Saturday, 03 March 2018 09:21

Token Racing: Ron Dennis and the Greek co-founder.

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Translated by Giannis Binas

Until the end of the 90s, it was a fixed practice for a new team to enter Formula 1 after an ‘educational’ period at lower categories.

A successful presence in a supportive league, most of the times guaranteed easier sponsor attraction and greater safeguards for success.

A young mechanic that started from Cooper and continued at Brabham, decided, in the beginning of the 70s, to test, among many others, his chances as a team owner.

His name: Ron Dennis.

Ron Dennis Jack Brabham

In 1971 then, following Sir Jack Brabham’s withdrawal from action and team ownership, the mechanic Ron Dennis decided to co-found with Neil Trundle, a fellow mechanic at Brabham, Rondel Racing (needless to say, the name was formed like this: Ron for Dennis and del for Trundle).

The new-found team participated with remarkable success for three years (1971-1973) in Formula 2, with its owners deciding the transition to F1 for 1974.

They also assigned Ray Jessop the construction of a single-seater with which Rondel would ‘introduce’ itself to the top category.

Ron Dennis Rondel

They were doing business on their own though…
Motul, the main sponsor of the endeavor, was struck by the oil crisis that broke out in October 1973, and withdrew its support.

With the team’s participation literally hanging on air, Ron Dennis preferred to withdraw from his project.

Trundle though, with the few other factors remained since the solution came as a ‘deus ex machina’ from a Greek-British ship-owner: Tony Vlassopoulos.

Pryce Token Belgium 1974 2

Vlassopoulos was a racing enthusiast and financial backer for Rondel at its onset (Dennis’ fiance was the ‘liaison’, with the family of whom, he had a friendly acquaintance) as well as for Ippokampos Racing (a team racing in Formula 3 under a genuinely Greek name, as you can see).

Together with Ken Grob, they bought Rondel’s assets renaming it to Token Racing (just like the previous owners, they chose to use their names to form the name of the new team – ‘To’ for Vlassopoulos and ‘Ken’ for Grob).

Pryce Token Belgium 1974 3

The single-seater was given the name RJ02 (the initials to honor the designer, Ray Jessop) and made its first appearance at the non-championship race BRDC International Trophy, in April 1974.

Tom Pryce made it to just 15 laps in the race but drew the attention thanks to his climb in the ranking.

At the Belgian GP, the hopeful British and the team made their official debut in Formula 1, the result being another DNF though.

The next race was held at the streets of the Princedom; Token’s people however, were up to an unpleasant surprise.

The other manufacturers with Bernie Ecclestone of Brabham and Ken Tyrrell overarching, convinced the hosts to not let Token compete, on the pretext of Pryce’s inexperience.

When Tony Vlassopoulos saw that the rival owners were uncompromising, told Trundle to let them do as they wanted:

 

''We would enter Tom at the Formula 3 race (in the context of the F1 GP, a Formula 3 supportive race was also held the same weekend), he would win it and they would expose them.''

 

Exploiting his financial role on Ippokampos, he placed Pryce at Buzz Buzaglo’s seat, in a gesture that neither the hapless Australian nor the team’s personnel were fond of.

Judging though from the result, it was a completely successful move – with a great appearance, Pryce triumphed at the wheel of the private March 743.

Pryce Ippokampos March 743 Monaco F3 1974

Pryce’s talent, not only contradicted the objection about his inexperience ‘big time’, but also secured him a place at Shadow (after Peter Revson’s death, Brian Redman and Bertil Roos were chosen in order, without any success though).

Token reappeared at the British GP, with the ‘romantic’ David Purley failing to qualify.

The next two races in Germany and Austria found another hopeful British behind the wheel, Ian Ashley, but the results were disappointing: 14th place at the ‘green hell’, not classified in Osterreichring.

Ashley Token Germany 1974

Somewhere at that point, Token met its maker.

Neither Vlassopoulos nor Grob had any longer the mood to further fund the project, with the single-seater passing to the hands of Safir Engineering and competing with Tony Trimmer in the two non-championship races of 1975.

Tony Trimmer Safir 1975

Vlassopoulos’ withdrwal had an impact on Ippokampos too – with Lord Hesketh unexpectedly withdrawing in the end of 1975, Ippokampos drifted alongside, not having any longer a solid funding (the sea horse –ippokampos- on James Hunt’s single-seater had to do with the cooperation between the two teams).

Hesketh Hunt 1975

Ron Dennis proceeded in the creation of another four teams, the last one being the foundation of the history he made later: in the end of 1981, Project 4 merged with McLaren and the name of Dennis’ team was placed as the initial at the single-seater’s name in 1981.

That is to say, the MP4/1 meant Marlboro Project 4; the tobacco firm had a crucial role in the venture.
McLaren uses the said coding up to this day.

Since 1997 however, the M corresponds to McLaren, as Marlboro withdrew its sponsorship.
Everything though started at the age of Rondel – and there, Vlassopoulos’ financial contribution was catalytic for Dennis to ‘test’ his powers as an owner for the first time: as catalytic was his contribution to the career evolution of a great talent that, sadly, ‘left’ prior to making history: Tom Pryce.

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