FEATURE: 30 Years of F1 AGP – Touring Car stars
In the final part of our series celebrating this year’s 30th running of the Australian World Championship Formula 1 Grand Prix, we take a look back at some of the most memorable touring car support race moments.
Local tin-top support racing has featured at all but one of the Formula 1 World Championship AGP meetings.
Although never a fight for Australian Touring Car Championship or V8 Supercars Championship points, there has been no shortage of memorable moments across the Adelaide and Albert Park events.
Here are 10 of the best, spanning the first F1 GP meeting in 1985 through to this weekend’s MSS Security Challenge.
Gerhard Berger’s brief cameo (1985)
The first year of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide saw one of the stars from the main show join the local touring car set for a one-off drive.
Gerhard Berger, whose regular Arrows mount utilised BMW engines, stepped into Bob Jane’s BMW 635csi for the weekend following the car’s second place finish in the previous month’s Bathurst 1000.
The Austrian split local legends Dick Johnson and Peter Brock for second in qualifying, but would enjoy a brief race.
Shuffled back to fifth after a wild opening series of corners that included contact with the similar BMW of Charlie O’Brien, Berger was dispatched into the tyre barriers on just the third lap by the Holden Dealer Team’s John Harvey, who had earlier jumped the start.
Berger, who had needed special permission from the FIA to compete on account of the fact that the touring car race took place within 24 hours of the Grand Prix, went on to score the final point in his Arrows on Sunday afternoon.
Johnson’s Mustang breaks through (1985)
As one of Australian motorsport’s ultimate folk heroes, many of Dick Johnson’s former cars have become legends in their own right.
One of the least revered, however, is the Group A Mustang that Johnson campaigned during 1985 and 1986.
A stop-gap measure between the end of the Group C era and the 1987 arrival of Ford’s Group A Sierra, the under-powered Mustang failed to win a single Australian Touring Car Championship race or score a strong result in the Bathurst 1000.
The non-championship 1985 Australian Grand Prix support race therefore went down as the car’s only win, with Johnson leading every lap to beat home Peter Brock’s Holden.
Walkinshaw one-two (1988)
Following its split with Peter Brock the previous year, the 1988 Australian touring car season had been a lean one for Holden.
With Tom Walkinshaw busy putting together the General’s new local performance car arm, Holden Special Vehicles, the factory racing operations had been farmed out to Larry Perkins.
The former privateer’s 1988 ATCC campaign yielded a best result of just third.
Moving from the Brock VL SS Group A to Walkinshaw VL SS Group A SV homologation for the endurance races saw a solid second at the Sandown 500, before a disastrous Bathurst campaign that saw both cars failed to finish.
The end-of-season Adelaide outing, therefore, provided some much needed relief for Holden and its fans, with former F1 world champion Denny Hulme leading Perkins home in a popular one-two finish.
It was the first Australian win for the Walkinshaw-Holden factory racing relationship that continues to this day.
Skaife flips the GT-R (1990)
Mark Skaife endured one of the worst accidents of his career at the Australian Grand Prix in 1990; rolling Nissan’s new GT-R during qualifying.
The then rising star was pushing hard to match a time set by team-mate Jim Richards in the team’s HR31 Skyline when he ran sideways over the exit kerb at Brewery Bend.
The kerbing tripped the GT-R onto its side. The roof of the car then made heavy contact with the outside wall before, still upside down, it slid to a halt in the middle of the road.
Fellow drivers Peter Brock, Colin Bond and Joe Sommariva all stopped on the circuit to help extract Skaife from the wreckage.
The now retired five-time champion retains the front mudguard as a memento of the car-destroying incident.
Bowe pips Perkins at soggy Adelaide (1994)
The Adelaide Parklands street circuit has seen no shortage of exciting V8 Supercars contests over the last 15 years of the Clipsal 500.
The penultimate Australian Grand Prix meeting held in Adelaide, however, played host to perhaps the most thrilling touring car race of all at the venue.
Wet conditions provided a major curveball for the V8 teams on the Saturday of the 1994 event, with the front-runners torn between intermediate and full wet tyres.
A wet shod John Bowe Ford would eventually take victory, but only after a thrilling late-race dice with the Holden of Larry Perkins, who had selected the intermediates.
Perkins narrowly escaped a multi-car accident on the opening lap and, after some more tense moments, eventually emerged as Bowe’s main challenger.
He moved to second with three laps remaining before closing a four second margin to arrive on Bowe’s tail ahead of the final lap. The pair went side-by-side for several corners before Bowe held on for a narrow win.
Ambrose arrives in V8 Supercars (2001)
Former Holden Racing Team star Craig Lowndes dominated the headlines heading to the 2001 V8 Supercars support races at Albert Park, where he would be making his first competitive appearance in a Ford.
It was a fellow Ford new boy, Marcos Ambrose, that shot to prominence when the track action kicked-off, however, with the Tasmanian scoring pole position in his very first meeting in the category.
Ambrose had been picked up by Stone Brothers Racing after a lack of funds ended his progression through England’s open-wheel ranks.
Although the Albert Park races did not go to plan for the youngster, the event ensured that the would-be two-time V8 Supercars Champion had made an early mark on the category.
Ingall gives BA Falcon debut win (2003)
The 2003 Australian Grand Prix meeting saw the dawn of a new V8 Superars era, with Ford’s BA model Falcon and Holden’s VY model Holden both making their debuts.
The BA, which would go down as one of Ford’s most successful Australian touring cars of all time, got off to an impressive start with Stone Brothers Racing’s latest recruit, Russell Ingall, winning the weekend.
Like Lowndes in 2001, long-time Holden driver Ingall had also made waves with his high-profile defection to the Ford ranks.
Team-mate Marcos Ambrose would go on to take back-to-back V8 Supercars titles for SBR and the BA Falcon in 2003 and 2004.
BJR’s slick gamble (2005)
Brad Jones Racing entered its sixth season of full-time V8 Supercars competition without a single race win to its name.
The team, which proved a winning force during its AUSCAR, NASCAR and Super Touring campaigns in the 1990s, had found it tough going against the mega-teams of the 5.0 litre championship.
The 2005 AGP meeting didn’t appear to present anything special for Jones and team-mate John Bowe, who finished 24th and 11th respectively in the opening race.
Starting as the only two slick-shod runners on a damp circuit for Race 2 would pay-off handsomely the following day though, with Bowe and Jones storming through the pack to finish one-two.
Four laps of early Safety Car running had undoubtedly helped the duo, ensuring the 30 wet runners could not make the most of their rubber.
Bowe eventually hit the front by passing Mark Skaife with four laps remaining. Jones completed the dream result by doing likewise two laps later.
JR the star (2011)
The most popular result in the history of Albert Park’s V8 Supercars support races occurred in 2011, where Jason Richards made a stunning return to the wheel of a Brad Jones Racing Holden.
The popular Kiwi had been sidelined from full-time duties the previous November after being diagnosed with cancer.
Following a winning one-off appearance in the Development Series in Adelaide a week earlier, Richards qualified an impressive fifth for the opening sprint race.
Eighth overall for the weekend was highlighted by a high of second in Race 2. Having started on the soft tyres, Richards briefly led the race following his pitstop before being overtaken by eventual winner Tander.
The meeting would prove Richards’ last in a V8 Supercar, eventually succumbing to his illness the following December.
Nissan’s pole breakthrough (2014)
Having endured a lean opening season in V8 Supercars competition, Nissan’s Altima scored its maiden pole position in qualifying for the 2014 MSS Security Challenge.
The result came two weeks after new-for-2014 player Volvo stole the show at the opening points round of the year in Adelaide.
With a re-homologated aerodynamic package for its second year, the Nissans had shown flashes of potential at the Clipsal 500, with Rick Kelly recovering from two drive-through penalties to finish fifth in Sunday’s 250km race.
It was team-mate Michael Caruso, however, that did the business on Thursday at Albert Park for Nissan, taking the pole from Holden’s Shane van Gisbergen.
Caruso had come closest to scoring a pole for Nissan in 2013 having been narrowly edged by Jamie Whincup in Saturday qualifying at Winton.
Although that day was tainted by a trial of E70 blend fuel in the two Norton Nissans, the 2014 Albert Park pole carried no such controversy.