Before Mark Webber and Alan Jones, before even Jack Brabham, there was Tony Gaze. Tony Gaze was more than just Australia’s first grand prix racer.
He was a World War II hero, fighter pilot and the driving force behind both Brabham’s star-studded career and one of Britain’s most iconic motor racing circuits.
A spitfire pilot in Britain from the age of 21, Gaze was Douglas Bader’s wingman and the first squadron leader of an allied jet air wing – RAF 616 Squadron – to operate over enemy territory.
The first Australian to shoot down a jet and the first allied pilot to land in France after D-Day, Gaze was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times.
He escaped from occupied France with the help of the French Resistance after being shot down over Le Treport in 1943 and returned to combat, ending the war with 12 “kills” in combat.
Gaze, now 92, turned to grand prix racing in 1952, competing in four championship races in 1952, albeit with little success, in his HWM.
He is more widely associated with one of the world’s most famous GP Ferraris, the 1952 Tippo 500 which brought the Italian outfit its first two world titles in the hands of Alberto Ascari.
Gaze bought the car, capable of 250km/h, from the company and campaigned it in Australia and New Zealand. With the late Lex Davison behind the wheel, it won two Australian grands prix.
After five decades, the car, chassis No.5, is back in Australia, fully restored, and was on Thursday reunited with Gaze in Melbourne.
Before he returned to Australia, Gaze played a crucial role in the career of triple Formula One world champion Sir Jack Brabham.
Early in 1955, he helped to establish the ‘Kangaroo Stable’, a team of all Australian drivers which included Brabham, David McKay, Tom Sulman, Les Cosh and Dick Cobden.
At the end of the war, Gaze suggested to Lord Richmond, known in the motor racing world as Freddy March, that the roads around Westhampnett aerodrome would make a fine racing circuit.
When not flying, Gaze and others used to race MG sports cars around the perimeter roads, built on land belonging to March.
He agreed after driving a few laps and the Goodwood circuit – home to the annual Festival of Speed – was built as a replacement for the old Brooklands track.
After retiring, Gaze took up farming in Australia and eventually married Diana Davison, an accomplished racing driver in her own right and the widow of Lex, who had died of a heart attack during practice in a Brabham Climax at Sandown in 1965.
Gaze is the step-grandfather of Will Davison, who took out last week’s V8 Supercar opening round, the Clipsal 500, in Adelaide.