Motorsport in Australia, as a topic of conversation, is one that’s up there with like/dislike Ricky Gervais, should pineapple be on a pizza, is Peter Helliar actually funny, for dividing people’s opinion. Who’s the greatest driver, was the 1978 Torana the best car, which was the greatest of the great races at Bathurst?
Given the history of the yearly event that is “Bathurst”, pinning down a top five most exciting races from over fifty races is always going to be fraught with danger. We don’t expect our list to be yours. But we would love to know what you think your top five are.
First up: 1979 saw Peter Brock produce a drive that has the old guard shake their heads and/or smile in fond recognition of what remains, to this day, an incredible finish. Brock, ever the canny racer, smiled and waved at the fans lining the track on the drivers’ parade lap. Whilst doing so he was scoping the layout. It was damp on the tarmac thanks to a coolish morning and dew that hadn’t evaporated. Slippery sections equal less traction. Come race start and Brock did his best impression of someone that had won lotto and told the boss what they thought of them.
By the end of the first lap, the lead was already five seconds. Over 420 minutes later, with driving duties shared with Jim Richards, Brock finished six laps ahead of the rest of the field. To rub substantial salt into the wounds of the others, especially the following seven drivers in similarly specced A9X Toranas, “Peter Perfect” finished the race with a lap record on that last, fantastic, never to be repeated, lap.
2014 and it’s a saga of track break-ups, a hero on the rise, and a joining of young and old on the podium. The history books show that 22 year old Chaz Mostert and 46 year old Paul Morris would be the winners of this race. Remarkably, they had started from the very last place on the grid, and would lead just one lap of 161.
26 cars were due to take to the track on race Sunday, the 25th of October. 25 would after one car was crashed and heavily damaged during practice the morning before. Just 17 of those 25 would make it to the chequered flag.
One of the two of Australia’s coat of arms made an impact on the race, figuratively and physically, after one decided to try its luck with Luke Youlden. Pootling around at the rear of the field thanks to an earlier off-track excursion, the car would be damaged by the kangaroo’s impact, damaging the door to a point where it was hard to open. Any resulting pitstop was slower as a result.
The track itself suffered damage and tarmac was lifting. Race officials called a temporary halt to proceedings, which, under the rules, allowed teams to effect repairs to cars during what turned out to be a one hour or so break.
The final pitstop was heartbreak for an up-and-comer. Shane van Gisbergen was in the hunt for the win but a crucial, yet painfully small error took the car out of contention. As van Gisbergen recounted later: “We think I over-fuelled it (using too much throttle with the pitlane speed limiter on, which floods the engine) taking off and it just stalled.”
That last lap saw Jamie Whincup run short on the vital fuel needed, which allowed Mostert to take the lead on the most important lap of all. The winning lap.
1992 and “I'll keep racing but I tell you what, this is going to remain with me for a long time, you're a pack of arseholes. ” would become part of the Bathurst legend. Standing on a windswept balcony late on the afternoon of October 4, a baby-faced Mark Skaife and his mentor and family friend, Jim Richards withstood a barrage of abuse from the diehard Australian fans below.
The cause? A car, and a brand, not unknown to the faithful. The brand was Nissan. The car was Skyline. Together a potent combination in racing trim, but this car was something different. A turbocharged straight six cylinder engine drove all four wheels, not just the rear ones. The year before, it had imperiously swept away all before it.
Race day would get off to a relatively inauspicious start, bar a tailshaft failure for the ever-popular Peter Brock. Brock’s car would later suffer a second tailshaft collapse, plus Brock would suffer the ignominy of being punted by an old friend and rival, Allan Grice, requiring a pitstop for repairs.
Scattered showers were forecast. What wasn’t was the tragic passing of New Zealand driver Denny Hulme. On the 33rd lap, the 56 year driver suffered a fatal coronary. His friend, Jim Richards, was kept in the dark until just before he took to the podium.
He’d also only recently learned that the race was to be awarded to he and Skaife. A late afternoon deluge had made the track a skating rink, with the top of the mountain sending the water downhill. That included down through the Esses and into Forest Elbow, the final corner before the long Conrod Straight.
Cars would spear off left and right, and that included the previously invulnerable “Godzilla”. On countback the pair were declared the winners, much to the anger and chagrin of those expecting to see Dick Johnson and John Bowe in their Sierra take to the top step. Those words continue to resonate in the halls of Australian motorsport history.
“The Rock” is the name that a former wrestler went by in his career. The Rock is what stands at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea at Gibralter. It’s the Rock that is part of Bathurst legend and made a mess of a car driven by Dick Johnson.
1980 - Pole position for that year’s race was held by Kevin Bartlett in the distinctively liveried Channel 9 Camaro. Johnson had clocked second fastest in the “Hardie’s Heroes Top Ten Shootout” Third on the grid was Peter Brock. He’d be racing with Jim Richards and the pair were aiming for their third consecutive win.
The Camaro, by grabbing pole, had already set a record. It was the first time a car of its origin had taken the prime position. It was recorded as seeing 274km/h during qualifying on the downhill run that is Conrod Straight. It was also the first time in 12 races that hometown hero Brock had seen pole against his name.
Incredibly, there would be sixty cars that would take to the 6.2 kilometres worth of otherwise holiday sightseeing tarmac. Just as incredible would be the fact that nearly half of those, including Johnson, would fail to greet the chequered flag. With a field that included four different classes, with cars such as the Izusu Gemini, Toyota Corolla, Mazda RX-7, Johnson’s XD Falcon, the first model to go to the blocky European design after the svelte coke-bottle lines of the previous three, would hit a rock dislodged by a spectator and wipe out the front of his car. A favourite to win, was nonetheless on the verge of going under financially. Ford and his legion of fans would keep “DJ” in business.
The race itself would see Brock and Richards take the win in an enthralling finale, leading Larry Perkins and Peter Jansen home by a lap, and four ahead of touring car legend Ian Geoghegan and his co-driver, Ian Gulson.
2013 and the race itself comes down to a titanic battle between two champions. Ford’s Mark Winterbottom and Holden’s Jamie Whincup had people on their feet in the final 120 seconds of the race. Six odd hours before, and it was Paul Dumbrell from the start, leading the field by three car lengths. Lap 86 and Greg Murphy cannons into the wall, spurring a round of pistops, which has Winterbottom and Whincup in close proximity. “Frosty” pitted on lap 117, Whincup, in a move designed to shadow the Ford, a lap later.
Craig Lowndes and Warren Luff had partnered, and Lowndes was in contention, but would also force Jason Bright into defensive driving. The following forty laps would see Whincup and Winterbottom push each other to their limits. Garth Tander came into play with just a few laps to go, going wide at the Caltex Chase. Bright and Lowndes would stand toe to toe in the coming laps but it was Whincup that had “the eyes on”. The final lap and they’re side by side before Whincup’s normally steely nerve cracked for a moment. A wide run from the Holden driver was enough to see the Ford of Winterbottom edge ahead. His win would be by less than a half second.
There are plenty of great races in the history of “The Great Race”. Which year is your favourite?
Let us know though our blog comments.