Three Hundred Up
Mark Alan Jones
This weekend see a milestone click over for the tin top Brigade. Oran Park will play host to the 300th Australian Touring Car Championship/Shell Championship Series round. The series has come a long way, through many ups and downs, booms and busts, declines and recoveries. While motor racing no longer attracts the crowds it did back around the time of the ATCC's beginning, the current incarnation of the series is the biggest show in the land.
In the 1950's motor racing was huge. Massive crowds would drive for hours away from the major cities, travelling to far away circuits like Gnoo Blas, Bathurst, Leyburn, Catalina Park, Longford, and Phillip Island. Albert Park in inner Melbourne had proved a controversial success. Touring Cars rose as a category during this period on the back of the hugely popular Redex Round Australia Trials. The Australian Touring Car Championship was born to give the sedans a national crown to shoot for. The category chosen was Appendix J for mildly modified cars rather than Series Production proposed for the Armstrong 500 later that year, or the wilder cars of Appendix K. The early championships were held as single race events, the first 1960 championship was held at Gnoo Blas, a triangular closed highway circuit near Orange.
Oran Park this year will host the 300th ATCC/SCS round
Pic: Michael Shaw
In the early 60's the only car to have was a Mark II Jaguar 3.4 litre. The famed Scuderia Veloce team had one, and team principal and doyen of modern motoring writers, David McKay would lead home the similar cars of Bill Pitt and Ron Hodgson with Max Volkers first local car home in fourth, a FJ Holden. Pitt would have his revenge at his home circuit of Lowood in Queensland the following year with a young Bob Jane in a Mark II Jag winning in '62 at Longford, Tasmania, backing up at Mallala near Adelaide in 1963 in a 4.1 Jag.
By 1964 the Holden versus Ford element had emerged as Cortina GT fought against EH 179 at Lakeside with Ian Geoghegan winning in the factory supported Cortina. 1965 saw the arrival of the big V8, although at this stage only in imported American form. Over the next decade the series would be flooded with big US iron: Ford Galaxies and Mustangs, Chevy Novas, Impalas and Camaros. Norm Beechey's Mustang would win in 1965 at Sandown with Ian Geoghegan taking 1966 at Bathurst, 1967 at Lakeside and 1968 at Warwick Farm. During this era many multi-car teams emerged, but unlike today these were more associations of like-minded competitors under the organisation of an oil company. The Shell Trident team was the most visible example, led by Norm Beechey (Camaro/Monaro) but also included Jim McKeown (Lotus Cortina and later Porsche 911), Peter Manton (Mini Cooper) and later occasionally Dick Johnson (Torana XU1).
The first series was held in 1969 with Geoghegan again taking his Mustang to the title after victories at Bathurst and Mallala. However the title should perhaps have gone to Alan Hamilton, whose Porsche 911 scored more points but with a best four results of five rounds counting the Ford driver won. For 1970 Norm Beechey's self developed HT Monaro finally took a title away from Geoghegan with Jim McKeown's Porsche second. For 1971 Bob Jane returned with a monstrous 7 litre V8 Chevrolet Camaro and would win both the 1971 and '72 titles. This era would see some tremendous battles between Jane's Camaro, Beechey's Monaro, Allan Moffat's Trans-Am Mustang and Ian Geoghegan XY 'Super-Falcon' with the battle at Bathurst in 1972 between Geoghegan and Moffat remembered fondly as Moffat tried desperately and in vain to find his way past Geoghegan and the oil leaking from the Falcon.
However, the Supercar controversy lingering over Bathurst would see a merging of ATCC's Appendix J regulations with Bathurst's Series Production regulations creating Group C for both tin top attractions. With the exotic Mustangs, Camaros, Porsches and Alfa Romeos now banned the series gave rise to the Falcon versus Holden battle, which until now had been either non-existant in the ATCC or a curious class battle.
Allan Moffat quickly left his Trans-Am Mustang behind for a Phase III GTHO which took the 1973 title, winning at Symmons Plains, Calder, Sandown, Wanneroo and Surfers Paradise miles ahead of emerging young star Peter Brock in the Holden Dealer Team Torana XU1. Brock would have his revenge and then some the following year, dominating '74 in the XU1, winning five of the seven races. But by this stage Ford had stopped supporting racing, and 1975 would have a different feel to it, as Brock had left the Holden Dealer Team. Allan Grice led most of the year until running into trouble with the stewards leaving Colin Bond in the HDT Torana L34 to beat Murray Carter's XB Falcon.
For 1976 the enduros at the end of the season were included in the ATCC for the first time in a complex points score system that few understood and fewer bothered with. The idea would last two seasons over which Allan Moffat dominated with his team of XB Falcons. Colin Bond was second both years, first as a Holden rival in 1976, then a teammate in 1977. With a favourable point allocation for class cars in the seventies Ford Escorts and Capris would finish well up championship tables. Barry Seton actually led the '76 series in his Capri for several races. The Torana A9X emerged late in 1977 and would dominate both 1978 and 1979, taking every podium place in the 1979 series. Peter Brock would win '78 with Bob Morris taking an underdog privateer win in 1979.
Pic: Mark Alan Jones
Back to 1982: Johnson and Brock line up on the unsealed(!) Symmons Plains pre-grid (above). Moffat's RX7 (below) was the subject of most of the homologation controversy in the late Group C days.
Pics: Marie Goodall
For 1980 there was a major change in the rules with heavy weight penalties applied to those still running now 2 or 3 year old LX Toranas or XC Falcons. This forced several teams out of the series and others into expensive development programs of VB Commodores and XD Falcons. It was a low point for the series with only the Holden Dealer Team even vaguely competitive. Brock had no opposition for his third title, with Kevin Bartlett's Chevy Camaro being best of the rest and Peter Williams third in the title with a Toyota Celica with thin fields and crowds being the hallmark in 1980.
In 1981 the ATCC's popularity exploded after the emergence of folk hero Dick Johnson from the wreckage of his Bathurst XD Falcon. Johnson won the title from Brock with the result in doubt until the very final second of the Lakeside finale. By 1982 manufacturers were flocking to the series, with Brock and Grice leading the Holdens, Johnson the Fords, Moffat the growing Mazda RX7 brigade and Jim Richards in the BMW 635 with George Fury and Fred Gibson in the Nissan Bluebird Turbos. Johnson would take the '82 title after the title spent half the season in the courts, ending with Brock suspended for half the season. 1983 saw Moffat defeat Fury for the title while '84 Johnson took the title with consistency ahead of Brock and Peter McLeod (RX7) after Moffat was badly injured in a crash at Surfers Paradise.
1985 saw the coming of Group A, and the only teams truly ready were BMW and Alfa Romeo. The Alfa's were too slow and by the time Brock's Commodore got up to speed Jim Richards had dominated in the black BMW with Johnson second on consistency driving the winless Ford Mustang. 1985 had seen the emergence of cars like Mitsubishi Starion, Alfa Romeo GTV6, Volvo 240 Turbo and the Rover Vitesse, it was 1981 all over again. With Nissan returning in 1986 with the Skyline Turbo it could only get better. 1986 would see Robbie Francevic take an upset win in the Volvo, just beating home Fury's Skyline. 1987 brought a similar battle, with the experience of Jim Richards in the nimble BMW M3 beating Glenn Seton's Nissan to the title.
Dick Johnson and John Bowe would slaughter the opposition with their Ford Sierras over the next two years with Johnson taking his fourth an fifth titles. 1990 would be a classic confrontation with four drivers going into the final looking to win. Jim Richards would dominate the final in the new Nissan GT-R leaving the Sierras of Johnson, Brock, Bond and Bowe gasping. For the next two years Jim Richards and his young teammate Mark Skaife would repeat what the Shell Sierras had done with Richards winning 1991 and Skaife in 1992.
More Johnson: The Ford Sierra RS500 (above) turned the ATCC into a one make class in the late 80's. The Sierra era was only ended with the new V8 regulations in 1993 which made the Falcon EB (below) the standard blue oval kit.
Pics: Cameron Lean, Mark Alan Jones
For 1993, another regulation change, the turbos banned in favour of five litre V8's in Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore guise. Glenn Seton Racing would be best ready and when it soon realised that Holden had got the aerodynamic package wrong and the Falcons of Glenn Seton and Alan Jones, and the Shell cars of Johnson and Bowe, would be convincingly better most of the year. Seton collected the '93 title, while in '94 early season dominance would set up Holden's first title since 1980 with a win for Mark Skaife. John Bowe would just out point the opposition in 1995 while Craig Lowndes was the dominant force in his debut year of 1996 to bring Holden Racing Team to it's current position of the best team in the series. While Seton would take 1997 for Ford, HRT would win the next three titles for Craig Lowndes (1998 and 1999) and Mark Skaife (2000).
Lowndes and Holden Racing Team held sway in the late 1990's.
Pic: Michael Shaw
Now some 299 races later the stats have 130 wins for Holden, 102 for Ford, 25 for Nissan, 15 for BMW, eight for Chevrolet, eight for Mazda, five for Volvo, four for Jaguar and two for Porsche.
Of the drivers, Peter Brock has 37 wins, Allan Moffat 32, Mark Skaife 24, Dick Johnson 22, Jim Richards 21, Glenn Seton and Craig Lowndes have 17, John Bowe 15 with Colin Bond, Allan Grice and Bob Jane all on 10 wins. Ian Geoghegan and Dick Johnson each have five championships, Bob Jane, Allan Moffat and Jim Richards each have four, Peter Brock, Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife each have three with Norm Beechey and Glenn Seton on two.
So who will win the 300th ATCC race? It's fitting it should be held at Oran Park one of the series oldest circuits and part of the series since 1971 and a host of the series finale during much of the 80's and 90's. Watch and wait, I'm sure it will be worth it.