Veteran Tilanus just keeps rolling along. His friends call him"Vinnige Fanus" and joke that he is much too old to drive race cars competitively-- but Bernard Tilanus is planning on having the last laugh at the end of this year's motor racing ...
Veteran Tilanus just keeps rolling along.
His friends call him"Vinnige Fanus" and joke that he is much too old to drive race cars competitively-- but Bernard Tilanus is planning on having the last laugh at the end of this year's motor racing season.
At the age of 57 Tilanus is a clear leader in the 2002 Vodacom Sports Prototype national championship series. Going into round seven of the Vodacom Power Tour national meeting at AA Kyalami on August 3 the" old man", as lifelong friend Andrew Thompson calls him, has a 33 point lead in the championship - and is set to write his name in the record books 28 years after winning the national Formula Ford title.
It is also 21 years since Tilanus won the South African Drivers Championship - with his name appearing alongside legendary drivers like John Love, Dave Charlton and Ian Scheckter who each won the title six times. Tilanus won the championship in 1981 and retired from motor racing at the end of the 1988 season.
"Formula Atlantic disappeared from the scene at the end of 1986, and I spent a couple of seasons messing around in Group N and Sports Cars," he said."I decided I didn't enjoy racing tintops, and it coincided with selling my dental laboratory and starting a new business.
"My time was at a premium and there was nothing I fancied driving, so I packed it in."
It was 10 years later that a call from out of the blue from another old friend, Kevin Stopford, brought Tilanus out of retirement. Now he is showing the same youthful enthusiasm for racing cars as he did in the late 60s and early 70s.
"Its simple, I enjoy it," said Tilanus."When Kevin called midway through 99 and asked if I would like to share a drive with him, I thought it would be fun to drive a VSP.
"We decided I should have a test drive at Midvaal and within 10 laps I was quicker than Kevin. The car was owned by Roy Carr and by the end of the season Kevin and I were winning races, and I was hooked again."
The Tilanus/Stopford partnership came to halt when the car was sold. Over the next two years Tilanus shared a car with Mike Fergusson, and emerged as a possible championship contender.
"This year I landed a terrific sponsorship deal with Platinum Asset Management, and Mike sportingly agreed to step aside and let me have a run at winning the championship," said Tilanus."I felt I still had the ability to run with the quicker guys, but I have to admit that age and a little cunning come into the equation."
This year the Vodacom Sports Prototypes switched to Nissan engines, and Tilanus is the first to admit that a few tricks he has learned over the years have given him an edge. The key, he says, lies in car preparation.
"The driver that has the best package on any given day will invariably win," he said."It is much the same in Formula One or any other category of racing, and experience has taught me an awful lot when it comes to setting up a race car.
"These days I don't have the time or the inclination to work on a race car deep into the early hours, and other people do the hard graft. I arrive and drive, but I know what I want at each circuit and the final set-up is my responsibility."
Championship or no championship, Tilanus is likely to retire again at the end of the season. Or, as he puts it, withdraw gracefully.
"Racing takes up time, and there are other things I want to do," said Tilanus."It would be nice to bow out as a national champion again, but we'll see what happens."
Among the"other things" on the Tilanus agenda are a number of projects that involve rebuilding cars with rich racing heritages. It is an area where he has some considerable experience, and with Thompson he rebuilt the Brabham BT24 (Chassis No 1) in which Sir Jack Brabham finished second in the 1967 world championship to the late Denny Hulme who drove the Chassis No 2 BT24.
The Brabham is now back in Australia, but Tilanus owns an RP21 Royale, the ex Scheckter Gunston March 76 and the ex Brian Henton March 782 which are all earmarked for rebuilding-- along with a Tiga and a Chevron B34 he once raced. A Lamborghini Espada also needs restoring.
"The restoration and rebuilds will keep me occupied, and take my mind off racing," said Tilanus."Racing has given me a huge amount of pleasure and has thrown me into contact with some marvelous characters, but now is probably the right time to become a spectator again or simply nose around the pits."
Throughout his career Tilanus has been one of the quiet men of South African racing. Or, as Thompson puts it, he puts the kibosh and the old adage that nice guys come last.