- March 19, 1943
- Not Active
Vern Schuppan is an Australian former racing driver who competed in Formula One and many other open-wheel racing series, but his most notable achievement was the victory at 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans with factory-entered Porsche 956.
Vernon Schuppan was born on March 19th, 1943, in Booleroo Centre, South Australia, where his family ran a garage business. Schuppan left school at 14 to work at his dad’s garage. With the help of Garrie Cooper of Elfin, he wanted to build a race car, but his father allowed him only to try karting. He had a successful karting career with numerous victories and titles across the Australia.
Vern and Jennifer travelled into an adventure
In 1967, he married the girl from the neighbourhood Jennifer. It was a crucial turning point. They decided to leave Australia and moved to Great Britain. They set themselves a limit of two years to make good or return home. He had a racing debut in the 1970 European Formula Ford Championship and shined in the 1971 British Formula Atlantic Championship, winning the title with 5 wins and 14 podiums in 21 races.
With a trophy in his pocket, Vern got a chance to drive BRM Formula One car. He competed in some non-championship races but didn't race in the championship. He qualified for 1972 Belgian Grand Prix but he didn't start the race because his teammate Helmut Marko got his car.
He spent most of 1972 driving March 722 (Ford) in the British Formula Atlantic Championship and other Formula 2 races across the world, gaining some good results and podiums. In 1973, Vern debuted at 24 Hours of Le Mans, pairing Mike Hailwood and John Watson in the Gulf's Mirage M6. They retired after 112 laps.
Vern didn't have the full-time seat in any racing team, so he participated in few non-championship F1 races with BRM P160, and Formula Two races with March 722. His best result was the victory at 1972 Singapore Grand Prix with F2-spec March 722.
Full F1 season with Team Ensign
In 1974, Schuppan joined Team Ensign in Formula One. He debuted again at Belgian Grand Prix, but this time, he started the race and finished 15th. It remained the only race in which he reached the finish line. Later in the season, he recorded two retirements, two disqualifications and two failed qualifying attempts. He started at Monaco and Nurburgring Nordschleife and retired both races in lap 4, in Monaco after an accident and in Germany due to the gearbox failure. He was disqualified in Sweden because he started illegally from 26th place on the grid. He was also disqualified in the Netherlands for receiving a tyre change outside of the pits. He failed to qualify in France and Britain.
Parallel to Formula One, Vern competed full season in the 1974 European Formula 5000 championship. He scored one victory in 12 races and finished 7th in the classification. During the year, Schuppan had a one-off appearances in the SCCA/USAC F5000 championship, British Formula Atlantic Series and German Racing Championship. He won at Macau Grand Prix driving F2-spec March 722 and re-appeared at Le Mans with Gulf's Mirage GR7. The car was driven by Schuppan and Reine Wisell, but they retired after 49 laps.
Only one race with Graham Hill's F1 car
In 1975, Schuppan had only one race in Formula One championship, driving for Graham Hill's Embassy Racing at Swedish Grand Prix. He started last on the grid and retired after 47 laps due to the transmission failure on his Hill GH1 car.
Schuppan's main focus in 1975 was Formula 5000 races, both in Europe and the United States. In the European championship, he was driving Theodore Racing's Lola T332 (Chevrolet) and finished 10th, while in the SCCA/USAC championship he was driving Eagle 755 of All American Racers and finished 8th in the final standings.
Third place in a third attempt at Le Mans
In 1975, he competed third time at Le Mans, again with Gulf Research Racing. His third attempt was successful, together with co-driver Jean-Pierre Jaussaud he finished 3rd overall, driving Cosworth-powered Mirage GR8. The winners were Schuppan's teammates Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx.
The following year, Vern Schuppan partnered Derek Bell at Le Mans. They were driving Mirage GR8 of Grand Touring Cars Inc. and finished 5th overall. In 1976, Schuppan again raced the full season in the SCCA/USAC Formula 5000 championship, finishing 6th. While in America, Vern debuted at the famous Indianapolis 500, driving Eagle-Offenhauser of All American Racers. He started 17th and finished 18th.
Debut at Bathurst 1000 in 1976
He had one more debut in 1976. For every Australian racer, it was a sacred duty to compete at Bathurst 1000, so Vern Schuppan went 'down under' to race at Mount Panorama for the first time. He partnered Alan Moffat in Ford XB Falcon, but they retired after 87 laps due to engine failure. In his home country, Schuppan won the 1976 Rothmans International Series (Formula 5000), driving a Lola T332-Chevrolet. He also scored 2nd place at the Australian Grand Prix, driving an Elfin MR8.
Schuppan and Jarier second at Le Mans
In 1977, Schuppan had a busy racing schedule on three continents. In Australia he again raced in the Rothmans International Series and Bathurst 1000, in the United States he competed in the USAC National Championship (including Indianapolis 500), whilst in Europe he raced for Team Surtees in Formula One and for Mirage Renault at Le Mans.
In the 1977 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Schuppan partnered Jean-Pierre Jarier in the#10 Renault-powered Mirage GR8. They finished second overall, eleven laps behind Porsche factory crew Ickx/Barth/Haywood.
Last F1 season with Surtees
In 1977 Formula One championship Schuppan started a first race with Surtees TS19 at British Grand Prix in July. He started 23rd and finished 12th. At next race at Hockenheimring Schuppan scored his best F1 career result, finishing in the seventh position. He finished one more race, Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring, in the 16th place. Schuppan concluded his F1 career at Zandvoort, failing to qualify for Dutch Grand Prix.
In 1978, Schuppan's career continued in the same way as before, with races all over the world. Australian Grand Prix, Bathurst 1000 and Rothmans International Series were on the schedule in his home country, Can-Am Challenge and USAC National Championship in the United States, while Le Mans 24-race was his only race in Europe. He was again driving Renault-powered Mirage, together with Sam Posey and Jacques Laffite. They finished 10th overall.
In 1979, Vern focused on the inaugural season of CART Indy Car Series, in which he competed driving Wildcat. He finished 14th in the final standings. He also competed in the Can-Am Challenge with Theodore Racing's Elfin MR8A. Outside America, he raced at Macau Grand Prix, four races of Australian Rothmans International Series and Le Mans 24-hour race. He had a double duty at Le Mans, competing in two similar Cosworth-powered Mirage M10 of Grand Touring Cars Inc. Both cars finished far down in the order.
In 1980, he skipped Le Mans and competed only in the US, in the Indy Car World Series and Can-Am. He opened the new chapter of his career in 1981 when he joined Porsche in the World Endurance Championship. He competed alongside Jochen Mass and Hurley Haywood at 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans and finished 12th overall in the #12 Porsche 936. The winners in the sister car #11 were Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell.
Third place a the best Indy 500 result
He competed also in the 1981 Indy Car World Series, including Indianapolis 500. He achieved his best ever result at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing third with Cosworth-engined McLaren. During 1981, he recorded appearances in the Can-Am Challenge, Macau Grand Prix and Bathurst 1000. At the great Australian race he was a part of Holden's factory team and raced in the #25 Commodore together with John Harvey, but they retired after just 37 laps. It was Schuppan's last Bathurst attempt.
In 1982, Vern competed in the Indy Car Series, but his results in the endurance racing were much better. He scored two podiums in the FIA World Endurance Championship, including second place at Le Mans. He competed in the #2 Rothmans Porsche 956 with Jochen Mass. The winners were again Ickx and Bell.
Phenomenal victory at 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans
In 1983, Vern Schuppan was finally ahead Icxk and Bell at Le Mans and he scored his first victory in his tenth attempt. Vern's co-drivers in the #3 Rothmans Porsche 956 were Al Holbert and Hurley Haywood. Vern became the first Australian driver to win Le Mans since Bernard Rubin in 1928. The successful year was concluded with the Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship title, which he won with Trust Racing's Porsche 956.
In 1984, Schuppan competed in six races of the World Endurance Championship with Porsche and scored one podium at Fuji. At Le Mans, Porsche 956 was an absolutely dominant car and various Porsche teams won first seven places. Vern finished sixth in the #11 Porsche 956B of Kremer Racing, partnered by Alan Jones and Jean-Pierre Jarier.
Vern tried Jaguar XJR-7 in America
From 1985 to 1988 Vern recorded four consecutive retirements at Le Mans, all four with factory entered Porsche 962C. His co-drivers were Al Holbert, John Watson, Drake Olson, Jochen Mass, Bob Wollek and Sarel van der Merwe.
In those years, he competed with Porsche prototypes in the World Championship and Japanese Championship, but also in the IMSA GTP Championship. In 1986, he competed with the Group 44's Jaguar XJR-7 in the IMSA GTP Championship. He also had an interesting guest appearance in the 1985 British Saloon Car Championship, driving Mitsubishi Colt Starion Turbo in one race.
Last Le Mans participation with his own team
In 1989, Vern formed his own team to compete in the endurance races and Le Mans. In his last Le Mans participation, Schuppan was partnered by Gary Brabham and Eje Elgh. They were driving Porsche 962 C and finished 13th overall. He competed the full season in the 1989 All-Japan Sports-Prototype Championship and scored his last career victory in the second round of the championship. With one victory and three podiums, he finished fifth in the final classification. Schuppan's career ended in 1990 with few more races in Japan.
To conclude, Vern Schuppan collected eight Formula One races, 16 Le Mans participations and more than 200 other races in various series all around the world, proving that he was a very versatile racing driver.
Schuppan built a supercar worth US$1.5 million
To celebrate his 1983 victorious season with Porsche, when he won Le Mans and Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship, Schuppan started the automotive business in 1994. He built a street legal supercar based on the Porsche 962 race car, which he was using in the last years of his racing career.
The car was named Schuppan 962CR and it was built in a Vern Schuppan Ltd factory in High Wycombe, England. Funding was provided by Schuppan's Japanese partners and investors who supported his racing team.
The 962CR is a rear-wheel drive car powered by Porsche's 3.3L Type-935 Flat-6 mid-mounted engine, mated to a 5-speed manual transmission from a race car. The weight of the car was 1,050 kg, the engine had about 600 hp and the maximum speed was about 230 mph (370 km/h). It was a unique supercar with a super price of just over US$1.5 million. The Schuppan 962CR was among the most expensive new vehicles ever sold.
In total, only six Schuppan 962CRs were made. Two vehicles which were shipped to Japan weren't paid for, and Schuppan's company had financial difficulties. He declared bankruptcy, not only for car manufacturing company but also for his race team.
He brought Formula One Grand Prix to Adelaide
While he was still an active driver, Vern Schuppan played an important role in bringing Formula One to the South Australian city of Adelaide. The South Australian Premier John Bannon asked Schuppan to persuade Bernie Ecclestone to visit Adelaide. After Ecclestone came to Adelaide, he was impressed and agreed to organize the Australian Grand Prix at the streets of Adelaide. The race was held there from 1985 to 1995, then it was moved to Melbourne's Albert Park.
Although retired from racing, Schuppan never pulled away from cars. He participated in some historic events and enjoyed a small collection of classic cars, such as the 1929 Alfa Romeo 6C-1750SS or the ex-Steve McQueen Ferrari 275GTB/4, which he bought for $10,175,000.