INSIDE! COLLECTABLE PULLOUT POSTER ISSUE 125
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the stories behind the legendary race cars of australian touring carS
mustang – monaro – torana – falcon – commodore – sierra – skyline 10/05/2022 10:10:43 AM
Adelaide Grand Prix. 1985-1995
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Celebrating Adelaide's glorious grand prix years and its lasting legacy. AdelaideG Prix.com 0 /AdelaideGP 0 @Adelaide GP 0 @AdelaideGPrix
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ISSUE 125 SUPERCARXTRA.COM.AU 8 THE ORIGINAL REBORN The rebirth of the first winner of the Armstrong 500, the Vauxhall Cresta. 12 MUSTANG’S RACING PEDIGREE The Mustang’s successes in the Australian Touring Car Championship, highlighted by its domination of the 1960s. 16 ICONIC CARS: HOLDEN HT MONARO GTS 350 The Monaro that gave Holden its first Australian Touring Car Championship title. 18 WHEN DAVIDS BEAT GOLIATHS The small cars that defied the odds and defeated their bigger rivals. 22 THE LAST OF THE BIG BANGERS Holden’s famed Holden VK Commodore, which crushed the opposition in its brief time in the endurance events of 1984. 26 ICONIC CARS: HOLDEN VL COMMODORE The Holden that scored surprising Bathurst 1000 wins in very different forms in the Group A era.
28 SENSATIONAL SIERRA Ford’s turbo-charged rocket that became the car to have under the Group A rules. 32 CARS OF THE RISING SUN Nissan’s history in Australian touring cars leading into its dominant spell with the Skyline. 36 PUSHING THE LIMITS The technical innovations that pushed the limits of the V8-powered parity era. 42 ICONIC CARS: FORD BA FALCON The Falcon that ended the Commodore’s domination and put Ford back on top. 44 WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE The challenge of getting the Nissan Altima and AMG Mercedes-Benz E-Class Supercars competitive.
48 SECRETS BEHIND THE SUCCESS Holden’s VF Commodore and its strengths under the Car of the Future rules. 50 THE X FACTOR The final Falcon, the FG X, which gave the model a fitting farewell for the Blue Oval. 52 UNDER THE SKIN OF THE ZB A deep dive into Holden’s final-ever Commodore Supercar, the ZB. 56 PONY POWER The birth and development of Ford’s current Mustang Supercar. 60 AROUND THE BEND What’s on offer at Australia’s best motorsport facility, The Bend Motorsport Park. 66 SHOOTOUT: THE TOP 10 CARS Counting down the most successful cars in the Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars.
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LEGENDARY CARS OF THE PAST
he 2022 season will be looked back on as a defining point in the history of the Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars. Despite the recent retirement of the Holden and the Commodore, the ZB Commodore has raced on and will bow out at the end of 2022, marking the end of the Holden and Commodore names in Australian touring cars. As we await the racing debut of the Gen3 Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro and with the Commodore set to join the Falcon in retirement, we take this opportunity to present some of our best features on the legendary touring cars in the history of the Bathurst 500/1000 and the Australian Touring Car Championship/ Supercars. From the Vauxhall Cresta that won the first Armstrong 500 (the precursor to the
Bathurst 500/1000) to the current Mustang and ZB Commodore, we look at the histories, technical innovations, successes and failures of a variety of cars across the different eras of the championship and endurance events. Holden and Ford have been the two pillars of Australian touring cars from its formative years, with their classic cars such as the Mustang, Monaro, Torana, Falcon, Commodore and Sierra featured. The print edition of this issue includes a pullout poster with the Holden versus Ford rivalry featuring on one side, represented by two of their most iconic driver-car combinations – Peter Brock in a Commodore and Dick Johnson in a Falcon. Nissan is the most successful non-Ford or Holden manufacturer in Australian touring cars, and is represented in this issue with a feature on its history until the arrival of
the dominant Nissan Skyline GT-R R32. The car nicknamed ‘Godzilla’ is also featured on the other side of the pullout poster, 30 years since it bowed out with a championship and Bathurst 1000 double in 1992. Other manufacturers represented include BMW, Mini and Mazda, in a feature on the small cars that defied the odds and defeated their bigger rivals, and AMG Mercedes-Benz with the development of Erebus Motorsport’s E-Class Supercar. In our ‘Shootout’ section, we countdown the top 10 most successful cars in the history of the Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars. Visit the new-look SupercarXtra.com.au for the latest news and to shop at our online store, or keep in touch with us on our social media channels on Twitter and Instagram (both @SupercarXtra) and on Facebook (facebook.com/ SupercarXtra). – Adrian
INCORPORATING V8X MAGAZINE PUBLISHER Allan Edwards Raamen Pty Ltd trading as V8X PO Box 225, Keilor, VIC 3036 email@example.com EDITOR Adrian Musolino firstname.lastname@example.org SUB EDITORS Krystal Boots, Amanda Cobb DESIGNER Thao Trinh CONTRIBUTING JOURNALISTS John Bannon, Andrew Clarke, James Crocker PHOTOGRAPHERS Peter Norton, Autopics.com.au, Glenis Lindley, James Baker, Ben Auld, Justin Deeley, Mark Horsburgh, P1 Images, Paul Nathan, Scott Wensley, Danny Bourke, Matthew Norton, Jack Martin ADVERTISING Trent Dyball Phone: (03) 9006 7666 Mobile: 0414 872 168 EDITORIAL ENQUIRIES Phone: (03) 9372 9125 Fax: (03) 8080 6473 email@example.com ACCOUNTS Bookkeeper: Mark Frauenfelder firstname.lastname@example.org MERCHANDISE & SUBSCRIPTIONS Phone: (03) 9372 9125 email@example.com Published by Raamen Pty Ltd trading as V8X. Material in Supercar Xtra is protected by copyright laws and may not be reproduced in full or in part in any format. Supercar Xtra will consider unsolicited articles and pictures; however, no responsibility will be taken for their return. While all efforts are taken to verify information in Supercar Xtra is factual, no responsibility will be taken for any material which is later found to be false or misleading. The opinions of the contributors are not always those of the publishers.
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LOOKING FOR THE DRIVE OF YOUR LIFE? JOIN THE KIDNEY KAR RALLY AND HELP CHANGE THE LIVES OF KIDNEY KIDS.
n its 33rd year, the Kidney Kar Rally proudly supports Kidney Health Australia. Every year, teams drive thousands of kilometers across the beautiful Australian countryside with one ambition – to change the lives of children and young people affected by kidney disease. Participants come from across Australia; some are experienced rally drivers and navigators, but many have never rallied before. The Kidney Kar Rally is for anyone and any car. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lifetime rally driver, beginner or don’t want to rally drive at all, you can get involved. Travelling a secret route from Cairns in Queensland to Dubbo in New South Wales, via the Gold Coast, the rally will cover approximately 5000kms. The Kidney Kar Rally is proudly supported by ambassadors, Australian rally driver Harry Bates and Supercars driver Lee Holdsworth. Harry will be joining the fun and rallying alongside participants for the first day, while Lee will be joining the event virtually for a special Q&A on his 2021 Bathurst 1000 victory.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
The Kidney Kar Rally offers two rally options:
The Marathon event – 10 – 20 August 2022 Held over 11 days, entrants will start in Cairns, Queensland, on Wednesday 10 August 2022 and travel a secret route of approximately 5000kms via Gold Coast, Queensland, to Dubbo, New South Wales, finishing Saturday 20 August 2022. The Repechage event – 15 – 20 August 2022 For those that have less time or just want to experience a shorter
rally, a compact event will take place for the final five days. You will meet the team at the Gold Coast, Queensland, on Monday 15 August 2022 and travel approximately 2500kms to Dubbo, New South Wales, finishing Saturday 20 August 2022. Both events are open to all fully road registered cars subject to meeting certain safety requirements and compliance with the rally rules and regulations. There are three ways you can get involved: Rally Kar If you don’t mind taking things off road and onto tricky terrain, this is the option for you. The rally sections are designed to take you off the beaten track, providing an adventure where teamwork and mechanical sympathy for your vehicle should see you cover the set course each day. Each Kar starts the event on a pre-determined set of points according to the age of the vehicle or if it is four-wheel drive or not. Points can only be lost during the event based on a system of penalties for driving too fast or not attempting or completing each rally section within a time limit. It is not a race or time trial, with each day’s course designed to allow the novice and the experienced to participate on a level playing field. Back-up Kar Support your fellow rallytives and register as a back-up Kar. These cars are optional and can be nominated by a rally entrant to travel as their support vehicle. They must be four-wheel drive and be able to help safely perform recovery duties for their team and assist as an official vehicle if required. Back-ups are allowed to travel through the rally course at the back of the field or follow the Kruise Kars on the main roads.
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Kruise Kar If you’re unsure about tackling the dirt tracks or you simply want to dip your toes in the rally world, this is the option for you. Get involved in all the best parts of the rally, the scenic outback, the comradery, the cause and the fun without needing to go offroad. You won’t travel through the rally course at any time but will meet up with everyone for meals. Whichever way you decide to participate, you will be proudly supporting Kidney Health Australia and helping kids and youth affected by kidney disease.
appropriate to increase feelings of empowerment to assist them in managing living well with kidney disease. The program also helps build confidence and self-esteem through a series of connection activities designed to strengthen their feelings of belonging and develop long-lasting friendships. The money raised for the Kidney Kar Rally helps fund this life-changing program, ensuring children and young people with kidney disease can live their best life. Join the fun – no matter if you’re an experienced rally driver, novice or just along for the ride, there is an option for you and your car, even if you drive a humble hatchback!
ABOUT THE CAUSE
REGISTER FOR THE RALLY TO HELP CHANGE THE LIVES OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH IMPACTED BY KIDNEY DISEASE.
Kidney Health Australia is the peak body for kidney health in Australia. For over 50 years, it has been providing trustworthy and upto-date resources and support to help people manage their kidney health and achieve a better quality of life. Every day, on average 63 people in Australia die with kidney related disease. It’s a highly undiagnosed condition, with most unaware they are affected until it’s too late. This is because you can lose up to 90 percent of kidney function without experiencing any symptoms. There is no cure for kidney disease – dialysis or a kidney transplant are the options.
W: kidney.org.au/rally P: 1300 300 544 E: firstname.lastname@example.org Proudly sponsored by Biante. Entry fee $440 per vehicle, registration fee from $1100 includes meals, entertainment, first aid, gear truck support, event officials, RallySafe monitoring and photos. Scan the QR code to register:
KIDNEY KIDS AND YOUTH PROGRAM
Kidney disease does not discriminate and affects young and old. Children and young people with kidney disease are often defined in terms of their disease. They can experience feelings of loneliness and self-esteem issues. The Kidney Kids and Youth Program provides access to trustworthy, evidence-based information that is age and life-stage
“THE RALLY WILL RAISE MUCH NEEDED FUNDS FOR KIDS AND YOUTH LIVING WITH KIDNEY DISEASE, AND I’M HONOURED TO BE PART OF THE EVENT IN 2022.” – LEE HOLDSWORTH SUPERCAR XTRA
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THE ORIGINAL REBORN IMAGES Cameron McGavin, Autopics.com.au
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Driving through country Victoria you may have seen an exact replica of the 1960 Armstrong 500-winning Vauxhall Cresta on the road. Not only that, it usually had the first-ever Great Race winner behind the wheel.
race your finger back through the results of every Great Race and you’ll end up at the 20th of November 1960 and the Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island. The winning car? A Vauxhall Cresta driven by Frank Coad and John Roxburgh. Well, say hello to that car. Actually, it’s not the exact same Cresta because it no longer exists. It is, though, a fastidious recreation. And the person who carried out the work and still owned the masterpiece until his recent passing was the very same Frank Coad, whose name sits above the Brocks, Moffats, Johnsons, Whincups and Winterbottoms in the Great Race winners’ list. Short of time-machining the original back into existence, this is as close as you’re gonna get to the real thing.
THE 1960 ARMSTRONG 500
The first Great Race might have lacked the weight of history that made later editions so prestigious, but it clearly wasn’t just any race. The 49-car field included nine factory-supported teams and some of the biggest names in Australian motor racing, from David McKay, Bob Jane, Harry Firth and Lex Davison to Doug Whiteford, Norm Beechey and the Geoghegan brothers (Ian and Leo). Even Larry Perkins’ father Eddie was
there in a Volkswagen Beetle, which seems kind of appropriate. It was billed as the world’s richest touring-car race, and prize-money totalled £5625, a more than handy sum in 1960. It piqued the interest of Coad, then a Phillip Island foundation club member who’d been racing for more than a decade in a succession of different cars, enjoying a successful run in a Vauxhall Special sports car. When he and good friend Roxburgh heard about this fascinating new race, they immediately set about working on a way to get on the grid. “We heard about this event starting down in Phillip Island, so we went out looking for a sponsor,” said Coad. “We went to see Cheney’s (Vauxhall/Chevrolet/Bedford distributors and dealers) and Old Mr Cheney (SA Cheney) said, ‘Yeah, I’ll support you.’ And that was how it all started. “He called in his service manager, who was Colin Passmore, and said, ‘I’ve decided to support these boys in this production-car race.’ Col said, ‘Well, what do want me to do, sir?’ and the old man said, ‘Win it, man, win it.’ And that was what Col did. He did all the work; we just had to drive.” A lot is made of modern professionalism and how everything was so quaint back in the old days. But Vauxhall’s 1960 Armstrong 500 attack was employed with utter seriousness. “We tried the Cresta out, took it up to the Dandenong ranges and thrashed the hell out it! And it did really well,” said Coad. “We took it down to Phillip Island about four or five times to run it and weed out the problems. A fortnight before the race we did 500 miles, with all the crew, timekeepers and lap charts, just so we could get everything right. It was a very professional team that we put up. “We even had a booklet made that told each of us what our job was. Everybody had a job to do and they had to do it properly. They used to practice their wheel-changing down the workshop at Cheney’s after they’d all finished work. It was a professional race team created to win the race, and it did.” The only thing that seems quaint now is how the Cresta and not some other Vauxhall came to be the chosen entry for the race. It all came down to colour and a nicely run-in engine. “We looked at all these Vauxhall demos and they’d all done about 500 miles,” said Coad. “Then we looked at Mr Cheney’s personal chauffeur-driven Cresta and it had done 6000 miles, so that was ideal. And it was light blue, which was a SUPERCAR XTRA
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good colour for television. That’s how it came to be the Cresta, not a Velox.” The Cresta fought for Class D honours in the race (for cars with an engine capacity between 2001cc and 3500cc). It had speed, durability and drivers with local knowledge, but they weren’t the favourites. “The Benz coming over from Tasmania, John and Gavin Youl, that was the car to beat,” said Coad. “But the Cresta was a quick car. In those days your regular Vauxhall was good for 85mph. Well, we were doing 105 in ours! Its roadholding was a big, big advantage and it had good brakes for the day. You could leave it in top gear and do very good times.” When the track conditions on race day deteriorated and the Benz fell over (literally), Coad and Roxburgh kept on circulating without troubles to the Class D win and were the first to complete the full distance, knocking off the 167 laps in eight hours, 15 minutes and 58 seconds at an average speed of 60.96mph. “Most teams didn’t know what the conditions att Phillip Island were like,” said Coad. “The conditions weren’t flash. The interstaters did have an idea of how abrasive the track was on tyres, but it would tear the things to pieces. Then you had potholes to contend with, other cars and also dead cars around the circuit. “For us it was a very straightforward run. John did the first stint, I did the next, he did the next and I did the finish. Once the Benz turned over, it was home and hosed.” While there was technically no outright winner of that first Great Race, the Cresta is down in the record books as the first victor. Not without some dispute, though, as some would later claim that Class C winners Geoff Russell and David Anderson in a Peugeot 403 had actually covered the 500 miles in a quicker time, owing to the class starts being separated by 10 seconds and the Class C runners starting 10 seconds later than those in Class D. Coad, not surprisingly, never bought that story. “In 1960, once we crossed the line after 167 laps, well, the race was over,” he said. “We were four laps ahead of it all, but Geoff Russell put the story around that he could see the Vauxhall and he should have won it because of the 10-second gap. But that 10 seconds didn’t make any difference. “In the words of Graham Hoinville, who went through all the results 20 years ago after they rehashed it and I went crook, the only way Geoff could see the Vauxhall was in his rear-vision mirror as it was about to pass him for the fourth time!” The significance of what they’d achieved couldn’t be fathomed, but they knew they’d done something great. “We were very proud of ourselves; there was a big do at the Isle of Wight on the Sunday night and a big, gold thing presented, which Cheney has,” said Coad. “Of course, we didn’t realise what it all would mean.”
Coad and Roxburgh’s Great Race win in the Vauxhall 10
proved to be a crucial first step in the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ culture that would fuel the local racing scene through the decades and deliver classic cars like the Cortina/Falcon GTs, Torana XU-1/A9X and more. “GM, of course, didn’t race in those days,” said Coad. “They didn’t want us to run and they threatened to take the Vauxhall franchise off Cheney if he ran. But who went and advertised the win in the Melbourne papers on the Monday? General Motors! “After that they couldn’t get enough Crestas; they were coming in CKD (complete knocked-down form for local assembly) and they hadn’t brought enough in, so they ran out. “GM realised the business potential after that; they’re not stupid and they soon got involved. When Harry Firth went over to Ford and brought the little Cortinas out, that’s what really got it all started.” Coad and Roxburgh backed up to defend their title in 1961 in a Velox (a cheaper version of the Cresta). They were front-runners in the race until Roxburgh had a major spin and had to pit for repairs. They ended up second in Class A (the classes were restructured compared to the previous year) and third outright behind the winning Bob Jane/Harry Firth Mercedes 220SE and Studebaker Lark of David McKay and Brian Foley. “The previous year we had Col running everything like a tight ship, and I think we let things go a bit in 1961,” said Coad. “The problems John had that year were down to him getting a bit loose the night before! He did a 360degree spin in mid-air at the first turn, landed on the left-hand front and it bent everything under.
ABOVE: Coad and Roxburgh enjoying the spoils of victory at Phillip Island.
“WE TRIED THE CRESTA OUT, TOOK IT UP TO THE DANDENONG RANGES AND THRASHED THE HELL OUT IT!” – FRANK COAD
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The Cresta crosses the line for the win in what’s now remembered as the first edition of Australia’s Great Race.
“We were very competitive. Once Jane had his tyre troubles it was ours because we could round up the Studebakers. But it got away from us. We were stopped for two and half laps getting it straightened up and that buggered us up!” Coad and Roxburgh returned again in a Cheneyentered Cresta for 1962’s final Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island, but fell prey to the brutal track conditions that contributed to the race location’s demise. “We just kept breaking tie-rod ends; I broke one on the right-hand side going around Southern Loop and had to repair it myself to get it back,” he said. “Then a bit later I was coming around Lukey Heights and it did the left one! I was able to get it back, but by then we were down about six laps, so we retired it.” Coad didn’t race at the inaugural Armstrong 500 at Bathurst in 1963 or through most of the 1960s events. “We were busy trying to get our lives and business sorted out,” said Coad, who ran Holden dealers in Victoria’s Mallee before making a switch to freelance plane sales (he started flying in 1949). “Racing was becoming more of a part-time thing.” In 1969, though, he accepted an offer from his old mate Roxburgh to drive for the Datsun Racing Team in the nation’s biggest race and punted his Datsun 1600 to fifth in class and 27th outright. Coad ran again in 1970 for the same outfit in a Datsun 1200 but DNF’d. Coad said: “1970 was the last time I ran in anger. After that I hung up the boots and just said no. Then any time I went out on a track was purely for fun.”
THE CRESTA REBORN
As time went on, Coad started to wonder what happened to his Armstrong-winning Cresta and in 1992 set about tracking it down. “It was my wife’s idea; she suggested I should do something about it,” he said. “I tried to find the original car but found out it had gone; it had been in an accident and destroyed. So I got another shell, made some framework with little wheels so I could move it around, stripped everything
ARMSTRONG 500 PHILLIP ISLAND WINNERS
YEAR 1960 1961 1962
DRIVERS Frank Coad/John Roxburgh Bob Jane/Harry Firth Bob Jane/Harry Firth
CAR Vauxhall Cresta Mercedes-Benz 220SE Ford XL Falcon
AVERAGE SPEED 96.56km/h 96.95km/h 97.48km/h
out and rebuilt everything, right down to the locks and the window winders. A friend of mine did the paintwork and bodywork and another friend did the engine.” The reborn Cresta is a dead-ringer for the original, right down to the number, signwriting and regulation rear mudflaps (required for the race). The only differences are mandatory modern safety kit (mirrors, seatbelts) and the 138ci six-cylinder engine being bog-standard rather than religiously optimised as engines were in the production-spec racing days. “It doesn’t have the high state of tune the race car of 1960 had,” said Coad. “That one was standard specs but optimised; the very best one you could put together. Col went out to Dandenong and they went through 62 heads that they had in stock to find the best one!” The reborn Cresta had some teething problems during its first public appearance in 1996’s Bathurst Legends Rally but has since performed faultlessly. It was still used by Coad and his family to get to various motoring events and for general use. “It is a good old car to drive and it brings back the memories,” said Coad. “I get a lot of people coming up and saying, ‘I saw that thing win in 1960!’” You could sense more than a little pride at finding himself in such a significant position in the history of Australia’s most celebrated motorsport event. “None of us could have ever envisioned back in 1960 what it’s all become,” he said, pointing to a poster on his wall showing every winner of the Great Race with his old Vauxhall sitting right at the top of them all. “When you see a photo like this of all the cars over the years, the progression is amazing.” SUPERCAR XTRA
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IMAGES Autopics.com.au, inetpics.com, Peter Norton
Before the current version of the Ford Mustang entered Supercars in 2019, the Blue Oval’s iconic pony car had a history in the Australian Touring Car Championship dating back to the 1960s. This is its story.
hen the sixth generation of Ford’s iconic Mustang went on sale in Australia in 2015 as a fully imported, right-hand-drive showroom model, it represented the obvious replacement for the all-Australian Ford
Falcon in Supercars when the latter went out of production in late 2016. When the Mustang eventually replaced the Falcon as Ford’s front-line weapon in Australia’s premier tin-top racing category in 2019, it was history repeating itself for the third time.
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THE FIRST MUSTANG ATCC ERA
Touring car great Stormin’ Norm Beechey was the first driver to blood the mighty Ford Mustang in Australia, and it was a stunning debut, racing away to a first-up win and new lap record in his freshly imported 1964 model Hardtop at Melbourne’s Calder Park in January 1965. Powered by a full-house Shelby Cobra race version of the 289ci (4.7-litre) Windsor small-block V8, Beechey’s typically bold decision to chance his racing future on the imported American pony car paid big dividends as he went on a race-winning rampage in the early months of 1965. Beechey not only won the 1965 Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) at Sandown, when it was decided by a single race, but also wrapped up the NSW and South Australian championship titles. Beechey’s Neptune Racing Team Mustang proved so brutally effective as a race winner that his arch rivals at the time were left with no choice but to rustle up some Mustangs of their own. Ian “Pete” Geoghegan and Bob Jane both promptly headed to the USA to buy their own 1965 Mustang Hardtops, which included a visit to Carroll Shelby and a shopping trip through his high-performance warehouse to source all the bits they’d need to succeed. Jane’s car was completed just in time for the 1965
ATCC clash, and although it promptly took pole position, it succumbed to an overheating engine in the race. Sadly, Jane’s 1965 Mustang was destined for a short career after it was destroyed in a fearful 200km/h crash at Catalina Park only a few months later. Geoghegan’s new Hardtop, though, was destined for greatness. Armed with a 400hp Cobra race engine and numerous other Shelby components, the John Sheppard-built Mustang blew Beechey and Jane into the weeds on its debut at Calder Park in August 1965 and just kept on winning. In the space of two electrifying seasons, Geoghegan won 68 races from 74 starts – an astonishing winning ratio of more than 90 percent. This avalanche of victories included the single-race 1966 ATCC at Bathurst, the New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian titles plus lap records at every track Geoghegan and his Mustang competed at.
“STORMIN’ NORM BEECHEY WAS THE FIRST DRIVER TO BLOOD THE MIGHTY FORD MUSTANG IN AUSTRALIA.”
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The Geoghegan/Mustang magic was destined to continue when the mighty 1965 model was replaced with the latest 1967 Hardtop. Armed with a Sheppard-built 289ci (4.7-litre) Windsor V8 fed by a quartet of Weber twin-choke carburettors, Geoghegan made a dazzling debut when he raced away to a well-judged victory over arch rival Beechey’s Chevrolet Nova in the 1967 ATCC held at Queensland’s Lakeside Raceway. Like its predecessor, the speed and reliability of Geoghegan’s new 1967 Mustang on debut was an ominous sign of things to come. Although the number of Mustangs on the ATCC grid continued to grow, Geoghegan was simply untouchable when he claimed his third successive ATCC at Sydney’s Warwick Farm in 1968 (his fourth in total). He claimed his fifth and final crown in the same car in 1969 when it had been upgraded with a larger 302ci (4.9-litre) V8 with slide-throttle fuel injection. Unlike his four previous titles, though, Geoghegan’s last ATCC victory came in the first year Australia’s premier touring car title expanded to a multi-round series with races held in most states. This included the nail-biting finale at Symmons Plains in Tasmania, when he beat Alan Hamilton’s Porsche 911TR to the crown by a single point. Geoghegan continued to race his much-loved Mustang in the 1970 and 1971 ATCC battles, when it sprouted large wheel-arch flares to house the fatter 10-inch wide tyres permitted for the Improved Production cars by that stage. Even so, the ageing Mustang faced increasingly tough competition from potent new muscle cars like Beechey’s HT Monaro GTS 350, which in 1970 became
the first Holden and first Australian car to win the ATCC, and Jane’s exotic seven-litre big block Camaro ZL-1, which won the 1971 and 1972 titles. Arguably Geoghegan’s greatest competition, though, came from another Mustang driven by Allan Moffat, which is widely regarded as the most famous and desirable Australian race car of all. Moffat’s 1969 Boss 302 Trans-Am, resplendent in the bright red paint of his sponsor Coca-Cola, was one of only a handful built by Ford’s factory teams to tackle rival Chevrolet in the 1969 US Trans-Am series. Hand-built by Bud Moore Engineering, the 1969 Boss 302 Mustang Fastback used only the best competition components. It featured the latest Boss 302 race engine, superbly designed roll cage and suspension and even subtle body re-profiling for better air penetration at high speeds. It was the closest thing you could get to a purpose-built race car in a production car body shell. Although Moffat and the Boss didn’t win the ATCC title, the mighty Mustang finished its six-season career in Moffat’s hands with a staggering 101 race wins from 151 starts. It also set lap records at every circuit Moffat raced on and was involved in many thrilling battles with Geoghegan’s 1967 Mustang from 1969 to 1972. A change in the touring car rules for 1973 saw the creation of a new class called ‘Production Touring – Group C’, which in effect combined the old Series Production and Improved Production classes into one new category. As these cars were to compete for the ATCC and Manufacturers’ Championship, Moffat’s Mustang was consigned to the Sports Sedan ranks. The first Mustang ATCC era was over.
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THE SECOND MUSTANG ATCC ERA
Ford fans expecting a repeat of the Mustang’s 1960s dominance when the pony car returned in the 1980s were to be disappointed. The switch from home-grown Group C to the FIA’s international Group A rules in 1985 may have opened the doors to more makes and models from overseas, but it did nothing to help Australian cars. Overnight Holden’s VK Commodore became an underpowered and overweight slug as its 308ci (5044cc) V8 placed it in the over-5000cc engine group, which meant it was burdened with about 180kg of ballast to bring it up to a hefty 1400kg minimum weight. The tight new engine restrictions also knocked the power output back to around 300hp. Holden performed a partial fix for 1985 by slightly de-stroking its V8 from 5044cc to 4987cc, which dropped the Commodore into the under-5000cc division to get a crucial 75kg drop in minimum weight (1400kg to 1325kg). By comparison, Ford Australia found itself in a similar situation to the mid-1960s as it had nothing in its Falcon line-up that could be remotely competitive. So reigning champion Dick Johnson and other Ford loyalists were realistically left with the choice of two imports – the UK’s 2.8-litre V6-powered Sierra XR4i or the 4.9-litre (302ci) V8 Mustang from the USA. On paper the Mustang was the more practical choice given that Eric Zakowski’s Zakspeed team in Germany had already homologated and built Mustang GTs for European Group A touring car racing in 1983. And Australian teams were more familiar with the Mustang’s venerable small-block Windsor V8 and muscle-car mechanicals. Johnson purchased two of the Zakspeed-built Mustangs in 1984 with a view to finishing what Zakowski’s team had started by making the compact V8 American coupe into a race winner. However, the Mustang faced the same handicaps as the Commodore in being underpowered and overweight. Under Group A rules, the Ford V8’s 4942cc engine capacity required a hefty minimum vehicle
weight of 1325kg, but like the Commodore an 11-inch tyre was the widest that could be stuffed under the standard wheel arches. However, while GM-H was able to address this power-to-weight issue by building a much tougher and more powerful 400hp version of its 4.9-litre V8 for 1986, Johnson could not get any assistance from Ford US in homologating a fuel-injection system and other engine parts he needed to unleash more power. As a result the carburettor-fed Group A Mustang started with around 300hp in 1985, which after constant development improved to barely 350hp by 1986. Against the benchmark BMW 635 CSi, which had the same power and tyre width as the Mustang but a smaller 3.5-litre six that allowed it to run a much lower 1185kg minimum weight, it’s not hard to see why Johnson and other Ford runners found little joy in the Mustang’s second ATCC era. Not surprisingly, Jim Richards and his JPS BMW, in winning seven of the 10 rounds, dominated the 1985 ATCC. Johnson, despite not winning a round in his Mustang, finished a fighting second overall through dogged consistency more than anything else. In 1986 Johnson’s Mustang showed good reliability, but the crippling lack of engine power left it with no answer to Holden’s new VK Commodore SS Group A and the new breed of blisteringly fast turbocharged cars from Nissan (DR30 Skyline) and Volvo (240T). Johnson had to settle for being a regular top-10 finisher in the ATCC on his way to sixth overall. The Mustang’s second ATCC era failed to provide the overwhelming success and excitement of the first, thanks largely to Group A’s restrictive rules and Ford’s lack of interest in developing the car. Fortunately, when the Mustang replaced the Australian Falcon in Australian touring cars for a third time, it didn’t face the same handicaps that it did under Group A. Supercars’ more equitable technical rules, based on engine, chassis and aerodynamic parity for all makes and models, saw a revival of the Mustang magic of the 1960s.
ABOVE: Dick Johnson gets to grips with the Ford Mustang V8 at Oran Park in 1985.
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HT MONARO GTS350 IMAGES Autopics.com.au
CARS When we think of successful Holdens in Australian touring cars, it is Toranas and Commodores that come to mind. But it was the Monaro that scored Holden’s first Australian Touring Car Championship win with the iconic HT GTS 350 in 1970.
he Ford versus Holden rivalry in Australian touring cars truly came alive in 1968 when underdog Bruce McPhee and co-driver Barry Mulholland (who drove just one lap) won the Bathurst 500, leading a Holden top-three sweep. A year earlier Ford had scored the first win for a V8-powered car in the Mount Panorama endurance race, so Holden’s response gave birth to a rivalry that continues to this day. But while McPhee and Mulholland’s win with the HK Monaro GTS 327 will go down as the first win for Holden, it was the upgraded HT Monaro GTS 350 that truly marked Holden’s arrival as a major player. The HT Monaro GTS 350 first appeared in mid-1969 and represented an evolution over the HK, featuring a 300bhp (224kW) Chevrolet 350 5.7-litre V8. The engine upgrade was in response
to the release of Ford’s XW Falcon GTHO Phase I in 1969, which was powered by the 351 Windsor 5.8-litre V8 engine. By now V8 power was deemed the only option for the Australian-made cars on the race track. There were also some minor styling changes to the new Monaro, but it was the arrival of a new team to run the HT that would have the biggest change. The Holden Dealer Team was created by longtime Ford works boss/driver Harry Firth in 1969 to replicate the success the Blue Oval had with one powerhouse team, with the HT Monaro GTS 350 the weapon to launch the new-look outfit at the 1969 Bathurst 500. The Holden Dealer Team entered three cars, with Firth handpicking a number of rising stars to drive the HT Monaro GTS 350s: Peter Macrow and Henk Woelders in the #42, Peter Brock
Beechey heading to victory at Bathurst in his championship-winning year of 1970.
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and Des West in the #43 and Colin Bond and Tony Roberts in the #44. With McPhee and Mulholland switching to a Falcon due to a lack of support from Holden, and the Ford works team featuring a formidable line-up that included brothers Ian and Leo Geoghegan and its own rising star Allan Moffat, the expectations of defending the title for Holden fell on this new team. The new team would deliver when Bond and Roberts claimed the win. There was an element of good fortune, with the Ford works entries plagued by tyre troubles, leaving its best-placed entries off the podium in fourth and fifth, but the Holden Dealer Team had all three of its entries in the top six, with Brock and West joining Bond and Roberts on the podium. The Bathurst champs backed up with a win in the Surfers Paradise 12 Hour race in January 1970, proving the success at Mount Panorama was no fluke. The HT Monaro GTS 350 was proving to be the car to have. 1965 Australian Touring Car Championship winner Norm Beechey upgraded from the HK Monaro GTS 327 for 1970, increasing the capacity of the engine from 5.7 to six litres, producing 550bhp. Beechey made a disappointing start to the season at Calder Park after a tangle with a lapped car left him down the order, though he bounced back with victories at Bathurst and Sandown to put some pressure on five-time champion Ian Geoghegan and opening-round winner Moffat. Geoghegan and his Ford Mustang won the fourth round at Mallala ahead of Beechey, while Beechey’s teammate, Jim
A HDT MONARO WITH DES WEST, BUT THE
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IN THE EARLY 1970S PETER BROCk WAS LITTLE MORE THAN YOUNG HOPEFUL. HE HAD ALREADY EXPERIENCED A THIRD PLACE AT BATHURST IN 1969 CO-DRIVING
McKeown in a Porsche 911S, won the following round at Warwick Farm to enter championship contention. But Beechey won the penultimate round at Lakeside, holding off Jane in the final stages. A retirement to Geoghegan handed the championship to the Monaro racer. It marked the first championship win for Holden, courtesy of a driver who had won the title for Ford five years earlier. The new champion didn’t need to enter the final round at Symmons Plains, where a win for McKeown secured a one-two finish for the Shell-backed team. Beechey continued racing the HT Monaro GTS 350 in 1971 and 1972, though unreliability dented his chances of securing another championship, dropping to fifth in 1971 and ending his season prematurely in 1972. Increased competition from Moffat’s Ford Boss 302 Mustang and Jane’s Chevrolet Camaro left the once-mighty Monaro struggling to keep pace. The Australian Touring Car Championship and new-look Bathurst 1000 ran under the same technical regulations for the first time in 1973, with the end of the Improved Production rulebook and creation of a new production-based Group C class ending the reign of the Monaro, Mustang and Camaro. The Holden Dealer Team would grow from strength to strength and take the fight to Ford’s Falcon with its pint-sized Toranas. While they were a far cry from the muscle-car Monaro, the success of the HT Monaro GTS 350 would lay the foundations for Holden’s future successes.
WET RACE OF 1972 WAS TO BE THE FIRST OF BROCk’S NINE
VICTORIES IN THE GREAT RACE. FOLLOWING IS A POSSIBLE TRACk COMMENTARY FROM
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BEAT GOLIATHS T Before the days of control chassis’, cars of different shapes and sizes did battle and produced some great racing. These are the small cars that defied the odds. he 1992 season was a year of curtain calls for the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC). It was the final year of the Group A regulations that had been in place since 1985. The final appearance of turbos and cars like the Ford Sierra and Nissan GT-R. The last time our local variety of V8-powered Holden and Ford Goliaths would experience what it was like to be on the wrong end of a fully opened can of whoopass. And that’s an important ‘last’ of 1992 that should be noted. This was the last season when a little guy fought bigger, more powerful foes and won. The last time an Australian touring car would show that, when it comes to delivering on the track, being a Goliath isn’t always better. That final David was BMW’s M3, but it was just one of several contenders to prove that good things don’t just come in big packages.
MINI COOPER S
This little guy was a giant of the production-car world, revolutionising small-car design with its innovative front-wheel-drive layout and wheel-at-each-corner packaging. And thanks to the prescience of Formula 1 team boss John Cooper, who recognised its sporting
potential and lobbied BMC management to let him build a high-performance version, the Cooper, it would go on to have just as big of an impact on global motorsport. It was the winner of the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, ’65 and ’67 (and ’66 before it was controversially disqualified for not having the right headlights). It was also the winner of five British Saloon Car Championships and countless other European touring car, rally and other titles. International racing CVs don’t get much more gilded. Its tiny fingerprints are smudged all over early Australian touring car history. The first Mini, the Morris 850, arrived too late onto the Australian market to contest the first Great Race at Phillip Island in 1960, but it was part of the 1961 and ’62 events. In the very first Great Race at Bathurst in 1963, the Mini – now racing in Cooper form, which was differentiated from its 850 siblings by a bigger capacity engine (997cc versus 848cc) with twin SU carburettors, a close-ratio gearbox, front disc brakes and other tricks – stitched up its first class win. In the 1964 race Coopers locked up the first four positions in their class. But the Mini that would really hurt the egos of its rivals was the Cooper S, powered by a 1275cc engine with more than double the grunt of the original 850.
RACE TO WATCH: 1969 Series Production Touring Car Race, Warwick Farm. Digby Cooke and his Mini Cooper S make mincemeat of the Falcon GTs and Monaros in this wet and wild race at Sydney’s Warwick Farm.
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At Bathurst in 1965, Brian Foley and Peter Manton – two of Australia’s most successful Mini steerers – didn’t just wrap up another class win for the mighty mite but finished third outright in their S, just a lap behind the winning Ford Cortina GT500 of Bo Seton and Midge Bosworth. David was closing the gap – in 1963, the best Mini had finished five laps down. In 1966 the Cooper S would cement its legend not just by winning Bathurst outright in the hands of Finnish rally star Rauno Aaltonen and local Bob Holden but also filling the first nine outright positions. That would end up being the Mini’s apex in Australian touring cars. Changes to the Great Race regulations that favoured bigger rivals from 1967 saw its outright fortunes fade (fifth outright in 1967, 10th in 1968, 14th in 1969), but it would continue to rack up class wins there, in the single-race ATCC runoffs and other key series production and improved production events through the late 1960s and into the ’70s. On tracks like Amaroo Park and in more challenging weather, it would remain a threat to outright contenders.
HOLDEN TORANA GTR XU-1
Holden, along with the Ford, was a key beneficiary of the move to more V8-friendly Bathurst regulations, winning the Great Races of 1968 and ’69 with its Monaro GTSs. But when the mighty Monaro’s inherent braking shortcomings proved to be unsolvable – and Holden started to wonder about the consequences of entering into a full-on power race with Ford – the smaller Torana GTR was anointed as Holden’s racing weapon of choice. Holden Dealer Team boss Harry Firth, one of the key motivators behind the downsizing strategy, was charged with developing the GTR variant that would
take on the series-production calendar. Along with HDT engine builder Ian Tate, he would deliver not just one of Australia’s most fondly remembered road cars but one of its most successful touring cars ever. The LC Torana GTR XU-1, launched in August 1970, brought a host of improvements over the base GTR, least of all being a bigger six-cylinder engine (threelitres vs 2.6-litres) with triple Zenith carburettors and substantially more grunt. That first iteration of XU-1 was never quite fast enough to do the business at Bathurst – both the 1970 and ’71 races went to Allan Moffat in the by-now volcanic Falcon GTHOs, with the best Toranas home in third and fourth respectively – but the little Holden soon become a thorn in the side of the big Fords almost everywhere else. The new Torana racer would post victories at Oran Park’s Toby Lee Series, the Phillip Island 100k and series-production races at Lakeside before 1970 was out. In 1971 it would keep on winning and deliver Holden victory over Ford in the first ever Manufacturers’ Championship. And there was more to come. In February 1972 the successor to the LC – the LJ, powered by a bigger, more powerful 3.3-litre six – was launched and more on-track success followed. When plans for a V8-powered XU-1 were shelved following the ‘supercar’ crisis that year, the XU-1 – by now equipped with Globe Sprintmaster wheels, bigger rubber and other advances intended for the still-born V8 – would go on to beat the dominant GTHOs at Bathurst in the wet with soon-to-be Holden god Peter Brock behind the wheel. In 1973, under new Group C touring-car regulations, the XU-1 kept on clocking up the wins and series crowns, even if a mistimed pitstop halted another likely Bathurst victory for Brock and the HDT.
RACE TO WATCH:
1973 South Pacific Touring Car Series, Round 2, Warwick Farm. Colin Bond gives a masterclass of wetweather driving on another gloomy day at Warwick Farm. Falcon driver John Goss doesn’t see which way the Holden went, while HDT teammate Peter Brock spins trying to keep up. Future Ford star Dick Johnson is there in an XU-1, too. SUPERCAR XTRA
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Even in 1974, when the new V8-powered LH Torana was waiting in the wings, it would be quick enough to keep Brock in the ATCC title hunt for the bulk of the season, allowing him to jump into the new LH SLR/5000 and seal his maiden ATCC crown.
This little Mazda stirred up a real hornet’s nest during its five-year spell in Australian touring cars. In the eyes of some of the V8 set of the time, this low-slung rotary-powered car simply had no place being on a touring-car grid. When Allan Moffat powered his to victory in the Oran Park round of the ATCC in 1983, third-placed Commodore driver Allan Grice is reported to have said, “I came second in the touring car race!” at the podium presentation. Such barbs, though, were a long way off when three privately entered RX-7s contested the 1980 Bathurst 1000. All of them ended the day with a DNF next to their name. It wasn’t long, however, before the threat the RX-7 represented to the establishment became clear. In 1981’s shortened Bathurst 1000, Moffat – who had controversially left Ford to lead Mazda’s attack – bagged the RX-7’s first podium finish there. He then followed it up with its maiden victory in the final round of the Australian Endurance Championship (AEC) at Surfers Paradise. The Mazda would trouble the front-runners even more in 1982. Moffat won the Lakeside and Surfers Paradise ATCC rounds, then took out the Sandown 400 and two more of that year’s five AEC rounds (Surfers, Adelaide) to wrap up the AEC driver’s title. The controversy surrounding the Japanese car came to a head in 1983. Moffat won four of that year’s eight ATCC rounds to take his fourth and final ATCC crown 20
but faced open accusations of sandbagging from members of the V8 mafia, who believed he was winning at the slowest possible speed so governing body CAMS would allow him to replace his RX-7’s 1.2-litre 12A rotary with the bigger, torquier 13B in the enduros. When the Mazda received this pick-me-up as part of a range of homologation changes for the enduro season, tempers flared. When CAMS then announced further freedoms for the RX-7 – including use of a fuel-injected 13B, which Dick Johnson at the time said was like “giving Grant Kenny flippers” – and it cantered to an easy win at the Sandown 400, a first Bathurst win seemed inevitable. But it wasn’t to be. The RX-7’s predicted speed advantage didn’t eventuate – the Fords, Holdens and Nissan Bluebirds had ended up gaining freedoms of their own during the CAMS-homologation bunfight that had increased their competitiveness – and pitstop troubles meant Moffat and co-driver Yoshimi Katayama had to settle for second on the day. Mazda’s lack of a suitable Group A contender meant the final year of Group C, 1984, was also the RX-7’s curtain call. It wasn’t a happy ATCC for the team – Moffat won one round before crashing heavily at Surfers Paradise and missing the rest of the season – and Bathurst saw another close-but-no-cigar-result (third). But victory for Moffat in the Valvoline 250 AEC round at Oran Park, giving him another AEC driver’s title and Mazda the AEC manufacturer’s crown, meant the Mazda RX-7 did bow out of Australian touring cars a winner.
This David of Australian touring cars was also a Lazarus, coming back from the dead to trouble bigger rivals another time. The first M3 of 1987 was a winner straight off the bat. Jim Richards harnessed its exceptional handling and braking to win four rounds of that year’s ATCC and the title, overturning an early-season points advantage held by rival Glenn Seton in the more powerful but ill-handling Nissan Skyline Turbo. But its first run of success was brief. In 1988 the Ford Sierra – which had become the Group A touring car to have in late 1987 – wiped the floor with all of its rivals and strode to dominant ATCC and Bathurst wins. The M3, contrastingly, spent 1988 fighting for class-win scraps, its sole outright success a win in the Pepsi 250 enduro at Oran Park with Peter Brock – now flying the BMW flag following his bust-up with Holden – and teammate Richards. 1989 and 1990 were even darker years for the BMW. Its decreasing competitiveness saw the German brand retreat from factory backing, leaving privateers to carry the can. A new, seemingly more dominant touring car than even the Sierra – Nissan’s GT-R – appeared on the scene. In 1991, however, CAMS introduced a series of regulatory changes for Australian touring cars aimed
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at closing up the competition. This, the return of a factory team helmed by ex-JPS Team boss Frank Gardner and a new Evo version of the M3 – which had a bigger, more powerful 2.5-litre engine (up from 2.3), wider rubber and even less weight than the featherweight original – transformed it back into a genuine front-runner. While the GT-Rs remained the cars to beat, taking a one-two in the ATCC race and the Bathurst title, the revitalised M3 was best of the rest. Longhurst, who’d switched to the Sierra in 1988 with Gardner and followed him back to BMW, was unbeatable in the tighter confines of Amaroo Park, smashed the GT-Rs at Lakeside and scored five other podium finishes to seal third in championship, with teammate and former Formula 1 champion Alan Jones uncorking a strong run in the latter stages to end up fourth. The BMW was back in a big way. More regulatory changes for 1992, again aimed at tightening up the competition, saw the M3 cop a 50kg weight penalty, but it would end the ATCC as the best of the rest behind the winning GT-Rs again and, at Lakeside, score its final wins. It also equalled its previous best Bathurst result from 1988 (fourth place). Even in 1993, when it was essentially a class car in a field of five-litre V8s, this giant-killer still landed podiums at Winton and Barbagallo.
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THE LAST OF THE BIG BANGERS
IMAGES Holden Motorsport
Peter Brock and Larry Perkins’ 1984 Holden VK Commodore is one of the most iconic Australian touring cars ever produced, from its flared guards, big wings and day-glo livery to its perfect record in the farewell events to the legendary Group C era.
he sight of the pair of distinctive white and dayglo red Holden Dealer Team (HDT) VK Commodores crossing the line for a one-two formation finish at the 1984 Bathurst 1000 is unforgettable for Holden fans. Peter Brock and Larry Perkins shared the winning #05 car, which – despite being two laps in front of their teammates – crossed the finish just metres ahead of the number #25 team car driven by John Harvey and David Parsons. Brock, having blown the competition to pieces, had deliberately slowed towards the end of the race to allow Parsons to catch up and finally deliver the formation finish Holden had been craving since the Moffat Ford Dealers team did it in 1977. HDT’s dominance of the 1984 race was remarkable, given the fastest 10 cars after official practice were covered by just over two seconds. Six different manufacturers (Holden, Ford, Nissan, Mazda, BMW and Jaguar) took part in the top 10 qualifying Shootout. Although Brock was just pipped for pole by George Fury’s
turbocharged Nissan Bluebird, the King of the Mountain surged into the lead at the start of the race as many rivals dropped out of contention with either crash damage or mechanical failures. It was Brock’s eighth Bathurst 500/1000 win. HDT’s emphatic Bathurst victory came in the final year of Australia’s home-grown Group C touring car rules, which were replaced with international Group A regs in 1985. Many local teams and fans were sad to see the demise of the ‘big banger’ Group C class as the unique Australian category had produced some of the fastest and most exciting racing sedans since its inception in 1973. HDT was determined to give Group C a memorable curtain call, though, by building two brand-new Commodores, which would have a racing life of only a few months and compete in just three events. Brock’s #05 car achieved a perfect score, winning not only the 1984 Bathurst 1000 but also the Sandown 500 and Surfers Paradise 300 endurance races, while Harvey’s #25 car finished third, second and sixth at those long-distance events.
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The most memorable visual feature of these cars was undoubtedly the red and white Marlboro livery, in which the red sections featured a special day-glo paint that glowed brightly when exposed to the sun’s rays. Brock was inspired to use this special paint after competing in an international sportscar race at Silverstone earlier in the year. Inspired by the dazzling effect he saw on some rival cars, he took a sample back to Australia and insisted it be used on the last of the Group C Commodores.
HOW THEY WERE BUILT
Compared to today’s purpose-built Supercars with their tubular steel space-frame chassis, transaxles and pure-bred competition components, Group C cars were effectively hotted-up road cars that were relatively cheap to build and race. Underneath their huge fiberglass front and rear spoilers, wheel-arch flares, fat tyres and barking exhausts were body shells and mechanicals which never strayed far from their roadcar origins. So what made HDT’s 1984 Bathurst VK Commodores so special? Put simply, they were the ultimate refinement of the breed; a process that started with the original VB model in 1980 and continued through VC and VH models. By the time they got to VK, this refinement had been perfected. They were the lightest, simplest, strongest and fastest, built under the supervision of workshop manager Perkins, who was renowned for his frugal efficiency as a constructor. By comparison to today’s Supercars, HDT’s final Group C warriors were built for a fraction of the cost. Most components used were then-current Holden production-line parts supplied free by GM-H, with the more specialised racing hardware purchased from Harrop Engineering and other local suppliers. Proof of HDT’s efficiency was that it did not start building its two 1984 Bathurst cars until the squad returned from competing in the Le Mans 24 Hour sportscar race in a Porsche 956 in late June. With a build time of about eight weeks, the HDT mechanics led by Perkins included Neil Burns, Marty Watt, Graham Brown, Andy Bartley and future Holden Racing Team manager Jeff Grech. The two cars were completed on time and on budget. GM-H’s production line process for Commodore body shells earmarked for competition use was well established by 1984 under production manager Mike Prowse. To make building race cars easier and faster, HDT and other Holden teams would walk each body shell down the line to ensure they got what they needed as a starting point. Perkins had already organised HDT’s new VK shells earlier in the year, which came from the factory as clean skins devoid of any joint sealer and sound deadener plus any brackets, internal panels or components not needed for racing. They were also treated to double the standard number of spot welds to increase chassis strength and rigidity. Blind nuts used for bolting in the aluminium roll cages were welded in place at the base of each body shell’s A, B and C pillars. The front subframes were stamped from thicker steel for greater strength and durability. From there HDT would apply its expertise in race-car construction, which included additional seam welding of the body shell for maximum rigidity and fabrication of stronger mountings for the front-suspension caster arms, rear-axle top-trailing arms and Watts linkage.
The boot floors were modified to fit low-slung 120-litre drybreak fuel cells, and the outer radius of the wheel arches was enlarged to provide sufficient tyre clearance. The inner halves of the standard rear wheel housings were also moved inboard by about 20mm as part of the VK’s homologation package, to accommodate very wide rear tyres. The fiberglass body kit approved for use on the VK was the best of the lot, starting with a large front spoiler, which for the first time incorporated the front bumper bar in one seamless moulding. At the rear was a very effective three-piece air dam (some called it an ‘air bucket’), which generated substantial aerodynamic downforce to keep the car stable at high speeds and provide extra grip for the rear tyres. Large wheel-arch extensions at each corner covered the bulging tyres that protruded beyond the standard. The HDT VKs had impressive rolling stock, using the standard five-stud hub pattern as demanded by the rules. Featherweight 16 x 11-inch Momo five-spoke rims with 11.25-inch wide rubber were mounted up front with fatter 16 x 12-inch Momos on the rear wearing steamroller-style 13-inch wide tyres. Four-wheel disc brakes featured huge Harrop ventilated front rotors clamped by powerful four-spot callipers. Super stiff spring rates and wrist-thick anti-sway bars were controlled by Bilstein race shocks, and many suspension components were rose-jointed. Group C cars had to retain most of their road-car interior trim, apart from the removal of floor carpets and installation of proper racing seats, steering wheels, safety harnesses and aftermarket gauges and switches. Lightweight roll cages made from aluminium tubing were firmly bolted to numerous points throughout the cabins, providing improved crash protection for the drivers and better chassis rigidity. By 1984 the performance of Holden’s 308ci (five-litre) castiron V8 had reached its peak after 10 years of Group C development that started with the Torana L34. Crankshaft stroke, cylinder bore, combustion-chamber volume, head-gasket thickness and cylinder-block deck heights were all tightly controlled by the rules, but HDT’s engine man Burns worked within those parameters to build what were arguably the best 308s in the business. By 1984 his fully baffled wet-sump design had proven to be very efficient, even though it suffered the odd failure when caught out by oil surge, like Brock’s early failure at Bathurst in 1983 when the engine ran a big-end bearing and then threw a connecting rod. Burns always had to keep a close eye on the sump’s oil level. A Harrop forged-steel crankshaft was super strong, held securely in place by two-bolt main-bearing caps. Six-inch forgedsteel Carrillo rods were matched with Cosworth forged-aluminium flat-top pistons, running a sensible 11:1 compression ratio on 100-octane fuel. Although this bottom-end combination was safe to over 7000rpm, maximum power was reached at 6800rpm, so there was never any need to surpass that figure. It just provided a nice safety margin. Ported and polished big-valve ‘B’ cast cylinder heads were shared with the HDT road cars. They were basically later versions of the original Torana L34 heads, incorporating the latest updates from Perfectune and Harrop Engineering. SUPERCAR XTRA
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A high-lift camshaft made to Burns’ specifications was matched with GM-H lifters, pushrods and Crane roller rockers mounted on screw-in studs. Burns also did a lot of development work with John Ferris of HM Headers to produce the best extractors and exhaust systems. These engines also shared the HDT road car’s dual-plane, square-port inlet manifold. A pair of Weber twin-choke 48mm IDF carburettors was mounted on a HDT adapter that positioned these carburettors laterally to avoid fuel surge, with the front tilted slightly forward to allow for the bonnet clearance. Cold intake air was delivered by a tray-style aluminium air scoop, which sealed against the underside of the closed bonnet and breathed through the narrow gap between the top of the grille and the leading edge of the bonnet. Peak power was just over 400bhp (300kW) at 6800rpm with 385ft/lb (520Nm) of mountain-climbing torque at 4800rpm. The remainder of the drivetrain was tried and tested hardware proven at many previous Bathurst campaigns, comprising a multi-plate competition clutch, Borg Warner Super T10 fourspeed gearbox and a four-link, coil-sprung live rear axle equipped with GM’s big 10-bolt centre and a rugged Detroit Locker.
HOW DO THEY COMPARE?
While the HDT power figures may sound tame in comparison to today’s 600bhp-plus (450kW) fuel-injected five-litre Supercar engines, it must be remembered that the 1984 HDT cars weighed only 1250kg compared to the current Supercars at 24
1400kg. This results in near identical power-to-weight ratios of around 3.1kg/kW. And with the tall 3.08:1 diff they ran at Bathurst, the day-glo VKs were reaching top speeds of 280 to 290km/h at 6600rpm by the time they topped the second hump on the old full-length Conrod Straight. And that, folks, is just as fast as a Supercar goes down Conrod today. It’s interesting also to compare the fastest lap times achieved by Brock’s 1984 winner with the fastest recorded by a modern-day Supercar. Brock’s qualifying time was 2:14.039. The long-time Supercar qualifying benchmark stood at 2:06.8594 set by Greg Murphy’s VY Commodore back in 2003 – that’s a difference of more than seven seconds. Brock’s fastest race lap, which was a new lap record, was 2:15.30. Compare this to Jamie Whincup’s record set in 2007 aboard his BF Falcon at 2:08.4651. That’s a difference of just under seven seconds per lap. In other words, if Brock’s VK Commodore and Whincup’s BF Falcon had been competing in the same race, Brock would have been lapped by Whincup after about 18 laps. And if they’d continued at that pace throughout the 161-lap race, Brock would have finished more than eight laps behind. This is a sobering statistic, but one that brings into sharp focus the huge advances that have been made in engine, chassis, tyre, brake and aerodynamic development. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that the HDT VK Commodores that finished one-two at Bathurst in 1984 were truly the ‘Supercars’ of their generation.
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VL COMMODORE IMAGES Autopics.com.au
The Group A era wasn’t suited to locally made cars, yet Holden defied the odds at the Bathurst 1000 with two wins for the VL Commodore in 1987 and 1990.
The VL Group A racers, the Holden Dealer Team version (right) and Walkinshaw version (opposite).
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VL SUCCESSES 1987 Monza 500 win: Allan Moffat/John Harvey 1987 Bathurst 1000 win: Peter Brock/David Parsons/Peter McLeod 1990 Bathurst 1000 win: Allan Grice/Win Percy 1990 Sydney 500 win: Larry Perkins/Tomas Mezera 1992 Sandown 500 win: Larry Perkins/Steve Harrington
he mid 1980s were a tumultuous time for Holden. There was the arrival of the Group A international regulations to Australia, which suited imported cars more than the local product. The effects of the fuel crisis were still in flow, rival Ford had dropped the V8 engine and Holden weighed up doing the same, while a messy divorce with star driver Peter Brock was on the horizon. Yet through it all Holden won three Bathurst 1000s in five years against the might of Group A’s international invaders, with the VL Commodore winning at Mount Panorama in 1987 and 1990. The VL was released in February 1986. And though it shared the same base shell as its predecessors, there was a revised front and read end. Holden bowed to public pressure and retained a V8 option. The Group A racing version debuted on the international stage at the first round of the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at Monza, Italy, in 1987. Amidst protests and disqualifications, it emerged victorious with Allan Moffat and John Harvey. The Australian Touring Car Championship wasn’t so kind to the VL, and Holden went through the season without a win, unable to compete with the BMW M3 and Nissan Skyline in the short races. Larry Perkins was the best of the Holden brigade in fifth, albeit running the older VK model. Bathurst was another round of the WTCC, and it was once again marred by protests and disqualifications. The Holden Dealer Team’s Peter Brock crossed the line third, despite a mid-race car change, but was later awarded the win following the disqualification of the winning Eggenberger Sierras. It was back to reality at the next round of the WTCC at Calder, where the best-placed VL (Perkins and Denny Hulme) was in sixth place and two laps down. It was the same again at the penultimate race of the season on the streets of Wellington, with Brock and
Parsons two laps down in fifth. Brock and Holden were in the midst of an ugly separation over the ‘Energy Polariser’ scandal, with the split leading to the demise of the Holden Dealer Team. Tom Walkinshaw Racing took over the mantle as Holden’s factory-backed team and Holden Special Vehicles the performance-vehicle partner. The first car to come out of this new partnership was the SS Group A SV version of the VL, a more aggressive looking car that claimed to reduce drag by more than 25 percent. The new version of the VL racer faced stiffer competition, with the Ford Sierra dominating in the championship and at Bathurst in 1988 and 1989. The VL struggled and finished three laps down from the winning Sierra at Bathurst in 1989 (Perkins and Tomas Mezera in sixth). Teething problems were ironed out with the creation of the Holden Racing Team as its own entity into 1990, with driver/owner Win Percy finishing in the championship as the best non-Sierra or Skyline in eighth. Bathurst was expected to be a Sierra and Skyline demonstration, but as those entries fell by the wayside, it was VL steerers Percy and Allan Grice who emerged as the shock winners. A win for Perkins and Mezera in the Sydney 500 a month later confirmed that the Commodore was reliable and a worthy opponent to the international cars in longer distance races. The VL was replaced by the all-new VN in 1991, though by then the Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R was proving unbeatable. There was a final hurrah for the VL with Perkins and Steve Harrington winning the Skyline-less Sandown 500 and Perkins qualifying the older model on the front row at Bathurst in 1992. But the Skyline ruled the final year of Group A. It may have come in a bleak period for Holden, yet the VL delivered three milestones: a win at the legendary Monza, the ninth and final Bathurst win for Peter Brock and the first for the Holden Racing Team. SUPERCAR XTRA
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The Ford Sierra took Australian touring cars by storm in the late 1980s. Dick Johnson looks back on the turbocharged weapon that turned his Dick Johnson Racing team into a dominator.
sweat-drenched Dick Johnson fiddles with an ear plug. He smiles, almost sinisterly, as his interviewer asks him about the race so far. Johnson is happy; he'd led the opening stint of the race before handing his Ford Sierra to co-driver John Bowe at the first stop, and even a fuel-filler problem that dropped them to 11th wasn't enough to dislodge the grin. "Were you surprised to be so competitive over here?" comes the question, asked with a syrupy British accent. Johnson's smile grows wider; his eyes sparkle as he quietly chuckles to himself. "Ah, yeah, okay," is his response, dripping with sarcasm.
"I mean, you're obviously quite a match for the other Sierra Cosworths," the interviewer insists, desperate to pull some morsel of genius from the man who'd dominated the opening laps. Johnson duly delivers, the smile fixed across his face as he retorts, "Mate, we convicts can do anything!" Now, decades on from that interview at Silverstone in August 1988, Johnson considers the weekend one of his proudest moments. His eyes sparkled that day not simply because he’d taken on the world with his Australian-developed Sierra and shown that he was as good as anyone. He’d also claimed revenge for Bathurst in 1987, where he’d been left a humiliated spectator from lap four as
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"IT'S DEFINITELY ONE OF THE CARS THAT REALLY MADE OUR TEAM MAKE ITS MARK. IT'S SOMETHING THAT I THINK ALL OF OUR GUYS HAVE BEEN VERY, VERY PROUD OF OVER MANY YEARS BECAUSE WE LITERALLY BUILT A CAR THAT BEAT THE WORLD." – DICK JOHNSON a bunch of foreigners went on to dominate Australia’s biggest race. "One of my favourite, bar none, photos was at Silverstone, down the Hanger Straight there where on lap one we've got 200 metres on two Eggenberger cars and a Rouse car is another 50 metres behind that," he says with the mischievous twinkle that was there all those years ago. After switching from the Ford Mustang to Sierra at the start of the season, 1987 was a struggle. Over the course of the year the team blew 37 turbochargers, while its two-car Bathurst effort ended with both cars out before the start of the fifth lap. "On lap two Neville Crichton and Larry Perkins came together coming out of the Cutting and it put both of them out, so I was the lone ranger. I got to the top of the Mountain and broke a diff on lap four,” says Johnson. "I walked back to the bloody pits and spent the whole day in a corporate box, which is very uncomfortable when both their cars are out and all their customers are there wanting to see their vehicles perform. It's very uncomfortable, for six or seven hours, trying to explain why these things happen." Johnson had moved to the Sierra in 1987 in an effort to move up the order. The previous two years had been a struggle with the Mustang, a heavy,
normally-aspirated car that handled well but lacked the top speed needed to be competitive. The Sierra XR4Ti had debuted in Britain in the hands of Andy Rouse, despite the fact it was never sold outside of North America, where it was known as the Merkur. "The body was very similar or the same as the Sierra except for the fact that it had a 2.3-litre single overhead cam four-cylinder engine with a turbocharger on it," Johnson recalls. "I knew nothing about electronics or management systems or anything like that, so the only other Ford that was homologated as a race car back then, or a Group A car, was the Mustang. So I chose to run the Mustang for a couple of years until the Sierra came out, which was the RS Cosworth, and then in 1988 they bought out the RS500 Cosworth. "The Mustang handled extremely well; it was just far too heavy for the amount of horsepower it had. It was only a normally-aspirated 382 Windsor engine, which I might add is the same bloody engine we're running now if I'm quite honest. It was just far too heavy. It handled well, it stopped well, but the way the rules were structured, the car was, as I said, far too heavy. It didn't have an awful lot of straight-line speed. But the Sierra itself, when it first came out, it was only 980kg or something, the homologated weight. It was a bloody rocketship because we could make a fair bit of horsepower but they were popping turbos." Throughout the course of 1987, Dick Johnson Racing struggled to come to terms with the car, though he did give the Sierra its first win with victory at Adelaide International Raceway. The car was fast but fragile, with the differential a key concern, one that wasn't addressed until the release of the Sierra RS5000 Cosworth in 1988, which solved the turbocharger problem and gave the car more power. "When the RS500 came, shit, we made a fair bit of bloody horsepower,” says Johnson. “But then we started splitting blocks in half, right across where the welch plugs go in the side of the block. Because we'd run so much boost, it'd try and split the thing in half, which it used to do. "We ended up overcoming that by some good Australian engineering. In fact, we made some special head studs that went from the cylinder head, like it used to hold the head on but went all the way through and bolted into the main bearing studs at the same time, so it holds the whole thing together, so it never blew in half. It was bloody ripper! "When we used to run them in on the dyno, we ran them in without a turbo hooked up, and they had all of, flat out, they had 90hp. After it was running, we hooked the turbo up, give it about 2.4 bar of boost and it had 680hp." Aside from the difficult power delivery, the Sierra handled well, though Johnson admits it did suffer initially from understeer. His solution to the problem landed him in court. "Yeah, it was pretty good in that respect," he recalls of the handling. SUPERCAR XTRA
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Johnson debuted the Sierra at Mount Panorama in 1987, though it was out in the early stages.
"It was well balanced; it was just the fact that it needed more front grip. Kevin Waldock took us to bloody court saying we stole his bloody design on a steering arm. What a joke. It was a piece of aluminium with holes drilled in and he reckoned he owned the design. I mean, give me a break. Obviously the judge threw it out." With the car's handling sorted, the differential remained a weakness and source of frustration stemming back to Bathurst 1987. "The diffs that they had in them were very unreliable and very fragile," explains Johnson. "So we thought, well, why don't we try and homologate, make something here." The task fell to Ron Harrop, who worked to have Ford homologate a tried and tested nine-inch differential. It was a battle, but eventually the manufacturer gave in and the new diff received the rubber stamp it needed for competition. It also proved a revenue stream for Dick Johnson Racing, with it quickly becoming popular among fellow Ford Sierra runners despite a lighter though more expensive 'factory' alternative being developed soon after. Johnson didn't stop there and homologated a six-speed Hollinger gearbox in place of the fivespeed Getrag in an effort to overcome the turbo lag that made the cars such a handful. It also improved the car’s reliability, making it more suitable to the 30
demands of Mount Panorama. The refined suspension, upgraded turbo, new differential and gearbox were all well and good, but fundamentally there was no escaping the fact that Johnson was wholly reliant on Andy Rouse in the UK, who drove the engine development. The engine was governed by an ECU, and a machine designed to burn the programming onto the chip was needed to make any changes, and Rouse wasn’t prepared to share. "He wouldn't sell us the equipment that we could sort of programme our own chips or our own computers,” says Johnson. “So I told him he could shove it fair up the clacker and walked out of his bloody office. I ended up going to see a mate of mine who I used to get some parts off. He put us onto this guy named Graham Dale Jones, and he was a guy who, on contract, did all the rally cars for Ford. They ran a Bosch system, so he said, 'I'll help, I'll put you onto a Bosch system.' So that's how we sort of got things honking." Jones visited Johnson on his way back to the UK from Pikes Peak, stopping at the Queenslander's workshop to teach the crew how to use the Bosch system to program the car's ECU. It was a critical moment in Johnson's relationship with the Sierra and one that transformed him from a customer to a world beater. "That was it, that was the one thing, the key to the whole thing," Johnson admits.
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Johnson and John Bowe pushed the Sierra to the max at the Bathurst 1000 in 1992.
"We could actually control the development of the engine and sort of not have to rely on anyone from the UK to tell us you can have this and we'll charge you a bloody fortune for it and give you five horsepower." Transformed, Johnson and teammate John Bowe, who joined the squad in 1988, dominated the season. Johnson went on to win the championship that year, backing it up in 1989. He and Bowe won Bathurst in 1989, leading every lap of the race after qualifying on pole. But while Johnson is proud of that achievement, it was his last Bathurst in a Sierra that he considers on par with his Silverstone performance. "Thinking back to 1992, where the Nissan won by default when the race was stopped and they went back not one lap but two, that was probably one of the most perfect races that JB and I ever did,” says Johnson. "We really took the fight up to them all day from start to finish. If ever we say we did a perfect race, that would have been it because our pitstops were spot on, our strategies were spot on, we put the right tyres on at the right time, both JB and myself probably drove better than we ever have, so it was one of those situations where it was disappointing not to win." By 1992 the Sierra had been outclassed by its Japanese challenger, though the writing had been on the wall much earlier than that. In 1990 the tide began to turn when Jim Richards won the title from Peter Brock in a Sierra while Johnson could only manage third. Johnson’s wins that year would be
his last in a Sierra. Bowe went on to win two rounds in 1992, the last at the car’s penultimate event at Barbagallo, before it was retired and replaced with the Ford EB Falcon for 1993 as the sport waved goodbye to Group A. “We knew damn well that things weren’t going to last forever and, unfortunately, the Nissans really started to get their act together; twin-turbo V6, fourwheel-drive and everything else that went with it,” says Johnson. “It was a bit of a David and Goliath battle, or a tortoise and the hare, and we were the bloody tortoise. To try and keep up with the likes of the Nissan and that we would have had to gone to what they had over in the UK, which was called a Ford Sapphire, which was a four-wheel-drive Sierra basically. We never went down that road because we never had the funds to do it." Though well past its prime by the time it was retired, the Ford Sierra holds a special place in Johnson's memory. It was a championship winner, both in Australia and in Britain. “It’s definitely one of the cars in my eyes that really made our team make its mark,” he says. “It’s something that I think all of our guys have been very, very proud of over many years because we literally built a car that beat the world.” Johnson may not have won the race that day at Silverstone, but he proved his point. We convicts really can do anything. SUPERCAR XTRA
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CARS OF THE IMAGES Nissan Australia, Autopics.com.au
Before Nissan dominated Australian touring cars in the early 1990s, there were years of struggle and development with various cars through different technical regulations. These are the cars of the Japanese make’s time in Australia.
here’s no other way to cut it: Nissan’s return to Supercars under the Car of the Future was a struggle, with only a handful of wins to show for seven seasons with Kelly Racing between 2013 and 2019. There were solid showings, intermittent displays of serious pace and promise aplenty, but not the consistent form needed to break into the front ranks and challenge for championships, as Nissan had once done. Fred Gibson knows all about Nissan, touring cars and the long, hard slog. He was part of its factory attack on Australian touring cars in the 1980s and ’90s, first as a driver, then team owner. He endured all sorts of ebbs and troughs before finally striking title gold in 1990. When he took Nissan to its maiden Bathurst win in 1991, it had been a decade of blood, sweat and tears to get there. Nissan Motorsport’s struggles in the modern era aren’t a surprise to Gibson, who reckons his advice could have saved them a few headaches. “The most disappointing thing about all that with me is when they decided to go into V8 Supercars and John Crennan was with the Kelly team,” he says. “I would have expected John to ring me up and say, ‘FG, we’ve gone with Nissan. Can you give me any hints?’ “I would have said, ‘Don’t rely on the Japanese.’ First thing I’d say. We started buying parts from NISMO and I can tell you now a water pump for the GT-R wasn’t special… $12,000 for a water pump. A gearbox, a Nissan dog-box… $65,000… and that’s going back! “We started the Hollinger box for the HR31 Skyline, we homologated it and that became the Holden Hollinger box as well. We
paid for all that; we paid Hollinger to do that. That was all our own technology. “I knew buying parts from NISMO would be an absolute wank, and that’s what they’ve found. “Getting NISMO to do engines for them… what a waste of time. They should be doing it in-house. We found that out very early. “Lovely people at Nissan, lovely people the Japanese, but they’re too slow to react in motorsport. That’s what got them with the engine program; it took ages to get it done and they could have done it all here. We’ve got some smart people in Australia, very smart people.” Few would argue that. When the Gibson Motorsport Skyline R32 GT-Rs were tearing new ones into their Australian touring car rivals in the early 1990s, they were the baddest GT-Rs on the planet. And head office in Japan knew it. “We were invited to go to Fuji to race our GT-R,” says Gibson. “Then one morning I got a call at work from Kunihiko Kakimoto; he was the general manager of Nissan Motorsport Japan’s engineering department. “‘Fred-san, I hear you are coming to Fuji.’ And I said, ‘Yes, we’ve been invited, yes, we are thinking maybe.’ The words he said, and I can still remember it, ‘Not a good idea, not a good idea.’ I said, ‘Why, Kakimoto-san?’ and he said, ‘You do Australia and New Zealand; we do Japanese and European circuits.’ “They didn’t want us to be there because they knew our car would blow the socks off their GT-R.” That, however, was the high-water point of Nissan Motorsport’s last touring-car tilt.
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THE BLUEBIRD YEARS
Gibson’s relationship with Nissan came about from his longstanding connection with his old boss from his factory Ford days, Howard Marsden. “Howard went to Nissan after Ford pulled the plug, and he basically went to Nissan to look after their rallying program,” says Gibson. “But then it turned into a situation where they were going to manufacture Bluebirds in Australia, at Clayton, and all of sudden they decided, ‘Why don’t we go into motorsport with the Bluebird program?’ That’s how it all started. “Then he rang me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to join the team? George Fury is going to drive. We’ll get him out of rallies and onto bitumen; it’ll be a two-car Bluebird program.’ “It was based on the European/Japanese-spec car Bluebird with the turbo engine and everything in it; it was a lot different to the car that was manufactured in Australia. We started the program there.” The Bluebird program started on the back foot. At its Bathurst debut in 1981 the fastest of the two team cars, piloted by Japanese drivers Masahiro Hasemi and Kazuyoshi Hoshino, qualified 31st. Fury and Gibson in the other Bluebird started 43rd. Neither car finished. But relentless development would drag it towards the front of the field during the final seasons of Group C. At Bathurst in 1982 the Hasemi car qualified third before finishing eighth. In 1983 Fury clocked a series of strong championship results to finish second in the title chase, plus an impressive second on the grid at Bathurst. Meanwhile, Gibson registered the first Australian touring car win for a turbo in an AMSCAR race at Amaroo Park. In 1984 Fury finally broke Nissan’s victory duck at Lakeside, and then at Bathurst unleashed a record-breaking pole lap.
Mingled with the Bluebird’s speed, however, was persistent unreliability. Gibson reckons they got it all wrong from the start with that car. “They exceeded what we thought they were going to do, yes, but they were unreliable because we wanted to stretch things,” he says. “The car would have been very competitive in the three-litre class, and all of a sudden we thought if we just modify it a bit and do some more homologation it might become an outright contender in some ways. “But, you know, in our wisdom now you think back and say we should have left it, we shouldn’t have done that because the car became unreliable with all we were doing to it. We made quite a few modifications and the car became unreliable because we were trying to stretch the little thing too far.”
THE DR30 YEARS
It was all change in 1985 with the introduction of international Group A rules. For Nissan that meant out with the Bluebird and in with the DR30 Skyline RS Turbo and a big change in how it went racing. “It was costing Nissan a lot more than they were wanting to spend,” says Gibson. “The race team was under the roof of the Nissan Motor Company, the factory they leased was under Nissan Motor Company, the boys worked under the Nissan workers’ union, that sort of thing, and they were getting paid double-time, triple-time, whatever, when they went away on weekends. “So Howard and the marketing department decided we should do something different. He rang me in Sydney one day and asked if I’d be interested in managing the race team. “I went to the meeting in Melbourne thinking I was just going to manage the team, but he said, ‘No, no, we’d like you to run the whole team; it’s your team.’ SUPERCAR XTRA
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“So I moved the family down to Melbourne and we took over the team.” Nissan had already built a Group A Skyline racer when Gibson took over the reigns. That car, however, was never raced and the newly revitalised Nissan outfit would miss the 1985 season. “The car I first saw that the guys in Melbourne built, it would have had no chance of passing scrutineering,” says Gibson. “Things they’d done, they’d read the rules as they wanted to read the rules. That’s when we opted out of running the car for a year. And we knew we had to homologate. “When you’re up against people like Volvo and BMW, you have to do your homework. We were behind the eight-ball, and that’s why we decided not to run in 1985.” That additional homologation, testing and development for the DR30 paid off in 1986. Fury won five of the 10 championship rounds in the new car, and Gary Scott – sharing second-driver duties with a baby-faced Glenn Seton – finished first on the road in another before losing the win due to brake-system irregularities. At the Sandown 500 it was a one-two for the Fury/Seton and Scott/Terry Shiel cars. “The success of the DR30 surprised us,” says Gibson. “Someone said to me the other month, ‘How many races did you win in 1986?’ “I said, ‘Oh, not a lot’ but we actually won a few; we had some good races. When you look back at what we did do, we did a bloody good job that year.” The Skyline was 1986’s fastest car, but the big prizes would elude it. Volvo driver Robbie Francevic built up a handy points cushion when Fury suffered a couple of early-season retirements and hung on to take the title from the fast-finishing Nissan driver. At Bathurst the Scott/Shiel car started from pole but could manage only third on race day while the Fury/Seton car had a troubled weekend. 1987 was another close-but-no-cigar season. Seton won three
rounds and became a star but lost out to Jim Richards and his BMW M3 in the title chase. Fury won the Sandown 500 again (this time with Shiel), but Bathurst was one that got away – the two cars were in contention all day for what would eventually be second and third following other disqualifications. Near misses like that can yank some people’s cranks, but Gibson is philosophical. “You’ve got to think we started with nothing,” he says. “Obviously you want to win everything, but when you go up against BMW M3s and the Jim Richards and Frank Gardners of the world, and they’ve got cars that have been developed for absolutely rugged racing, that lifts your game and makes you work harder.” Nissan was happy, too. “The Skyline was out there, it was competitive and running well, it was winning some races,” says Gibson. “We failed to win the championship, but we were still giving them good publicity. “It wasn’t like the Bluebird, which was giving them bad publicity because it was blowing turbos all the time.” In Gibson’s mind, the DR30 days were the foundation for the success his team would later achieve. “That was when we really started to mould a team together,” he says. “The DR30 people probably stayed with us right through our (Nissan) program, and we were expanding with lots of younger people as well. “We also moved to a new workshop because the Nissan workshop was too small and it was just state-of-the-art; we had two dyno cells, we did our own machining in-house, did our own machine shop, engines. We did everything in-house from 1986/87.”
THE HR31 YEARS
The HR31 Skyline GTS-R would be the car to take Nissan right to the cusp of success, but it didn’t look it in 1988.
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DATSUNS/NISSANS AT BATHURST CAR Datsun 1300 Datsun 1000 Datsun 1600 Datsun 1200 Datsun 180B SSS Datsun 240K Datsun 260Z 2+2 Nissan Bluebird Nissan Pulsar EXA Nissan Skyline RS DR30 Nissan Gazelle Nissan Skyline HR31 GTS-R Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R Nissan Primera Nissan Sentra Nissan Altima
ACTIVE YEARS 1966-1967 1967-1969 1968-1972 1970-1976 1973-1974 1974 1975 1981-1984 1983-1984 1986-1988 1986-1989 1988-1992 1990-1992 1997*-1998* 1998* 2013-2019
*Super Touring Bathurst 1000s
First there were delays getting parts from Japan, and it wasn’t until the fifth round that Gibson Motorsport managed to even field a car. Seton and Fury had to share drives in that single HR31 until a second arrived in the penultimate round, and it struggled for competiveness against the Ford Sierras that swept everything before them that year. The final scorecard was 13th for Fury and 15th for Seton in the championship and DNFs across the board in the Sandown and Bathurst enduros. “We had teething problems with the HR31 when we first developed it because we didn’t have a year to develop it; we were developing it while racing the DR30,” says Gibson. “That made it more difficult. It was an improvement on the DR30, definitely, but the whole thing was it wasn’t a marked improvement. It was a better car, it made us more competitive, but we had to work hard on that car.” 1989, though, saw the addition of key pieces of the puzzle that would be fundamental to Nissan’s impending success. Yokohama joined the team as tyre supplier, replacing Dunlop. “They would develop a great tyre for us,” says Gibson. There was new driving blood – Jim Richards stepped in for the departing Seton alongside Fury, while young gun Mark Skaife drove a third Skyline at selected rounds. “The biggest problem when you’ve got two drivers like Glenn and George, they want their cars set up differently,” says Gibson. “It’s hard work for the team when you’ve got drivers who are so different in how their cars need to be set. “If you move onto the HR31, you’ve got Skaifey and Richo... Richo would drive anything – whatever’s the best, he’ll drive it – and Mark would drive it, too.” Significantly, the HR31 had finally gained some reliability. “The
thing that we could do with our cars, we made them bulletproof,” says Gibson. “When Jim came to our team he couldn’t believe how we said, ‘Jim, drive the wheels off it, whatever you’ve got to do to win races, do whatever you’ve got to do.’ “He couldn’t believe that was the way we drove our cars; you break it, we fix it, that was our motto. We made our cars bulletproof.” All these factors combined to make 1989 a year of resurgence. Richards rode a season of strong results to fourth in the championship race, and Fury broke a season-and-a-half-long winning streak for the Sierras with a victory at Winton. At the Sandown 500 the Richards/Skaife and Fury/Graeme Bowkett team cars finished one-three. At Bathurst, the Richards/ Skaife and Fury/Anders Olofsson cars finished three-four. “Where we could get the Sierras, and where we got them later on, our tyres were better and could last the distance, we could drive the car harder,” says Gibson. “The Sierra, you couldn’t drive it flat out all day because the tyres would go away and the engines used to explode if you had too much boost. “We could drive the wheels off our car; it braked well, it was unbelievably good under braking and it put its power down well, and it did it for the whole race. “At the end of a race we’d be coming on strong and they’d be failing.” The HR31’s qualities would keep Richards right in the title race during 1990 with early wins and podiums, allowing him to jump into the nascent GT-R at the final round of the season and seal Nissan’s first title. The ingredients for the Japanese brand’s perfect storm were now in place and ready to rain down on the competition in 1991 and into 1992. SUPERCAR XTRA
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BENDING THE RULES
PUSHING THE LIMITS
The early years of the V8 formula saw teams look to exploit the new rulebook and gain an advantage wherever they could. In this article we reflect on the teams and cars that pushed the technical limits.
he largest technical advances usually occur in the early years of any new racing category, when lots of grey areas exist in a fresh rulebook just waiting to be exploited. When the five-litre V8 Group 3A category (aka V8 Supercars) was introduced in 1993, it heralded a bold new era of Australian touring cars. And with that came new regulations, which during the category’s formative years in the 1990s encouraged fertile minds to think outside the square in their search for an unfair advantage. Here we reflect on an era of exciting developments in the Ford Falcon versus Holden Commodore V8 battle and the cars that truly pushed the limits.
PERKINS’ CHEV-BEATING HOLDEN V8 ENGINE
1993 was the first Bathurst 1000 win for Perkins Engineering. And, significantly, the last for Holden’s homegrown V8.
The new category allowed Commodore runners to use imported five-litre Chevrolet V8 race engines. The general consensus was that the trusty Holden V8 would not be competitive against the new Chevs, but Larry Perkins saw some inherent design advantages in the local engine and freedoms in the new rules that perhaps others didn’t. The inlet and exhaust ports on the Holden V8 head were equally spaced, similar to that seen on Ford Motorsport’s NASCAR head used by Falcon rivals. In Perkins’ judgement, they were considerably better than the siamese design of the Chev head. The even port spacing alone would allow Perkins to make a superb inlet manifold to his own design, using slide throttles as opposed to the Chev’s inferior butterfly design and Autronic fuel injection. Perkins’ microscopic analysis of the new rules relating to engines also revealed that a cylinder block and head could be homologated,
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but they didn’t have to be a production block and head from a major car manufacturer as widely thought. Again, Perkins could see an opportunity perhaps other teams didn’t and was assisted in this process by the Holden Engine Company (HEC) and motorsport manager, John Lindell. Having raced the Holden V8 for many years in Group A, Perkins knew where any weaknesses were likely to appear under the new rules. So he arranged for a new block and head to be made with increased casting thicknesses everywhere he wanted them, particularly in the critical webbing around the rear-main bearing. He also raised the height of the exhaust ports by about 15mm for improved gas flow. As a result, the Perkins-homologated Holden block and heads he used at Bathurst in 1993 were actually all-new castings manufactured by HEC to his own design. Fifty blocks and 100 heads were produced, with the letters ‘LP’ cast into the back of each block to make them easily identifiable. With its slide throttle and electronic fuel injection, Perkins’ Holden V8 was more than a match for the best Chevs in power (580bhp/432kW @ 7500rpm) and torque (450ft-lb/607Nm @ 5500rpm) with superior fuel economy. It was so refined that its proud creator claimed it behaved more like a road engine, with a 600rpm idle and being beautiful to drive right through the rev range to its mandated 7500rpm limit. For the solidarity of the class and with Holden’s encouragement, Perkins switched over to the Chevrolet V8 from 1994. But his 1993 Holden-powered Bathurst 1000 win will remain a legacy of his brilliant single-minded approach.
HRT’S TOWERING INFERNO
It was big news when King of the Mountain Peter Brock set the fastest time in Thursday’s first qualifying session for the 1994 Bathurst 1000 as he chased his long-awaited 10th Great Race win. It was even bigger news when the CAMS Eligibility Committee disallowed his blistering lap time after it was discovered that the front suspension towers on Brock’s Holden Racing Team (HRT) Commodore exceeded the legal height by 18mm. Scrutineers discovered the anomaly after a number of front suspension towers on rival Commodores had been measured. HRT lodged an appeal, and on Friday after a hearing, the committee announced that the suspect #05 Commodore had been cleared to compete for the remainder of the weekend. Permission was granted on the proviso that the car ran with 18mm spacers inserted between the tops of the suspension struts and the tower seats for the remainder of the weekend. Also, the suspect towers were to be reduced to the ‘legal’ height before the next race meeting. The decision to allow the HRT car to compete that weekend incensed many rivals, particularly Commodore teams. So what was it all about? According to HRT’s thenchassis engineering guru Ron Harrop, a different interpretation of the rules. He cited the CAMS manual, which stated that “the homologated suspension mounting points on the body/chassis may be relocated within a radius of 20mm.” As the top of the tower was considered a suspension mounting SUPERCAR XTRA
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BENDING THE RULES
ABOVE: Ford’s lightweight Falcon body panels raised the ire of its Holden rivals in the latter stages of 1995.
BELOW: Wayne Gardner Racing sought to do away with pad changes at Bathurst in 1995.
point, HRT felt it was within the rules to modify them in any direction. Harrop claimed that the longer tower was purely to provide more flexibility in the setup and tuning of HRT’s shocks, springs and front suspension geometry, plus a better location and mounting for the roll cage. Alternative theories (and the odd expletive) flew thick and fast amongst rival teams, including speculation that the increased shock-tower height was adopted to vary the car’s front roll centre, give increased travel for HRT’s top-secret shocks and keep the same ride height while using a larger front tyre. Team manager Jeff Grech denied suggestions that the modification permitted greater inner-guard clearance to run bigger tyres, backing Harrop’s claim that it was purely a tuning aid that was of no advantage in the race. At least that proved correct when Brock overcooked it across the top of the Mountain and crashed out of the race on lap 138.
FORD’S LIGHTWEIGHT BODY SHELLS/PANELS
A political storm erupted just prior to the 1995 Sandown 500 when the CAMS National Eligibility Committee (NEC) ruled that Falcon bodyshells being
used by some of the top Ford teams did not comply with the category’s regulations. Ford was found to have produced bodyshells and panels specifically for racing that were made from thinner gauge metal than standard. This weight saving extended to the windows, which were found to have been made from thinner glass. The total weight saving as a result of these measures was believed to be around 35kg. Ford’s former motorsport boss Peter Gillitzer had reportedly produced the special bodyshells and panels because the Falcon (being heavier than the rival Holden Commodore) would have struggled to meet the category’s relatively low 1300kg minimum weight limit. Under new racing manager Greg Harbutt, Ford had asked for clarification from the NEC on these lightweight shells because the issue boiled down to (as they always do) different interpretations of the rules. Ford argued that the bodyshell of a race car was a ‘mechanical component’, but that argument was rejected by CAMS on the grounds that they were not the same specification as shells normally produced for Falcon road cars. Nor were they available to the general public. Harbutt said that the rules were very unspecific in that area and open to interpretation. In this case, the primary goal for Ford was in meeting the minimum weight for the class; how that was achieved was a secondary issue. As a result, the category’s weight limit was immediately increased from 1300kg to 1350kg to remove the incentive for such measures. Despite widespread condemnations of Ford by Holden and its top teams, the NEC would not call the lightweight shells ‘ineligible’ because of the huge damage such a ruling could have caused and the substantial costs it would have inflicted on teams in rectifying it. With no more to be built by Ford, CAMS planned to ‘tag’ the offending shells already serving race duties to make sure they were indeed phased out over time. And to cool Holden tempers prior to Bathurst, CAMS also ruled that Ford teams running the lightweight Falcon shells would have to fit heavier standard-gauge hanging panels and window glass, plus carry a lump of ballast in the front passenger foot-well to restore their correct ‘road’ weight from then on.
WGR’S ‘NO PAD CHANGE’ TWINCALIPER FRONT BRAKES
Changing two pairs of front brake pads during the Bathurst 1000 not only costs valuable time in the pits but also greatly increases the risk of something going wrong while doing it. The best solution was to find a way to eliminate pad changes altogether, so Wayne Gardner Racing (WGR) developed a unique twincaliper setup for the 1995 event. This consisted of two six-piston AP callipers (one leading, one trailing) squeezed inside each front wheel, clamping huge 14.8-inch diameter ventilated Alcon disc rotors. Two different PFC brake compounds were 38
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used on each wheel to provide the desired amount of ‘bite’ and pedal feel for the drivers. This arrangement was calculated to allow the Coke Commodores to complete 1800km at Bathurst without requiring a pad change! That same year, Larry Perkins and Russell Ingall won the race without requiring a pad change either, but Larry used a single caliper of his own design with specially developed Endless pads. It was impressive engineering but all to no avail, particularly for WGR, after a single-caliper limit was imposed soon after, along with compulsory pad changes at Bathurst.
LARKO’S ‘SINGLE SEATER’ EF FALCON
When open-wheeler ace Mark Larkham announced he was going to have a crack at Australia’s new breed of V8 touring cars in 1995, he figured he would have to come up with something radically different if he was going to have a chance of beating the established big guns. Larkham and his tight-knit team of open-wheeler specialists headed by Steve Dewhurst were willing to defy convention in every aspect of his car’s design and construction. With no pre-conceived ideas, they wanted to think outside the square and go where no teams had gone before. It was revolution, not evolution.
The most radical feature visually was the cockpit design. Larkham was seated in a unique carbon-fibre driver’s capsule that was effectively a separate single seater-style monocoque inside the car and central to the overall design of the roll cage/space-frame, which added enormous chassis rigidity. This capsule, which was located as far inboard as possible and bolted to the roll cage for maximum crash safety, located the driver, pedal assembly, clutch/ brake slave cylinders and main switch panel all in one rigid but lightweight structure. This was made from carbon fibre/Kevlar outer skins sandwiching a rigid aluminium honeycomb core, similar to techniques used in single-seater chassis construction. This design brought numerous performance advantages. With no pedals in the way, it allowed crossbracing of the entire firewall area by the roll cage to increase the car’s torsional rigidity. The driver’s low seating height also lowered the centre of gravity, while the seat’s extreme rearward location, with the driver’s head well behind the B-pillar (radical at the time) improved front/rear weight distribution. This required a steering column that extended about one metre from the dashboard. And it didn’t end there. The super-light roll cage, which consumed more than 60 metres of thin-wall high-tensile carbon manganese steel tubing, met full FIA crash safety standards. The rear-mounted fuel cell
LARKO’S CENTRE OF GRAVITY
One of the most innovative features of Mark Larkham’s Ford EF Falcon was the unique carbonfibre driver capsule, introducing a single seater-style monocoque into touring cars. This helped weight, with the seat mounted to the roll cage. Note the length of the steering column given how far back the driver’s seat was fitted. Larko still has the carbon-fibre seat module pictured above – he says he will put an Xbox on it at some stage!
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BENDING THE RULES
BELOW: The difference between Lowndes’ and Brock’s roll cages is clearly evident as they dice at Calder Park in 1996.
was custom-made for optimal weight distribution. The front-wheel uprights were fabricated from TIG-welded high tensile sheet steel instead of the usual alloy castings. The live rear-axle housing was fully fabricated (also unusual for the time) and angled in a V-shape to lower the CoG, with F1-style camber adjustment and an offset diff centre to minimise torque-reaction differences. A three-piece tailshaft had separate drives for the alternator and oil pump. Fluid reservoirs for the clutch and brake master cylinders were mounted in the boot. The minimal-sized (low drag) engine radiator featured full exit-ducting under the car, which flowed through a front cross-member fabricated from aero-profile steel tube. The front anti-roll bar was mounted under the engine’s sump and operated by rocker arms. Damper mounts were thread adjustable. Wheels were custommade by Dymag to suit the optimised wheel rate of the special front-suspension geometry. And there was so much more.
The end result was a car with outstanding weight distribution and chassis stiffness, yet so light that Larkham’s team needed to add about 150kg of ballast (in all the right places of course) to meet the 1300kg minimum weight limit. It was certainly revolution and not evolution, but too much too soon as it turned out. The radical car required a lot of sorting, which was a luxury of time, manpower and sponsor tolerance that Larkham did not have. The Mitre 10-backed Falcon team was soon forced to adopt a more conventional development path, but such a bold attempt to raise the category’s engineering bar should never be forgotten.
HRT’S ‘PETTY BAR’ COMMODORE
When ‘spy’ shots appeared in the press of HRT’s latest Commodore racer, snapped during pre-season testing for the 1996 season, the design of its super-stiff roll cage was soon to raise questions over legality. Its most prominent visual feature – which became the subject of heated debate – was a long length of large diameter steel tubing which ran diagonally across the cabin from behind the driver’s head to the base of the A pillar in the front passenger foot well. HRT claimed this diagonal brace not only increased the car’s torsional rigidity but also created a superior ‘safety cell’ for the driver in the event of a big crash. NASCAR legend Richard Petty was widely credited with inventing a similar cross-cabin design for his superspeedway cars many years before, which is why it was referred to as a ‘Petty Bar’ in the industry. However, some rival teams questioned its legality because similar bars had recently been banned in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) as they were considered to be too great of an obstacle for emergency crews trying to rescue drivers after a serious crash. This was of particular concern if a crashed car ended up resting on the driver’s side. HRT team boss Jeff Grech argued strongly that the new car had been inspected and approved several times by CAMS during its construction and that the Petty Bar was an integral part of the cage design that could not be just cut out and thrown away. He also pointed out that the two-litre Super Touring cars competing in the BTCC were physically much smaller than our big five-litre Aussie V8 sedans, so concerns over restricted rescue access were not relevant. To prove his point, HRT even conducted demonstrations in which Lowndes pretended to be unconscious and the crew was able to quickly extricate him through the passenger side. After CAMS had investigated and upheld the legality of the Petty Bar remaining in HRT’s new racer for the life of the car (this cage design was later banned), most observers considered that it was a lot of song and dance about nothing and the controversy soon subsided. And the increasingly elaborate cage designs that evolved in the years to come made the radical Petty Bar car of 1996 look tame by comparison!
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P.O.Box 3186, The Pines, VIC, AUS 3109
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IMAGES James Baker, inetpics.com
Holden ruled V8 Supercars from 1999 to 2002 with four straight championship and Bathurst doubles. Then along came the Project Blueprint regulations and Ford’s BA Falcon to level the playing field.
he rebranded V8 Supercars category had been built on the rivalry between Holden and Ford. But into the 2000s it was a one-sided fight that threatened to derail the category. Led by Mark Skaife and the Holden Racing Team, the Commodore ruled on the race track with a string of championship and Bathurst wins, while the VT and VX Commodores also dominated in the marketplace. Ford was left trailing with
what many consider to be the worst Falcon produced, the AU. The AU was rushed into production to compete with Holden’s VT Commodore and released in September 1998. But the radical design of the front grille, which varied greatly from the standard range to the XR series that formed the basis for the V8 Supercar, coupled with interior-design flaws and reliability issues, set Ford back. Ford Australia reported a pre-tax loss of $33.6 million in 2001, and sales of Falcon sedans slumped to a 35-year low.
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Design plans for a new model, including the involvement of head office designers and a new philosophy within Ford Australia, began ahead of schedule in 1999. A clean slate was required to undo the damage caused by the AU, which was failing in the marketplace and on the race track. Ford Australia ended the AU’s manufacturing cycle in four years, the shortest in the manufacturer’s history, and the BA series was unveiled in July 2002. Every panel was new except for the carry-over door skins. The design was more in line with Ford’s global designs; a cleaner and more sophisticated appearance. The XR range would also feature a more dynamic look with a lower ride height and wide-open air intake. The BA is said to have cost Ford Australia half a billion dollars to design and develop, though it was considered a worthy investment with its success in the marketplace undoing the stain of the AU. Wheels Magazine named the BA the ‘Car of the Year’ for 2002, describing it as “the most eloquent ever expression of Australia’s unique automotive identity” with “a more sophisticated and worldly outlook”. Ford Australia reported a $14.85 million gain in 2002 followed by a profit of $204.23 million in 2003. The V8 Supercar version of the BA would conform to new technical regulations to even the playing field and end the squabbles over parity between the Falcon and Commodore. Chassis pick-up points, wheelbase, track and driving position and double front-wishbone suspensions were shared across both models under the ‘Project Blueprint’ regulations. Ford Australia’s in-house developed BA V8 Supercar made its public debut at Mount Panorama in October 2002. Ford hero Dick Johnson took then Ford boss Geoff Polites for a lap on the morning of the Bathurst 1000, giving Blue Oval fans hope on a day when Skaife and Holden dominated yet again. Ford teams were well positioned to take advantage of the new technical regulations in 2003. Stone Brothers Racing had emerged as the most competitive Ford team with the AU, with rising star Marcos Ambrose leading the way. Elsewhere, the British-owned Ford Performance Racing carried the factory-team status with its owners Prodrive also taking over road-car division Tickford to form Ford Performance Vehicles. Later in the year, Triple Eight Race Engineering purchased Briggs Motor Sport to add to the British influence in V8 Supercars. The BA made a winning debut, with Ambrose taking victory in the first race of the 2003 season in Adelaide. While Skaife took out the round in Holden’s new VY Commodore, the BA won the next seven rounds, six of them for Stone Brothers Racing. Holden teams bounced back with endurance wins at Sandown and Bathurst, but Ambrose had the momentum in the championship. He sealed his first title with a round
sweep at the Eastern Creek season finale, ending a six-year championship drought for Ford. Ambrose won the title again in 2004 in addition to victory in the Sandown 500, with teammate Russell Ingall finishing second in the championship standings. It was Ingall’s turn to win the title in 2005; making it three consecutive drivers’ and teams’ championships for Stone Brothers Racing. Triple Eight was coming of age, too, with the arrival of Craig Lowndes leading to breakthrough wins in 2005, including at the Sandown 500. Lowndes had left Ford Performance Racing after two uncompetitive seasons, though the factory team would turn things around in 2006. The team won the Sandown 500 in 2006, a third straight Sandown win for the BA. Bathurst had proved a bugbear for Ford, though, with seven consecutive wins for Holden from 1999 to 2005. It was Triple Eight with Lowndes and Jamie Whincup who would break that stranglehold with a much-deserved Mount Panorama success for the BA in 2006. However, the championship run would come to an end that season. Stone Brothers Racing lost its way when Ambrose left for NASCAR, while Lowndes lost out to Holden’s Rick Kelly following a controversial tangle at the Phillip Island season finale in 2006. The BA set the groundwork for the BF and FG Falcons, with which Triple Eight would emerge as the dominant team. However, it was Ford Australia’s inability to keep Triple Eight tied to the Blue Oval that would hand the momentum back to Holden. Ford wouldn’t have been in that position without the BA, though. Had it failed to end Holden’s domination and undo the damage of the AU, the Ford versus Holden rivalry could well have come to an early end..
BA FALCON SUCCESSES
2003 Drivers’ championship: Marcos Ambrose (SBR) 2003 Teams’ championship: Stone Brothers Racing 2004 Drivers’ championship: Marcos Ambrose (SBR) 2004 Teams’ championship: Stone Brothers Racing 2004 Sandown 500 win: Marcos Ambrose/Greg Ritter (SBR) 2005 Drivers’ championship: Russell Ingall (SBR) 2005 Teams’ championship: Stone Brothers Racing 2005 Sandown 500 win: Craig Lowndes/Yvan Muller (T8) 2006 Sandown 500 win: Jason Bright/Mark Winterbottom (FPR) 2006 Bathurst 1000 win: Craig Lowndes/Jamie Whincup (T8)
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WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
IMAGES inetpics.com, P1 images
Getting onto the 2013 grid was an achievement in itself for new manufacturers Nissan Motorsport and Erebus Motorsport, new players under the Car of the Future. But the hard work wasn’t over as they worked on making their Nissan Altima and Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars reliable and competitive.
hey arrived onto the grid, they got valuable racing kilometres and although they were slightly beaten up early, they were far from embarrassed. In a little more than 12 months since inception, the new-look Kelly Racing put four Nissan Altimas on the grid as factory outfit Nissan Motorsport. Erebus Motorsport and AMG Mercedes-Benz took four months to do the same with three E-Class entries. Let’s not forget that the very reason those two new manufacturers
were involved at all was the Car of the Future, which meant that 28 new cars hit the 2013 grid, not just the seven with the new badges. Looking behind the garages at events, it was the interest level in the two new manufacturers that was generating most attention. You could hear the fans enthusing over the engine note of the Mercedes – which in itself was a discussion of legal compliance – and the look of the Nissan. Big challenges for both teams, for sure, especially with the aero packages only getting the sign-off in January; engine homologation
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on the brink of the season opener and spare parts in short supply (one bumper for each of the two paint schemes at Nissan, for example). The Nissan had a very blunt front bumper, with a solid block in front of the wheels to slow the cars down in a straight line. The Erebus cars looked sleeker with shapely rear wing end plates adding to the swoopy look of the German make. From an aesthetic point of view, they both got the thumbs up. From a stability point of view, none of the drivers had any complaints with how the cars performed. Nissan’s Todd and Rick Kelly described the Altima as a “great race car” with “very good” handling, and “responsive to changes,” albeit “very physical to drive.” Considering the shorter timeframe relative to Nissan Motorsport, the early events of the 2013 season represented “a big test session” for Erebus Motorsport to iron out the mechanical bugs and to “keep developing areas of the car to try and get a direction.” In the main, though, it was how they settled mechanically. While it was true that the running gear – aside from the engine – was the same across the board, there was no guarantee of reliability given the limited testing for each of the teams. The other consequence of a lack of testing was trying to gain a general understanding of the car, which was quite different to previous Supercars
Mechanical problems were to be expected from Erebus Motorsport, such as here as Lee Holdsworth searches for the problem.
“CONSIDERING THE SHORTER TIMEFRAME RELATIVE TO NISSAN MOTORSPORT, THE EARLY EVENTS OF THE 2013 SEASON REPRESENTED ‘A BIG TEST SESSION’ FOR EREBUS MOTORSPORT.”
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because of weight distribution and the updated rearend (independent rear suspension and more). There were 1500 setup options for the rear of the car, and some of those changes took 90 minutes to complete. That meant a four-car team would need 375 practice sessions to try them all out, but with validation needed and other issues it would stretch to much more than that. Rob Crawford from the Nissan operation said this was where they were looking for some gains. “The car is good in the high speed bits, but we are struggling coming out of the slow corners, and that is about understanding the new rear,” he said. “I think we are only 65 percent of the way there. The engine issues we had early in testing set us back a bit, but we’ve got the reliability right now – we’ve just got to develop more power.” He estimated the Nissan might have been 25kW (although he said 35hp) down on where Kelly Racing was the previous season with its Holden Commodores and maybe 40kW down on the best engines, acknowledging along with his rivals down the other end of pitlane that it was not just about power but also how the power and torque is unleashed. “When we get on top of our straight line speed, these Altimas are going to be unreal,” said Todd Kelly. “Even though we struggled off the corners, I’d lose two or three car lengths out of the corner. It was unbelievable that with some of those guys in the midfield we could get it all back under brakes and in the middle of the corners. Even after they pulled away down the straight we could get around them one way or another and pass them.” In the early events, Nissan Motorsport’s Altimas were (at worst) approximately half a second off the ultimate pace, 0.15 off per kilometre, mainly attributed to engine power and torque. Over at Erebus, the E-Class Supercars were approximately a second off the pace, 0.31 off per kilometre, with more mechanical problems that Nissan Motorsport mainly attributed to the lateness of the project. “Both Tim (Slade) and Lee (Holdsworth) had positive feedback regarding their respective setups, so I was pleased that we are not revisiting the design phase on any specific area. As planned, we remain in the development phase with the vehicles,” said Erebus Motorsport CEO Ryan Maddison. Nissan and Erebus Motorsport were allowed engine upgrades across 2013 to get them up into full performance parity of their Ford and Holden rivals, though parity remained a priority for Supercars. There were rumblings about the flatplane crank (where the crank pistons are flat rather than the standard crossplane, causing different performance in terms of rev and piston response) and fly-by-wire throttle on the AMG-built engine. The availability to use this crank was a deal breaker for the team in terms of getting engines from AMG. This was discussed very early in the piece and was given approval from all the rival manufacturers. 46
ABOVE: Reliability was one thing but in the heat of battle other things can go wrong. BELOW: A lot of attention has been paid to what’s under the bonnet of the Erebus entries.
Body shape comparison: The different body shapes of the Nissan Altima (above) and AMG MercedesBenz E-Class (below). Note the more streamlined shape of the Altima compared to the E-Class, in addition to the different shape of the front bumber and rear wing assemblies.
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The crank was the reason for the stunning sound from the engine. Incorporating the MagCanica torque sensor to measure the exact output from the engines, it was unlikely to give any performance advantage over the rest. This torque sensor was used in categories such as Formula 1 and NASCAR, and is why the likes of Ludo Lacroix were confident of engine parity. “We’ve got a lot of work to do on the engines. It is not about power now; it is about driveability and fuel consumption – it is not easy to get all three of those right,” explained Maddison. “At our first shakedown, Lee struggled to even get off the line it was so hard to drive, and now we get through pitstops without stalling. We’re taking big steps forward. “The best way to do this is to first build a reliable package and then we can chase speed – that is what Stone Brothers Racing and Triple Eight did in the past and it works.” In the early events, Erebus Motorsport was plagued by problems with the fly-by-wire throttle, with heat insulation in the pedal box causing problems for the drivers’ feet and other mysterious issues associated with the newness of the machinery. When describing an engine drama that plagued driver Maro Engel early in the season, Maddison said: “It was kind of like an iPhone, you can turn it off and on, but sometimes you need to do the full shutdown and restart. We don’t know why it happened, it is all so new to us.”
Results were up and down and reliability a constant concern, though mileage and development helped the two new makes close the gap on their Ford and Holden rivals, who had the benefit of two decades’ worth of technical know-how. “We had the best handling car that we’ve had here since we started the team,” said Todd Kelly. “We are all competitive and it is easy to come home disillusioned (after retirements), but I remember back wondering if we’d even have all four cars on the track at all… It is pretty good. “We come away with a bunch of things to look at; we learnt a lot about what we need to do to make them hold together. I mean that is the most kays we’ve ever done in the cars. We know we need more power and we know we’ll get better with power; and if we keep improving, by then we’ll have an awesome racing car. “With the engine, it is nothing that time and money won’t fix. But we have a lot of constraints to work within. We are severely hampered with how we can design the manifold because of the height of the engine and where it has to sit, so that means we have to work on other areas. “If the engine is physically capable, it will be a minimum of six months to get there. “Aero was huge, but it was more black and white. The engines make the aero look like a walk in the park.” What wasn’t a walk in the park was the development task that awaited Nissan and Erebus Motorsport throughout 2013 and beyond. Getting to the grid was just part of it…
ABOVE: Nissan’s sleek aero kit was credited with the make’s early progress, overcoming its horsepower deficit.
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IMAGE P1 Images
ar of the Future levelled the playing field, but only if you drove a Holden VF Commodore and preferably one with a fair bit of Triple Eight Race Engineering content. Cars built at Banyo won the majority of races in the 2013 season, including “factory team” Triple Eight, customer team Tekno Autosports and the likes of Brad Jones Racing, which employed the fabled Triple Eight front-end package. And, of course, the Commodore aero kit was developed by then-Triple Eight technical director Ludo Lacroix, the designer of some of the greatest Supercars in the category’s history. Here were the keys to its
Car of the Future success:
Lacroix developed a package built around a low drag (providing higher straightline speed), high downforce (better grip) philosophy. His aim was to provide as much efficiency as possible in cornering, something almost impossible to measure in testing – except by the driver. It’s an important distinction to make considering testing for aero parity between the four cars was conducted in a straight line. “We are all going to be equal in a straight line, but we will not be equal in the corners,” said Lacroix. Compared to the VE, the VF got a front bar in which the cheeks had been sucked
in, the undertray extended and the rear wing narrowed by 50mm and swapped from centre-post to endplate mounting, akin to that of a Falcon and departing from recent Commodores. “The aerodynamics doesn’t change because of the brand. The aerodynamics is a bit better with that sort of wing, so I think that Holden needed to move onto that sort of endplate, which is more like on aeroplanes,” said Lacroix about the newlook rear wing. “It’s actually giving us a little more efficiency in drag, which means the car can actually slide a little bit more without losing too much rear downforce.” The wing was narrower to avoid damage at concretelined street circuits while the
mounting provided better drag efficiency, allowing the car to slide in corners while sacrificing less downforce. Because it was narrower it did provide less downforce than the VE rear wing, but as this is a parity formula, that just meant the FG’s rear wing was flattened to compensate.
The double-wishbone front end was one of the principal turning freedoms teams were allowed as it remained a non-control item. However, the common Car of the Future chassis meant any team – such as Brad Jones Racing – could bolt in the Triple Eight design. The Triple Eight package first appeared in 2006 and the fourth evolution had been around since 2011.
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It was based on three key principles: keeping the tyre in contact with the road (kinematics), stiffness and effective brake cooling. It worked with the ZF Sachs damper, which Triple Eight distributed in Australia. “It’s a combination of good things, but probably none of them are the best,” said Lacroix. “I keep telling people you don’t need 100 percent race cars to win races, but you need 10 times 95 percent. That is what we are good at at Triple Eight, we leave no stone unturned.” At the heart of each ‘corner’ was the upright, from which the wishbones attached to the body, within which the hub rotates and onto which the steering arm, brakes and wheels are mounted.
“What is nice about our upright is it’s not too prone to damage, so you can hit walls, you can hit all the other people,” explained Lacroix. “Our upright is also a kilo heavier than what the limit gives you (10.5kg); we could be a kilo lighter, but we are not because we don’t think we can do it safely.”
Swapping from the old live axle to a control independent rear suspension took one of the key design expenses and complexities out of the category. But the IRS still had enough tuning opportunities to make it a lot less controlled than you might think, especially as the damper mount on the chassis could be moved within radius of 20mm from the
approved point. “It still has lots of freedom… in kinematics; roll centre work, scrub, camber change … even bump steer,” said Lacroix. “And you are free within a window and that window gives you a lot of freedom.” The shift to IRS turned roll-centre adjustment from a process taking seconds and possible in a pitstop to one you’d want to avoid making in a practice session unless absolutely necessary. “You learn to go around it,” shrugged Lacroix. “There’s roll-bar adjustment and there is other things in the car.”
As per the road-going Commodore, the race car ran weight-saving aluminium bonnet and boot panels.
The consensus was they were around five to seven kilograms lighter. As other cars – most notably the Falcon – struggled to hit the 1400kg lower limit, Supercars debated a 10kg to 15kg increase, potentially saving thousands of dollars in weight-cutting expenditure for teams. Rivals argued the lighter Commodores would retain an advantage by being able to ballast the extra weight low in the chassis, improving the centre of gravity and therefore handling. But Lacroix, who admitted his Commodores still had to diet to hit 1400kg, wasn’t buying that argument. “You are talking about 5kg on a car that has 1400kg. I don’t think that is where the concern should be.” SUPERCAR XTRA
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FG X FALCON
THE X FACTOR
IMAGES Peter Norton
The final Ford Falcon, the FG X, made a winning debut in 2015, courtesy of Mark Winterbottom with the team formerly known as Prodrive Racing Australia. This is how the final Falcon Supercar came to be, giving the legendary nameplate a fitting farewell.
he last Ford Falcon Supercar was the first that Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA, now known as Tickford Racing) feels it could truly call its own. The team, originally known as Ford Performance Racing, shared the development of the original FG Falcon with then fellow Ford team Triple Eight Race Engineering, doing much of the work under the skin while Triple Eight’s then-technical chief Ludo Lacroix formulated the aerodynamic package. To this day, the FG is rated by many as the best Project Blueprint Supercar of them all. But as has been well documented
over recent years, the arrival of Car of the Future in 2013 and the use of the FG II (as it had become by 2012) as the datum or benchmark car (because it was a ‘carry-over’ model when every other car was new) for aerodynamic testing proved problematic. The first round of testing at the East Sale RAAF base in the summer of 2012-13 resulted in the Falcon losing two degrees of wing angle to bring its rear downforce in line with its rivals. Initially, the adjustment created little controversy, but it became increasingly apparent that the Falcon was struggling. By the second half of 2014, the rot had set in as Mark Winterbottom crashed from the championship lead to a distant third.
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Teammate David Reynolds went backwards after two strong years, and Jack Perkins rarely came to grips with the FG in his sole year driving Charlie Schwerkolt’s car. Young charger Chaz Mostert battled on, but not even he could put the FG on pole. In fact, a Falcon did not claim a pole position throughout the 2014 season. A lack of rear downforce meant rear tyres weren’t heating up quickly enough to extract maximum single-lap pace, thus cruelling qualifying potential. It also created an ongoing issue with rear brake locking that could not be dialled out mechanically. The aero setup also meant a battle to get rear tyres up to working temperatures – hence PRA’s ability to get long life out of soft tyres, but also why it ran the risk of going low on tyre pressures and puncturing – something that Supercars eventually moved to stop by imposing a minimum 17 psi tyre pressure. Then there was the issue of weight. The Falcon was a big car physically and because the production version used a steel bonnet and boot, so too did the race car. Every other car in the field used at least an aluminium bonnet. Supercars raised the minimum weight of car and driver/race seat from 1400kg to 1410kg in 2013, so PRA (and others struggling with weight) wouldn’t have to spend mega-bucks shaving more kilos. While other brands were going to front bumper bars integrated with homologated non-production headlights, fabricated steel radiator supports and carbon-fibre dashboards, the FG lagged in these areas – which were both cost and weight savers. “The FG had become uncompetitive as Car of the Future rolled out,” said then-PRA chief engineer Nathaniel Osborne. “We had to bring in a new model and wash all that way.” Osborne started work on the FG X early in 2014 in conjunction with Ford to develop a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) study. By September the basics were in place, and before the end of the year the new body panels – doors, roof skin and rear three quarters – carried over and a variety of new front-bar and rearwing combinations had been tested in a multi-day session at the Blue Oval’s You Yangs proving ground. In January the new aerodynamic package was officially tested at East Sale using V8 Supercars’ revised and updated process.
The most obvious change was the wing, which was wider and mounted further back off the boot and lower. It was changed two degrees back so it could be angled to a maximum 18 degrees with a taller gurney flap, which could grow from 9.5mm to 13mm. Up front the lower cheeks, which were smoothly rounded for FG, featured noticeable steps. The front undertray also came in for significant revision and extension. Where the FG had a 75mm cut out, that area had been filled in and a further 45mm added. A minor weight improvement had also been achieved by shifting to the integrated front bar, steel radiator support panel and carbon-fibre dashboard. “Straight away we knew we had made inroads into the areas that we targeted,” said Osborne. “It was just a matter of undoing some of the setup that we had generated over the last two years to now correct for a balance shift rearwards. “We knew we were close to where we wanted to be because of the complaints we had in the previous two seasons.” Osborne revealed the change in FG X’s behaviour meant a whole heap of development avenues that had been put to one side could be revived. And the lessons of the past two years would also still be valuable. “You don’t throw it (setups) out,” he said. “There will be times that you have that handling characteristic you are trying to fix. But, definitely, everything old is new again. Stuff that hadn’t worked in the past is working again. So it’s not so much that we have lost ground… there are tools that have been reopened to be used that we couldn’t use prior because we were so limited in that area.” Mostert and Winterbottom underlined the potential of the FG X by going first and fourth fastest in the single-lap hard tyre Shootout at the pre-season SuperTest. It set the tone for 2015, with Winterbottom winning the championship and Mostert challenging his teammate before a season-ending crash at Bathurst. Three years later, DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin gave the FG X another title, in the final season for the Falcon before the introduction of the Mustang as its replacement.
“THE FG HAD BECOME UNCOMPETITIVE AS CAR OF THE FUTURE ROLLED OUT… WE HAD TO BRING IN A NEW MODEL AND WASH ALL THAT WAY.” – NATHANIEL OSBORNE SUPERCAR XTRA
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The ZB Commodore made a flying start as a Supercar in 2018. We went in-depth with Triple Eight Race Engineering to track the development of the last Commodore. IMAGES Triple Eight Race Engineering
or so many reasons the Holden ZB Commodore was such an important Supercar. The fifth-generation Commodore was the first to be based on an import rather than a locally-manufactured road car; the first Supercar based on a five-door hatch; and the first Holden developed from scratch by Triple Eight Race Engineering. Yes, Triple Eight had input into Commodore Supercars previously in tandem with Walkinshaw Racing, the team from which it wrenched away the factory Holden Racing Team brand simply through the sheer weight of its race and championship-winning performances. And, yes, it had designed a complete car previously, the brilliant Ford BF Falcon, which is regarded by many as the best racer of the Project Blueprint era. David Cauchi, in addition to his role as Triple Eight’s head designer and Jamie Whincup’s race engineer, had been ZB project manager since late 2016. The then-long-time Triple Eight employee mothered the project from the very first casual conversations to its racing debut. Cauchi led a small team of multi-taskers to develop the ZB, including German aerodynamicist Florian Hoefflin, who was recruited from HWA in Germany specifically for the role, design office manager Ian Drapier, and fellow engineers Grant MacPherson and John ‘Irish’ McGregor. It was a seminal time for Cauchi, who was hired into Triple Eight by former technical director Ludo Lacroix. He even lived with the eccentric, brilliant Frenchman years ago as he learned his trade. Of course, Lacroix departed to DJR Team Penske late in 2016 and played no direct role in the ZB program. So Cauchi had been in charge of a project developing a car that was raced directly against the DJR Team Penske Ford FG X Falcon his old mentor oversaw. Cauchi was the first to admit Lacroix’s teachings helped him in this project. There was an irony here… Lacroix’s pupils could school him on the track.
“Ludo always insisted that we be scientific, understand things, look at why things happen, why did that break, why did that not work?” said Cauchi. “Force yourself or challenge yourself to have deeper understanding of all the mechanisms in the car, and that will ensure you make better decisions.”
So just how do you go about designing a new Supercar? Step one, said Cauchi, is decide what you want to achieve. And after three years racing the VF II, Triple Eight’s drivers and engineers agreed on one requirement: more rear grip! “We thought one of the weaknesses of the VF II was it was pitch sensitive and unstable in the rear on corner entry,” explained Cauchi. “We always struggled with a nervous rear on entry, so the driver would have oversteer into a corner, and once you have that you are out of control on the entry to the corner. “That means you have compromise at the mid-corner, and once you have that you have compromised your exit. So we thought we wanted to fix the first problem first and that’s the entry.” What Cauchi was especially focused on here was one-lap pace. In other words, the area where Scott McLaughlin and his Lacroix-engineered FG X had it all over Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen and their Red Bull Holdens in 2017. Race pace? Not such an issue, but when your opponents are on pole and you’re not, then you are clearly starting at a disadvantage… albeit one Whincup ended up overcoming in quite sensational circumstances in 2017 at the Newcastle finale to claim his seventh championship. So, rear grip was what the team focused on first, and the way to achieve that was to shift the aerodynamic balance of the car rearward. But as is well known about Supercars, there’s not a lot of downforce to play with. About 310kg was measured by Supercars in 200km/h
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POWER: 635-plus BHP limited to maximum 7500RPM. ELECTRONICS: Motec L180 data logger, Motec D175 dash, Motec power distribution module (32 outputs), Motec M190 ECU, Communication via CAN bus. TRANSMISSION: Supercars control Albins ST6 Transaxle. Six-speed sequential shift with reverse gear. SUSPENSION FRONT: Triple Eight Race Engineering designed double-wishbone suspension, driver-adjustable anti-roll bar system. SUSPENSION REAR: Supercars control independent doublewishbone rear suspension designed and manufactured by Triple Eight Race Engineering, driver-adjustable anti-roll bar system. BRAKES FRONT: AP six-piston callipers, 395mm ventilated steel rotors, driver-adjustable front to rear brake-force distribution. BRAKES REAR: AP four-piston callipers, 355mm ventilated steel rotors, driver-adjustable front to rear brake-force distribution. WHEELS: 18-inch Supercar control forged aluminium rim. TYRES: Dunlop control tyre, Soft and Super Soft compound slick, as well as wet-weather tyre. STEERING: Power-assisted rack and pinion steering designed by Triple Eight Race Engineering. FUEL SYSTEM: Carbon fuel cell with Premier fuel bladder. Siamese dry-break refill system. 112-litre capacity. WEIGHT: Minimum weight of 1410kg including driver. TOP SPEED: 298km/hr and 0-100 in 3.4 sec. DIFFERENTIAL: Spool drive, final ratio adjustable through transaxle drop gear. ENGINE: KRE-developed fivelitre V8, GM 305 Aurora Racing block, CNC-machined aluminium heads, control Supercar camshaft, aluminium dry sump. SHOCK: Absorbers Sachs with four-way adjustable Formula Matrix TRD dampers. SEAT: Racetech 9129 carbon seat with OMP six-point racing harness. STEERING WHEEL: Sparco steering wheel with Triple Eight Race Engineering designed electronics module.
coast-down runs during parity testing. “Out of that 310kg you’ve got, you can decide how much is on the front and how much is on the rear,” said Cauchi. “So we identified we wanted to put a little more of our downforce onto the rear axle and take a little away from the front. You have to rob Peter to pay Paul. “It does mean you get more mid-corner understeer because of more rear grip, but we thought we could engineer that out mechanically and overall have a better car. That was the philosophy.”
A PERFECT FIT
The first step before you get into detailed aerodynamic development detail is to actually shape the production-car body onto the Supercars control chassis. A per usual when developing a Supercar, this was done using detailed CAD (computer-aided design) models supplied by the manufacturer. In the case of the ZB, this process looked easy as the road car’s 2829mm wheelbase corresponded very closely with the control 2822mm wheelbase. But for a number of reasons, the Supercar’s rear doors and roof had both been cut 130mm compared to the road car. “It’s shuffling it all around,” said Cauchi. “You have your front undertray surface, which is in a fixed position. Then you have where your wheels are positioned on the control chassis and then you are cutting or shrinking or growing the car, so the rollcage is contained in the roof without popping through… and things like that. “We had a challenge because if we didn’t cut the car as much as we did we would have had to have had much more modification to the rear door frame to fit the larger tyre of the race car.” It was not just thinking about the aerodynamic layout of the car and aero performance that counted in the early stages. It was also the manufacturing of certain aspects of the car that was critical. It had to be as simple and efficient as possible without adding complexity to the parts Triple Eight had to modify. Early in the process it became apparent gaining components from the Opel factory in Germany where the Commodore is made would be problematic. When Commodore was manufactured locally in Adelaide, the race teams had ready access to spoils – body panels that were discarded for cosmetic reasons – from the production line. But no more. The bonnet was the ZB Supercar’s only standard exterior part. The door frames and some ‘infill’ parts and side pressings were also still sourced from the factory. But the roof, the tailgate, the guards and the doors were all made from composite material. The driver’s door was made from ballistic grade Kevlar for added safety. “We are still a little bit reliant [on the factory for parts], but probably only 20 to 30 percent reliant, whereas we used to be 50 to 60 percent reliant,” revealed Cauchi. Both the composite roof and tailgate were a first for Supercars and the right to use similar items had also
been offered to Ford and Nissan teams. Cauchi didn’t bite on the weight issue. He did admit the car had to be ballasted up to the 1410kg minimum weight, but pointed out gains made in some areas were negated in others. For instance, heavy tailgate hinges sat up near the roofline in ZB, whereas they were much lower in the boot of the VF II.
GIVING THE BEAST WINGS
Wind-tunnel testing is banned in Supercars, so in order to develop the ZB’s aerodynamic package Triple Eight invested heavily in what’s called Computational Fluid Dynamics, or CFD. Effectively, this is an engineering art form which allows the behaviour of air over a racing car’s body to be modelled digitally. “With aerodynamics it’s a lot harder to visualise what’s going on than for most other mechanical things, but CFD basically allows engineers to see the things you can’t see,” said Cauchi. “Where and how the air is flowing over the car and underneath the car and the pressures on all the different surfaces, because that is what makes it all work, particularly different air pressures on different surfaces, and that’s what determines if the car has downforce or lift.” Not only could Cauchi, Hoefflin and co see how the car behaved in official coast-down tests, but at every speed and pitch and in corners. Triple Eight forged an alliance with Wirth Research, a UK-based aerodynamic consultancy. Long-time Formula 1 fans may remember the company’s owner Nick Wirth running the Simtek team in the mid-1990s, which Australian David Brabham drove for in 1994. Every Wednesday evening Cauchi and Hoefflin would confer by video conference with Wirth’s program manager Robin Gearing and sportscar chief engineer Baptiste Rossi. Rossi also attended two key ZB aero tests in the second half of 2017. “CFD is extremely specialised, and that’s why we realised we needed a partnership with a company like Wirth,” explained Cauchi. “It’s not something you can pick up every year or two and be proficient at it.” The process started with a study of the VF II to understand where it was at aerodynamically. Then its aero package was transposed to the ZB, which resulted in the aero balance moving forward not back because of the car’s fundamental shape. “That’s where CFD was really vital,” said Cauchi. “It allowed us to design the aero features to ensure we got the shift in balance we were looking for and did it in an efficient way.” The less important aerodynamic features – side skirts and rear diffuser - were quickly resolved. The vast bulk of the CFD time was spent sorting the cheeks on the front splitter and the rear-wing positon and endplates. “The biggest thing you will notice is the larger rear wing and the cheeks on the ZB have a slightly more aggressive step just in front of the wheel,” he added.
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“The aggressive cheeks give a little more front downforce at the cost of some drag.” Obviously, the new rear wing generated a huge amount of chat along pitlane. The forward balance of the ZB dictated the large deck hanging off the rear of the shallow tailgate’s tiny deck. But don’t be fooled; the trailing edge of that deck was within 10mm of the trailing edge of the VF II’s boot. But the width of the wing had grown back to the maximum 1500mm from the VF II’s 1400mm, the endplates were huge wind buckets and the pivot point of the wing was higher and further back. “These were to achieve that shift,” said Cauchi. “We then also had this fundamental issue of how you attached the endplate to the tailgate and we had to go to a completely composite tailgate. “We need a lot of structure in the tailgate to be able to transfer that load down to the chassis. And from a repair point of view and mounting point of view, the road-car tailgate was going to be more trouble than what it was worth.”
THE DETAIL STUFF
Clearly, ZB had been an aero-focused program. The control chassis was designed to have different facsimile bodies hung over the top without changes to the way the engine goes in, the suspension was hung off it and so on. But because the ZB was a liftback, one feature that needed to be added was a proper firewall at the
rear of the cabin. That fix meant the drivers looked through two sets of polycarbonate rear windscreens, one mounted on the control chassis firewall and one on the tailgate. “That was to ensure even in a big rear impact where the tailgate gets partially or completely dislodged from the car the driver’s compartment is still sealed from the fuel fillers and fuel system underneath,” explained Cauchi. “That’s probably the biggest fundamental change to the control chassis in the whole car.” Race teams always take the opportunity when building new cars to clean up niggles, try and shave a few grams, or tidy bits and pieces up. Going faster is a holistic exercise, so if you can perform maintenance easier or be more comfortable as a driver in the car, then that’s a win. In this case it was the electrics. “We have redesigned the architecture of the wiring loom to get rid of a few large connectors and move that weight to a specific area lower and further forward,” added Cauchi. “That just tidies things up a little bit, especially for the mechanics because there is less wiring exposed throughout the chassis and less opportunity for damage.” After more than a year of huge effort, the Holden ZB Commodore Supercar went racing in 2018. After losing out to the FG X Falcon and Mustang from 2018 to 2020, championship success arrived in 2021.
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FORD MUSTANG SUPERCAR
IMAGES Ford Australia
The Ford Mustang returned to Australian touring cars under the Gen2 rules in 2019. The two-door coupe helped usher in a new era for Supercars, which set the foundations for Gen3.
n May 2013, when Ford announced the end of Australian manufacturing and the retirement of the Falcon, Blue Oval Supercars fans were left to ponder what was coming next. Eighteen months later, Ford pulled its funding from its factory-backed Supercars outfit, Ford Performance Racing, forcing the front-running team to rebrand and race the final Falcon, the FG X, without head office’s backing. Without Ford’s involvement it seemed impossible that a Blue Oval-badged alternative to the Falcon would be greenlit. It appeared Ford’s storied history in Australian touring cars was coming to an end, leaving a big chunk of Supercars’ fanbase without its favourite make. Yet the stars aligned for the return of Ford with its American muscle car. In September 2014, American giant Team Penske partnered with Ford regular Dick Johnson Racing to form DJR Team Penske. Roger Penske’s outfit ran Fords in NASCAR, with ‘The Captain’s’ strong relationship with head office in Detroit and its performance branch, Ford Performance, opening the door 56
for a rekindling of Ford’s interests in racing in Australia. In October 2016, the final Falcon rolled off the production line at the closing Ford Australia factory at Broadmeadows in Victoria. The Mustang had already arrived into Australia as Ford’s new performance vehicle, with more than 6000 cars sold up until that point. Meanwhile, in the same month, the team formerly known as Ford Performance Racing revived the Tickford brand to offer performance upgrades to Ford products. With two teams possessing strong Ford connections and the Mustang ready to go, all that was needed was approval from head office. Rival Holden had committed to Supercars in the wake of its own local factory closure, importing the new-look ZB Commodore and racing it from the start of 2018. And then, finally, in April 2018 Ford confirmed its return to Supercars with the Mustang with backing for DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing, in addition to the arrival of Ford Performance in Australia from 2019. “It was a matter of waiting for the right time both from a
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product point of view and from an investment point of view,” said Ford Australia president Graeme Whickman. “So we maintained that dialogue with the teams, and it’s obviously transpired that we feel like we are going to have a very successful outcome with the Mustang on the track. “It’s the right strategy, we have the right vehicles now, we want to connect with customers in that space.” In November 2018, the Ford Mustang Supercar broke cover. Two months earlier the first Mustang NASCAR was also revealed ahead of its debut, also in 2019. Ford’s racing programs in America and Australia aligned, befitting the co-operation between players in both countries to bring the Mustang Supercar to life.
Six Mustang Supercars raced in the 2019 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship on a full-time basis, in addition to wildcard entries. DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin won the drivers’ championship in 2018 with the FG X Falcon, fittingly a 17th and final championship for the Falcon courtesy of the #17 entry made famous by Dick Johnson. McLaughlin and teammate Fabian Coulthard suited up for a third consecutive season as teammates at DJR Team Penske. The Queensland-based team spearheaded the development of the Mustang Supercar, taking over from Tickford Racing as the designer and homologator for the new Ford. Technical guru Ludo Lacroix designed the aero kit of the Mustang Supercar, working closely with Team Penske and Ford Performance in America, tapping into the Computational Fluid Dynamics resources and knowledge they had of the Mustang GT4 for the Supercar and NASCAR. Lacroix designed the aero kits for the BF and FG Falcons and VF and VFII Commodores during his decadeplus stint with Triple Eight Race Engineering, working on the Mustang in addition to engineering McLaughlin to his championship win in 2018. Tickford Racing worked closely with DJR Team Penske to bring Ford back to the series and was open to handing over homologation status at a time when it had scaled down to three entries for 2019. Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters remained with Tickford Racing and were joined by veteran Lee Holdsworth, who replaced Mark Winterbottom in what was essentially a straight trade between Tickford and Holden outfit Team 18. Tickford Racing brought customer team 23 Red Racing into the fold, with Will Davison remaining in the entry.
Getting the balance right between the look and the need to produce an efficient racer is always a difficult
task when turning a road car into a race car. It was made more difficult for the Mustang because it was the first two-door coupe fitted over the control chassis. The Mustang was raised up with a longer wheelbase, longer doors and narrower body to fit the control chassis, with no changes to the dimensions of the chassis forthcoming despite its arrival into the series. The obvious traits of the Mustang Supercar were the high roof, sloped nose, large rear wing and the Mustang front grille. The changes to the layout of the Mustang meant the drivers sat further forward of the B-pillar compared to the Falcon, even though the seat position is standard across all Supercars. The Mustang’s roof was more rounded front-toback relative to other Supercars, a trait that carried across from the road car. Also inspired by the road car were the two bonnet vents, though they were closed off to comply with Supercars’ closed-body rules, with the air intakes in the front bar standard amongst all cars. Also closed off were the aperture on the base of the headlights, another trait from the road car. The rear wing extended off the back of the bootlid with flat endplates, similar to those on the FG X Falcon, though the wing connected to the body with a mount that ran along the length of the boot instead of on separate mounts. The design of the brake ducts and splitter were also noticeably different to other Supercars, with Ford entrants hoping to avoid the splitter-flap issues that plagued the ZB Commodore.
The Gen2 regulations that allowed a two-door coupe such as the Mustang to enter Supercars also allowed for engines other than V8s. Holden looked set to introduce a twin-turbo V6 in 2018 but changed plans and recommitted to the V8. Nissan explored alternatives to the V8 before withdrawing its backing in Supercars. Ford weighed up running a twin-turbocharged V6 rather than a V8 in the Mustang but ultimately settled on the proven V8 powerplant that ran in the Falcon. “We had a long discussion about powertrain, and first and foremost we needed to be competitive,” said Whickman. “I think the field is pretty open as to where you might go with powertrain, but our first toe back in the water is going to be with V8.” That decision meant Ford and its Supercars teams had a much-reduced workload, not having to worry about developing a new engine in addition to the aerodynamic package. Nissan, AMG Mercedes-Benz (via Erebus Motorsport) and Volvo Polestar had various struggles in matching up with the well-developed Ford and Holden V8 engines during their time in Supercars, so the continuity for Ford under the bonnet of the Mustang significantly helped in the transition from the Falcon. SUPERCAR XTRA
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FORD MUSTANG SUPERCAR
The Mustang Supercar had its initial shakedown run at Queensland Raceway before a full day of testing at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, which was favoured over other circuits given its high-speed nature. Straight-line testing was conducted over nine days at Temora Airfield in New South Wales, including parity testing against the Holden ZB Commodore and Nissan Altima, equalising downforce and drag by running a number of Mustang front and rear-wing options. There were some teething problems, with front bars proving too fragile, though that was addressed quickly. The Mustang Supercar’s homologation was confirmed on the 12th of December 2018, paving the way for DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing to accelerate their build processes before Christmas.
With a control chassis and mechanical parts and welldeveloped V8 engines relatively on par, differences in aerodynamic balance were what distinguished the Mustang from the Holden ZB Commodore and Nissan Altima. The ZB Commodore won on debut and was in the championship mix until the final race courtesy of Triple Eight Race Engineering’s Shane van Gisbergen, though Holden teams did find it challenging to consistently get the setup right at different events. The bank of knowledge and experience from that first season was a gain for Holden teams in 2019.
The ZB Commodore achieved better low-drag performance than the Falcon, producing an advantage at high-speed tracks. The Mustang ran at Phillip Island to test highspeed mid-corner yaw ahead of its final homologation, with the aim of improving on the drag performance from the Falcon. The Nissan Altima received an aerodynamic adjustment following the homologation testing up against the Mustang, with a slight change to the gurney flap on its rear wing marking the first change to the Nissan since 2015. The ban of twin-spring dampers was a cost-cutting measure that limited the tuneable options for engineers and drivers, while all teams also had to adjust to the new Xtrac transaxle. Three new Fords won the championship on debut since the introduction of the Project Blueprint regulations that matched chassis pick-up points, wheelbase, track and driving positions across both manufacturers in 2003 – the BA Falcon in 2003, the FG Falcon in 2009 and the FG X Falcon in 2015. Considering the backing of Ford Australia and Ford Performance, the experience of Lacroix, the engineering nous of DJR Team Penske coupled with Tickford Racing, talent of the likes of McLaughlin and Mostert and the extensive measures to achieve parity between different cars, the Mustang Supercar was in a position to battle for the championship as soon as it rolled out in 2019. And it delivered in the hands of McLaughlin.
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THE BEND MOTORSPORT PARK
MORE THAN A RACETRACK
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Supercars returns to The Bend Motorsport Park in 2022, with the state-of-theart facility hosting another massive motorsport weekend.
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THE BEND MOTORSPORT PARK
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The Bend Motorsport Park allows patrons to hit the track themselves with seven on-track experiences across a variety of cars, be it a touring car, sportscar or rally car, all the way through to a Formula 3 car. Track-day experiences can range from road-registered cars to race cars, catering for a variety of machinery and experiences. There are various options available for experience packages or vouchers, with the circuit configurations
As you enter the ‘Welcome Centre’ at The Bend Motorsport Park, you are greeted by an auto gallery of unique cars and motorbikes, at the entry point to the pit complex and hotel, featuring bar and dining options overlooking pitlane. The 100-room Rydges Pit Lane Hotel offers guests rooms that overlook the main circuit, with a bird’s-eye view of pitlane below. It also can host conferencing events and private hires, from small team-building events to weddings to mid-size national conferences. The hotel and ‘Welcome Centre’ become the hub of activity on race weekends, with the opportunity for guests to immerse themselves at the event. There’s also a BIG4 Holiday Park with camping, caravan, cabin and dormitory accommodation options located within the precinct, a family-friendly option with a pool, playground and a brand new mini-golf course. There’s also vehicle storage facilities, with various leasing options available.
The Bend Motorsport Park is much more than a motor racing circuit. At the heart of the facility, which sits 100 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, is the race EVERYTHING track, which at 7.77 kilometres in its maximum conTHROUGH figuration is theONE longestGATE in Australia and second only to the Nordschleife in Germany. THE BEND MOTORSPORT one of theconfigurations most significant that can There are up to PARK sevenis circuit developments in Australian motorsport history. A state of the art, be used for racing at The Bend Motorsport Park, rangworld-class motorsport facility, The Bend will deliver an exhilarating experience for competitors, enthusiasts and spectators alike.But We hope ing from 3.4 to 7.77 kilometres in length. there’s you enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it. more to the facility than the race tracks. What’s been developed since its opening is an all-purpose facility that’s become a hub of motoring and motorsport, hosting a wide variety of events all year-round from driver experience programs to conferencing and teambuilding outings. Despite only being opened in 2018, The Bend Motorsport Park is continuously improving and expanding, providing an ever-evolving experience for competitors, spectators, visitors and businesses at a facility unlike any other in Australia and comparable to some of the best in the world. Consider that in addition to the main tracks, The Bend Motorsport Park features the following: Australia’s only purpose-built drift circuit; a karting circuit; a rally-cross circuit; driver-training facilities; a fourwheel drive adventure park; a rally/off-road facility; and plans to build a dragway as well as an airstrip for light aircraft. also now downloadable on the Assetto Corsa e-racing platform. The Kartdrome Circuit is built specifically for karting, drifting and rallycross, be it for competition or training. The drift track features multiple layouts and hosts a variety of competitions throughout the year. Likewise for the karting circuit, which is 1.1km long and meets CIK-FIA international standards. The Kartdrome also caters for rallycross events, with the mixed surface of asphalt and dirt. The Bend Motorsport Park also has a public gokarting facility, featuring three different layouts with karts that can reach speeds of 70km/h. The Bend Motorsport Park’s motorsport precinct isn’t just on tarmac with a rally and off-road precinct for various disciplines, including rally and buggy racing. There are multiple configurations across 3kms of gravel tracks, serviced by its own rooms and used for rally sprints and other off-road events such as khanacross. Also off the tarmac is The Bend Motorsport Park’s four-wheel drive adventure park, featuring rock and log obstacles, sand traps and dunes, inclines and descents, table tops and more, catering for novice and expert off-roaders. The adventure park is serviced by its own administration building, allowing patrons to bring and test their four-wheel drives in a safe environment. The Bend Motorsport Park has it all for motorsport fans. Visit THEBEND.COM.AU for more.
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CARS IN THE AUSTRALIAN TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP 7. FORD SIERRA
10. MAZDA RX-7
The rotary-powered RX-7 gave Mazda its only Australian Touring Car Championship win in the hands of Allan Moffat in 1983, beating out Nissan to become the first Japanese manufacturer to win the title.
9. BMW M3
The M3 scored the most race wins for a non-Holden, Ford or Nissan model in the Australian Touring Car Championship, culminating in the championship win with Jim Richards in 1987, two years after BMW’s first success with the 635 CSi in 1985.
8. CHEVROLET CAMARO
The Camaro defeated the Ford Mustang and Holden Monaro in an all-muscle car battle in the early 1970s, with consecutive Australian Touring Car Championship wins for Bob Jane in 1971 and 1972, despite the implementation of engine restrictions for the ZL-1 in the latter.
The Sierra emerged as the car to have in the late 1980s, dominating the grid with Dick Johnson Racing setting the benchmark with Australian Touring Car Championship success for Dick Johnson in 1988 and 1989.
6. NISSAN SKYLINE
The Skyline became the dominant force in the Australian Touring Car Championship with the introduction of the R32 GT-R in the latter stages of the 1990 season. Jim Richards drove the car to championship success in 1990 and 1991, followed by teammate Mark Skaife in 1992.
5. JAGUAR MARK 1/2
The Mark 1 won the first two Australian Touring Car Championship titles with David McKay and Bill Pitt respectively in 1960 and 1961. The upgraded Mark 2 version kept Jaguar on top with Bob Jane in 1962 and 1963.
4. HOLDEN TORANA
The Torana replaced the Monaro as Holden’s flagship model in the Australian Touring Car Championship in the 1970s, winning four championships between 1974 and 1979 courtesy of Peter Brock (twice), Colin Bond and Bob Morris.
3. FORD MUSTANG
The Mustang was the car to beat in the 1960s, scoring five consecutive Australian Touring Car Championship titles between 1965 and 1969 with one for Norm Beechey and four in a row for Ian Geoghegan. The modern version of the Mustang added to the tally with two titles for Scott McLaughlin.
2. FORD FALCON
The Falcon scored its first championship win in 1973 and won its 17 championships over a 46-year period, including six in the Group C era (three each from Allan Moffat and Dick Johnson)
and the rest in the V8 era from 1993 up until victory with Scott McLaughlin in its farewell season in 2018.
1. HOLDEN COMMODORE
The Commodore debuted in 1980 and has notched up 17 drivers’ championship wins over 42 years, with all but the first with Peter Brock in its debut season occurring in the V8 era from 1993 (the Commodore winning in 1994). Its current tally of 17 titles matches the mark set by the Ford Falcon, with the chance to get one over its great V8 rival with an 18th and final success in 2022.
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