Gone But Not Forgotten – Australian Tracks of Yesteryear

Australia plays host to a number of internationally renowned motorsports events each and every year with Philip Island, Mount Panorama and Albert Park the most notable circuits on the motorsports calendar. But what about the tracks of yesteryear, the tracks that once held events which spectators would flock to in droves? What happened to these tracks and what lays in their place now? We will look to answer a few of these questions in this week’s blog.

Oran Park

Oran Park closed down in 2010 to make way for a housing development after almost 50 years of racing. The course held a reputation within both the car and motorcycle world as a tight, fast and unforgiving circuit which punished even the slightest mistake. The last Supercar race took place at the venue in 2008, in what also served as Mark Skaife’s final full time race event, Rick Kelly went to win the final race of the weekend while Garth Tander took the round win. Unfortunately, as a result of the housing development there’s not really anything left of the track at Oran Park, with only the street names such as Moffat St, Seton St and Peter Brock Drive to represent the racing of yesteryear.

 

Surfers Paradise Raceway

Racing in Surfers Paradise began long before the days of champ cars, the Indy 300, A1 Grand Prix and Supercars as we know them today. Way back in 1966, Gold Coast Businessman Keith Williams (of Sea World fame) decided to build a co-existing race track and drag strip in Surfers Paradise. The popular track hosted weekly drags as well as the ATCC, Tasman Series and even the 1975 Australian Grand Prix with drivers such as Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Allan Moffat and Bob Jane racing at the track regularly. As with Oran Park, Surfers Paradise Raceway was demolished to give way to the ever-expanding urban sprawl. Of course racing still continues in the form of Supercars on the iconic Surfers Paradise Street Circuit, so not all racing has been lost in the city.

 

Catalina Park  

Opening in 1960, ‘The Gully’ as it was commonly known was one of the nation’s more treacherous racing circuits including rock walls, cliffs and a narrow track right in the heart of the blue mountains. As a result of its mountainous location, fog issues ensured that many race days encountered scheduling issues. While racing stopped at the venue in 1970, the track was utilised for one lap dashes with single cars up until the 1990’s. In 2002 the site was declared an Aboriginal place.

Lobethal

Considered by some to be Australia’s Spa-Francorchamps, Lobethal was a fast, flowing street circuit in South Australia. The almost 14km course ran through the towns of Charleston and Lobethal, with scores of spectators basing themselves at the local pubs to watch the racing. The 1939 Australian Grand Prix was raced on the Lobethal circuit, with racers completing 17 laps in the scorching Australian summer – a number of cars were unable to complete the race. The final race meeting was held in 1948, before closed-street racing was banned altogether by the South Australian government.

Have you driven or raced around any of these circuits? Or do you have a favourite Australian circuit that’s no longer with us? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook Page and let us know in the comments section below.

Demolition Derby – Taking a look at the Winton TCM Crash

Back in May at the Winton SuperSprint, motorsport fans witnessed one of the bigger crashes in the history of the Touring Car Masters series. At Rare Spares, we love watching our favourite cars of yesteryear wind back the clock and hit the track in earnest. However, we can’t help but cringe a little when we see these beauties on the back of a truck being towed back to the pits in a crumpled mess! But, it is motorsport and we all know the risks when hitting the track, so in this article we’ll take a quick look at the incident, who was involved and what has gone into getting these masterpieces back on the track.

Qualifying at Winton couldn’t have gone much better for Jason Gomersall who was able to place his Big Mate A9X Torana on pole for race 2, declaring it his greatest achievement in motorsport. The team was understandably stoked with the achievement, beating out racing legend John Bowe by mere two-one hundredths of a second. Unfortunately for Gomersall, the weekend became unforgettable for all the wrong reasons less than 24 hours later. Gomersall was off to a cracking start to the race, clearing his competition and heading into turn 2 with the track to himself. From here it all went pear shaped though, losing the rear end of the beautiful Torana he span in front of the oncoming field. What came next can be best described as complete and utter chaos.

Gomersall span into the path of Eddie Abelnica and his XB Falcon before being collected by Mark King’s Camaro leaving both cars with very heavy front end damage. The ensuing pack had nowhere to go, with a number of cars finding each other or the surrounding walls. John Bowe was also caught up in the incident, resulting in a few broken ribs and a short stint in hospital. When all was said and done, seven cars were involved in the incident and the race was suspended.

With a short turnaround to the Darwin round, many teams faced an uphill battle to get their cars back in racing condition. Gomersall’s Torana sustained extensive damage to the front cross member, steering rack and radiator, however the engine was largely undamaged and the rest of the car from the firewall back was almost unscathed. Incredibly the A9X was back racing in Darwin finishing in P4 for the weekend. Mark King’s Camaro wasn’t quite as lucky, however it’s well on its way to hitting the track again. In the meantime King has been behind the wheel of an incredible looking 1972 GTS Monaro.

The TCM series continues in 2017 with rounds remaining at the marquee Supercar events held at Sandown, Bathurst and Newcastle, make sure you don’t miss any of the action! Do you own a TCM worthy classic car? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

Dick Johnson and The Infamous Rock

Ford racing legend Dick Johnson was at the centre of one of motorsports greatest controversies in 1980. While leading the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 disaster struck when he encountered a rock on top of the mountain on lap 17, ruining both his car and any hopes he had of race victory. In this article we will recount the incident, the following outpouring of support from the general public and discuss just how the rock ended up on the track.

The 1980 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 started about as well as Johnson could have hoped. With main rival Peter Brock experiencing issues as a result of a collision with a back marker and going a lap down at the start of lap 17, the race was Johnson’s to lose. As any Australian motorsport fan would know, the mountain tends to strike in the strangest of ways, and only a matter of 30 seconds after putting Brock a lap down, Johnson experienced firsthand the ways of the mountain. After passing through the cutting, Johnson rounded the next right to be confronted with a tow truck on one side of the road, and a football sized rock on the other. With nowhere to go, Johnson hit the rock. The impact ripped the front wheel and suspension apart before sending the XD Falcon into the wall at high speed. At such an early stage of the race it’s hard to say it cost Johnson a certain victory, but with the lapped Brock going on to win the great race, it’s not too much of a stretch to say the race was Johnson’s to lose.

Later in the day Johnson was interviewed for TV, where he emotionally explained the incident, stating “I just couldn’t believe my bloody eyes. These galoots up there that just throw boulders... like it was enormous.” He went on to explain that to repair the car and have it back on track would cost him at least $40,000 and that until fences were installed around the track he wouldn’t be returning. The public responded with an outpouring of support, calling into the TV station to donate money towards the rebuilding of Johnson’s car. When all was said and done, $72,000 had been donated by the public, which was matched by Ford Australia leaving the grand total at $144,000. The amount reignited Johnson’s racing career, which still continues today as a key stakeholder in the DJR Team Penske Racing Team, which is currently dominating the 2017 Supercar Championship. Of course Johnson would return to the mountain, recording three wins in the great race, including the very next year in 1981.

But just how did that rock end up in the middle of the Mt Panorama racing circuit? Well the story goes that two hungover men had made their way to the side of the track to watch the racing after a big night on the cans. One of them was lying down with his head resting on one rock and his feet resting on another, using it to hold him in position on the steep bank above the track. While moving his feet, he dislodged the rock, sending it plummeting down the embankment. At this point the two men bolted and were never to be seen again and as for the rock… the rest is history. Johnson has since stated in interviews that he believes this story and even shares in the humour of the situation, having the rock on display in his office for the last 30 years.

What’s your favourite Bathurst memory? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

Pikes Peak 2017 Wrap-up

Known as one of the most extreme racing events in the world, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb roared into Colorado once again in June, with highly accomplished drivers and riders making their way from all corners of the globe to have a crack the famous ‘Race to the Clouds’. While in its current paved form, the course isn’t quite as insane as it once were (check out the iconic short film ‘Climb Dance’ to see what old school Pikes Peak was all about), there’s no doubting the task at hand is only suited to the supremely talented and/or the slightly crazy.

Taking the win in 2017 was Romain Dumas, a French Porsche factory driver and former Le Mans 24 hour winner. For Pikes Peak he took the wheel of his Norma MXX RD Limited to take victory for the third time in four years. Despite the impressive victory and a respectable time of 9 minutes and 5 seconds, Romain was left somewhat disappointed in the run and explained that mechanical issues put a stop to having a run at Sebastien Loeb’s incredible record run (8min13sec) in 2013. “It’s difficult to put words to this victory. The primary objective was to win, which is what we did and it’s never easy here. Never. I even questioned whether I’d get to the summit....We got first place, but we wanted so much more that I’m unable to feel completely satisfied today” Said Dumas.

While one-off prototypes are undoubtedly incredible, at Rare Spares we can’t help but cast our eyes through the results to find how the classics went! In a throwback to the old school Pikes Peak days, an Audi Quattro S1E2 drew cheers the whole way up the mountain on its way to a respectable to time of 12 minutes and 18 seconds. The 44 year old Porsche 911 RSR driven by Christopher Lennon found itself inside the top 25 outright and 3rd in the open class with a seriously impressive time of 10 minutes and 50 seconds. Arguably the crowd favourite was R J Gottieb in his amazing sounding ’69 Chevy Camaro who was able to tame the mountain in a tick over 11 minutes to wind up inside the top 35 outright.

Australia’s best hope of victory in the car category came in the form of Tony Quinn, who piloting his 633kw VR38DETT-powered Ford Focus bodied machine came within 3 kilometers of setting a lighting fast time before his brakes gave way. Although disappointed, the failure hasn’t dampened Quinn’s spirits who has stated he will back to take on the mountain again next year. The most impressive Australian result this year belongs to Sydney born Rennie Scaysbrook, who riding a brand new KTM Super Duke 1290 R finished second outright in the bike category. By doing so, Scaysbrook became only the 3rd man in history to break the 10 minute barrier on a motorcycle.

The Pikes Peak Hill climb holds a certain prestige, with competitors and spectators alike respecting that this mountain is a special beast, capable of wreaking havoc on those who take it lightly. Many have stated that the incredible Sebastien Loeb/Peugeot record from 2013 may never be broken, and in fairness no one has come even close yet. However, with a number of incredible custom built hill climb machines popping up across the world, it’s unquestionable that Pikes Peak is sure to retain its incredible reputation long into the future.

Aussie Cars that never were

When we think about Aussie cars, our minds drift towards the Commodore, the Falcon, or the Territory. However, what about those Aussie cars that didn’t quite go as far in the public domain as these classics? Australia has produced some awesome cars that didn’t quite reach the lofty heights laid out in planning. In this article we will take a look at three Aussie cars that didn’t sell in the intended quantities, but still hold a special place in Australian automotive history.

Ilinga AF-2

The Ilinga (aboriginal word meaning ‘distant horizon’) AF-2 was designed by Tony Farrell in partnership with Victorian businessman Daryl Davies. The intention for the Ilinga was to be a high-performance luxury coupe utilising aluminium body panels over a steel chassis, using a modified Leyland/Rover 4.4 litre V8 to provide the power. Before running into financial difficulties, two prototypes were built and orders were taken, however the 1970’s oil crisis ensured the closing of Leyland Australia, meaning the Ilinga had lost its engine supplier. One of the prototypes lives in the carpark entrance of the Melbourne Museum, whilst the other is nowhere to be found!

 

Giocattolo

Born in 1986, the Giacattolo was the brainchild of Paul Helstead and F1 engineer Barry Lock. With plans to build Australia’s first Supercar, Helstead and Lock took an Alfa Romeo Sprint and dropped a 5 litre Walkinshaw Holden Group A V8. Producing 220kw and 500Nm, the car was a rocket, capable of powering the Giocattolo from 0-100 in under 5.5 seconds while having an electronically limited top speed of 260kph. With upgraded tyres, brakes, transmission and a supremely high tech suspension package, the Giocatollo was akin to a Go-Kart on steroids. The $80,000 price tag however was a bridge too far for consumers, and production ceased after only 3 years and 15 units were built. To take a look at the article we put together on the Italian/Australian pocket rocket earlier in 2017, click here.

Joss JT1/JP1/Vanguard

With more comeback tours than John Farnham, what started out as the Joss JT1 was supposed to be Australia’s answer to iconic supercars such as the Enzo Ferrari and Lamborghini Murcielago. It has never eventuated unfortunately, as numerous attempts to get the project off the ground including renames to JP1 and eventually Vanguard have fallen flat. Featuring a 6.8 litre V8, the 940kg supercar was fast enough to achieve 0-100kph in less than 3 seconds and run the quarter mile in a tick under 12 seconds in stock trim. Only 1 Joss has been built to date and the outlook looks bleak, however we’ve been in this position before only for Joss to announce that the project has been fired into life again! So who knows, maybe there’s still hope for the Joss JT1/JP1/Vanguard?

Have you spotted any of these low production Aussie cars on the road? Or maybe you’re the proud owner of one of the very few remaining Giacattolo’s? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.