October 04, 2016

Horse 2170 - One-Two At Bathurst

Although the Festival Of The Boot is a firm favourite on the sporting calendar, for me the weekend after where people thrash machines for a thousand kilometers on a mountain is far more impressive.
As far as I can make out, there have been five 1-2 finishes; I think that this is possibly one of the hardest feats in motorsport because it means that a team has to keep two cars going to the finish and beat the rest.

This then, is a short summary of the five greatest feats in Australian motorsport.

The 1967 race was probably the first actual edition that saw the realisation of the struggle between the General's boys and Henry's lads. Before this time, the racetrack at Mount Panorama had been seen as an equaliser, with horsepower being dominant on the three long straights and the nimbleness of smaller cars having a distinct advantage across the top. Minis had taken out the top nine positions in 1966 but this was eventually shown to be the result of British Motor Corporation's professionalism rather than the inherent advantage of the car itself. 

Ford Motor Company was going through one of its many waves of interest in motorsport, after having been snubbed by Enzo Ferrari to buy out the Italian Scuderio, and so they threw as much money as they possibly could at building cars for Le Man's, engines for Formula One and touring car racing around the world. Their previous winner in the Cortina, was only a 1.6L motor car and Ford Australia wanted to promote what they hoped would be their volume seller in the Falcon (hence the reason why it was the Falcon which became the racing standard in Australia and not the Mustang). 

General Motors hadn't bothered to turn up for 1967 and so apart from the BMC Works Team and a spritied effort from a couple of Alfa Romeo 1600 GTVs, Ford's Harry Firth and Fred Gibson, and Ian & Leo Geoghegan thundered around all day virtually unopposed. 

By 1970 Ford had secured the services of a bespectacled Canadian, Allan Moffat. The image that he projected was one of coolness to the media and this naturally fostered a love/hate relationship with the public. Moffat had run a respectable 4th in 1969 but in 1970, Ford was determined to take the crown. Along with Bruce McPhee and Fred Gibson, the three Falcons qualified 1-2-3 and probably would have ended that way if Gibson's car hadn't clagged.

This was almost a repeat performance of three year's previous as Holden had virtually gifted Ford the win on a plate. Holden's Torana even in GTR XU-1 guise was hopelessly outclassed and in 1971, Ford could have repeated the performance if they weren't competing against other GT-HO Falcons.

After the so called "supercar scare" of the 1970s, Ford kind of lost interest in motor racing as is often the case in the history of Ford. In 1974, John Goss had won in a privateer Falcon and this was followed by Peter Brock and Bob Morris who had also won in privateer entries. In the meantime, Moffat had seen how the Holden Dealer Team had gone directly to the dealer's to ask for funding rather than the head office and so set up his own Moffat Ford Dealers organisation.  It had basically failed in 1975, improved slightly in 1976 but in 1977, it was finally up to speed.

He secured the services of ex Holden Dealer Team driver Colin Bond along with Alan Hamilton, and somehow also managed to lure Belgian driver Jacky Ickx, of whom it must be said was probably one of the greatest endurance drivers that there has ever been.

Ickx learned the track and put in lap times which were comparable to that of Moffat and he was incredibly sympathetic to the XC Falcon Coupe and it's probably due to Ickx's driving even more than Moffat's, that the No.1 Falcon even made it all the way to the flag at all. The car still had plenty of power at the end of 1000km but was not so lucky in the brakes department, and so that last lap which famously sees the two cars moving into position for a form finish, relied more on the restraint of Colin Bond to stay behind because he had the better car, that late into the race.

The 1984 edition of the Bathurst 1000, was the last race under the old Group C regulations. Peter Brock had won five races out of six, after the famous 1-2 that Moffat had achieved in 1977; mainly because Ford's interest in motor racing had become so anaemic that there were only privateers left to fly the flag of the blue oval. In the interim, Moffat had joined Mazda and there were serious campaigns from Nissan and BMW but none of them ran cars with enough torque or power to properly fight the 5.0L V8 Commodore. 

From what I can gather, Brock's 1983 Bathurst winner had been sold off and the car which he campaigned during the touring car championship in 1984 became the No.25 car for Bathurst; to be run by John Harvey and David Parsons. Brock's car was specially built for Sandown and Bathurst and so if was basically a pristine car, being run by the then best driver in Australia. The 05 car practically had no choice but to win.

It is the story of the 25 car which is interesting because it had an adventure in a sand trap in the morning and so spent most of the day kind of marking off the laps. It wasn't until late in the day when Dick Johnson's green XF Falcon broke a universal joint that they realised that a 1-2 was even on the cards and it joined the race for second place, while being two laps down on 05. 

Australia waited for more than a quarter of a century for the next 1-2 result to happen, for in the meantime, Australia had joined Group A and invited the rest of the world to play and then been embarrassed when Nissan built the R32 Skyline GTR to take full advantage of the rules and it blew everything it raced against to the weeds. Australia then adopted the current V8 formula and along with the rise of full professionalism, the gap between first and last is now nowhere near as massive as it once was.

Even so, the Holden Racing Team asserted dominance for a while, then Stone Brothers Racing but neither of them could get two cars to run the 1000km as a sprint race and get them to both shine. It is a monumental task and only 888 Racing have managed to achieve the feat.

In 2010, they split Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowdnes because Bathurst was now part of the championship and then it became a matter of finding two co-drivers who are up to the job. They found Mark Skaife and Steve Owen and their 2010 win probably ranks as even more difficult as any other which came before it. 

I think it really sad that the Falcon has ended production and that by Bathurst time next year, the last Commodore will have already left the body shop. It means that the battle which has been raging for 50 years will probably come to an end and once Henry and the General become just importers like everyone else, they're going to lose their special places in Australia's heart. 

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