days of the inaugural Perth International at Barbagallo Raceway.

It celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Australian GP and features a re-enactment at Barbagallo Raceway on Sunday, with similar cars to those that contested the original event.