Thursday, 16 May 2019

Talladega Nights: The Ballad That's Way Smarter Than You Remember

When was the last time you dusted off your DVD of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby? Hell, when was the last time you watched any DVD instead of doing your Netflix & chillax thing, or whatever it is you kids today do? Honestly, with all your sexting and your stepping-dubs, I can't begin to keep up. Anyway, Talladega Nights is worth another watch if you haven't in a while, or worth a first watch if you haven't yet, and hadn't planned to because you cannot bring yourself to think of Will Ferrell as anything remotely funny. I get that, I don't blame you, but even so I think this movie is worth a look, because it has some hidden – really hidden – depths. Here's some of the seriously clever stuff you might have missed in Will Ferrell's middle child of a movie.

No Shit Sherlock: It's about the Bush Years
This was obvious to the critics from day one: here's a link to Michael Signer's review on, written while it was still in theatres, in which he states early on:
This movie perfectly captures – and in a wonderfully transparent, entirely non-ironic sense – the ethos of the Bush Administration, and the internal, domestic struggles that inevitably color and even drive our actions toward the outer world.  In a hundred years, cultural anthropologists could watch this movie and learn something.
More transparently, he signs off with the rhetorical eye-roll: "It would all be funny, except – as noted – it's the number-one movie in America – two weeks in a row. Welcome to George Bush's America."

This was probably more obvious to U.S. viewers than it was to me circa 2006, partly because I wasn't what you'd call observant in those days, and partly because we don't get Saturday Night Live here in Australia. I didn't learn Will Ferrell had made a living lampooning Bush the Younger until the 2016 election cycle gave us the brilliant Alec Baldwin/Kate McKinnon 2nd Presidential Debate cold open. I certainly had no idea the guy from Wayne's World had so beautifully sent up Bush the Elder before that.

Ferrell's Bush impression was no more nuanced than the man himself: it wasn't one of those carefully put-together, deeply-insightful impressions that magically puts the targeted person in the room with you; that would've been wrong given the subject matter. No, Ferrell simply donned a certain haircut and started acting like an ignorant manchild, like a high school football jock who hasn't learned a thing since grade school but still thinks it's everyone else who's slow on the uptake. He didn't bother replicating the trademark Bush smirk, because he didn't have to: all he had to do was portray a person shockingly unprepared for the job of being president. With a different costume, the same character could've been a neglectful husband, or an inept plumber, or even – with a little imagination – a NASCAR driver.

Just take a moment to appreciate what a perfect "in" NASCAR was for critiquing Bush's America. It wasn't just that NASCAR was booming at the time (and conversely, CART was finally in its death throes), it's that everything you needed could be said just by giving the film a NASCAR setting. The overwhelming saturation of corporations and logos? The masturbatory displays of patriotism? The profligate waste of irreplaceable fossil fuels? The deliberate, self-imposed ignorance and insularity? The straight-up Southern takeover of American culture? It's all embedded right there in NASCAR. I mean, if you want to know how the Republicans went from the party that defeated the Confederacy to a party that basically is the Confederacy 2.0, you could either read Doug Muder's short essay detailing the whole process... or you could just watch Talladega Nights, and grasp it intuitively.

I mean, just check out Ricky Bobby's TV endorsements scene:

How efficient is that? Ridiculous over-commercialism, gun culture, sexism, unease over the rise of China and a little Mexican hate, all skewered in forty seconds flat. Less, if you focus on the ammosexual-targeted Jackhawk 9000 segment, which is set off by that awesomely cheerful punchline: "Available at WalMart!" That's a Bowling for Columbine reference if you needed telling. By 2006 WalMart was the cancer spreading across the U.S., so that was the corporation Ricky had to namedrop in place of Kmart, but still: show me another way to expose the sheer ridiculousness of American gun culture in the Noughties in eight seconds or less. Go on, I'll wait.

Even the deeply weird overlap between Evangelical Christianity and Big Business came in for some ribbing, in a scene that was either the only part of the whole movie that was funny, or the only part that wasn't, depending on who you asked:

In 2006 I was still part of the God Squad and most of my friends were deeply offended by this scene, but looking at it now, it was for the wrong reasons. The most biting part  wasn't the "dear baby Jesus..." stuff, which was just window dressing: the real salt came with my favourite line in the whole movie:
Also, due to a binding endorsement contract that stipulates I mention Powerade at each Grace, I just want to say that Powerade is delicious... 
Yeah, he immediately distracts you with some of that off-the-cuff Ferrell nonsense that makes up so much of the movie (and which I still, admittedly, still enjoy – guilty pleasures are guilty), so the joke isn't given the chance to become ponderous by landing. But the point is still there, in the text: Ricky's faith is up for sale.

Just an observation: the same people who supported Bush's presidential bid were, but a few years later, behind the controversial Hobby Lobby decision, which in 2014 exempted the arts & crafts chain from providing its employees with birth control that was otherwise mandated by law, because it conflicted with its owners' Evangelical faith. Never mind that this sincerely-held religious view is younger than both the Hobby Lobby owner (born 1941) and Will Ferrell (born 1967); apparently corporations can hold religious views now. I daresay they will continue to do so any time something impinges on a billionaire's hip pocket. Real life has overtaken parody on this one.

But still, how else could you have worked in that brilliant piece of satire without the NASCAR premise? Genius. And yet this wasn't the movie's cleverest moment, or the one that made me sit up and realise it was worth a 47th or 48th viewing.

It's Basically Copperhead Road: the Movie
Have you ever actually listened Steve Earle's lyrics? If you've only heard this song with other drunk idiots (and I was at uni in 2006 *cough*), you'll know most of the words pass unremarked, with the volume picking up markedly when they get to the familiar line, "COPPERHEAD ROOOAAD!!!"

But seriously. Give it a listen. All of it.

Like Ferrell, Earle dangles shiny things in front of us to take our eye off the ball – some drooling over Daddy's Big Black Dodge (actually a 1950 Chrysler Windsor in the video), and how he volunteered for the Army on his birthday ('cos they draft the White Trash first around there anyway). But despite its reputation, Vietnam is decidedly not what this song is about: PTSD and the Dodge are inserted between the verses that really matter, the first and last, a deliberate generational parallel comparing the Revenuers who chased grandaddy over his White Lightning with the DEA who are pursuing the singer for growing sweet stinky weed. In other words, the song was criticising the War on Drugs as nothing more than Prohibition 2.0, American legislation's greatest failure. (On that note, Rob Goodman once made the case that Sweet Home Alabama is the greatest protest song of all time; I hereby nominate Copperhead Road for silver.)

Now, with all that in mind, watch this:

Mind blown? Mine was. Again they deliberately keep the point from coming home by immediately cutting to an action-chase scene, then a joke about not snorting breakfast cereal, but it's still there: Reese Bobby segues smoothly from NASCAR's origins in bootlegging to the legal status of a kilo of Colombian booger sugar taped under his '69 Chevelle. Like Steve Earle before them, the movie-makers are calling bullshit on the War on Drugs. The difference is, the first time around it took the lawmakers only 13 years to comprehend their mistake and reverse the decision; this time it's taken (...checks calendar...) 46 years and counting.

A bit serious for a Will Ferrell movie, you say? Well that's not the deepest dive this film takes. You might wanna get a big lungful before this one.

Surprise, surprise: the Harshest Critiques come from Jean Girard
In the long long ago time of 2002, Bush and his Republican cronies wanted to invade the sovereign Republic of Iraq. Because they were spoilt rich kids who thought they should be able to act out whenever they wanted and still get a pat on the head afterwards, they sought the approval of the U.N. and their NATO allies for their aggressive war. France's foreign minister sensibly replied with a GFY, making it clear France would neither condone nor participate in the invasion. In a spat of childishness that would've been hilarious if it hadn't come from a high government official, then-Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, Bob Ney, had Congressional cafeterias rename French fries, "Freedom Fries."

Yes, really.

This was the start of a backdraft of anti-French sentiment in the U.S., which was rather ironic in a country that wouldn't even exist if it hadn't been for the aid of the French king, but that's another story. What matters here is that this shift in public mood echoed and crystalised in the form of Sacha Baron Cohen's character, Jean Girard.

Talladega Nights came out the same year as Borat, so Cohen was deep into his Weird Foreigner groove at this time. True to any good antagonist, Jean Girard was carefully designed to peg every nerve in a NASCAR redneck's body: he's French (see above); he's gay (not just gay, but married – the Supreme Court finding that marriage equality was already constitutional was all in the future, in 2006 the hot-button issue was the justice of Don't Ask, Don't Tell); and as an ex-Formula 1 champion, he played on the inferiority complex that NASCAR was a simple sport for simpletons, witness his winning races while sipping macchiatos and reading Camus. (This is bullshit of course – NASCAR definitely falls into the category Harder Than It Looks, and a good Cup driver could adapt to F1 a hell of a lot faster than a good F1 driver could adapt to stock cars, which test a very different and somewhat obscure skill set by European standards – but we're dealing with cultural perceptions here, not reality.)

At the time Michael Schumacher's career was winding down, so an F1 driver the commentators called "dominant" brought some definite mental associations with it; his physical appearance however recalled Fernando Alonso, who was darkly intense but in those days wasn't wise enough to hide his outbursts of pissed-offedness. I remain fairly sure the line, "And now ze Matador will dance wis ze Blind Shoemaker!" is a reference to Schumacher and Alonso's tussle over the 2006 World Championship.

Beyond those traits, however, Girard makes no goddamn sense at all, and that serves a purpose above the sort of lolrandom comedy big at the time. I'd almost call him the first Dadaist character I'd encountered in mainstream cinema, except that he has a clear motivation and remains true to it, even if it makes no real sense in itself. But as I say, making no sense is the whole point of Jean Girard – his job is to parody the good, honest, hard-working heartlander's attitude to anything foreign. In pretentious terms, he embodies the Other: not just the Other, but the threat of the Other. He's not just faster than Ricky, he's more educated and cultured as well (a macchiato is a serious coffee drinker's coffee), and a better husband to boot (does Gregory come off as a trophy boy-toy to you? In retrospect the contrast between Gregory and Carly could've been played up more, but alas, no movie is without flaw, and Ferrell had already tackled gender issues and sexism with Anchorman). Girard plays on the darkest fears of heartland America, that their most cherished beliefs about themselves and American Exceptionalism are just autofellation that would be blown away by a moment's contact with the real world. Girard indicts Bush's America just by existing.

But the most stinging Girard moment comes during the montage scene, when he's shown driving while reading some Albert Camus. But not just any Camus.

See the title? It's L'Étranger, or in Anglais, The Stranger. It works well enough as a sight gag, as The Stranger is probably the only piece of existentialist literature anyone remembers from high school English classes, even though they haven't read it (and full disclosure, neither have I). It fits with Girard's literary tastes being exquisite, and French, and finding NASCAR rather easy (though it isn't), but I think it cuts even deeper than that. Do you know what The Stranger is actually about? A Frenchman who kills an Arab.
Looking back now, the real topic of The Stranger is painfully obvious. Camus and the French had a demographic problem. They were going to have to give up some prime Mediterranean beachfront. Which is why the idiot protagonist kills an Arab on the beach and gets himself executed. Spoiler alert: that's the plot of The Stranger. French mama's boy kills Arab on beach, whiles away the time in prison waiting to be guillotined thinking about… you know, I can't even remember what he was thinking about. That's probably because, like almost all the leftist European rhetoric of the postwar years, The Stranger is totally disingenuous. It can't just come out and say, "God damn it, we like this beach! We conquered this beach! Why we gotta give up all this nice beach just because you Arabs are out-breeding us?" You look back now and it's obvious that's what Camus, a French Algerian (a now extinct tribe), was writing about. Normal tribal behavior, resorting to violence when you're losing coveted territory. But God forbid Camus should talk that way out loud back in those post-Stalingrad days when everything was moral, except the nonstop lying.

...If you're one of these deeply, instinctively dishonest writers, you must always fog up the windshield as much as possible. So Camus' hero kills an Arab because… "existentialism, man." – Gary Brecher, NSFW Corp, The Stranger Stranger
You could spin out the parallels further if you wanted to – there's probably something to be made of the French presence in Algeria vs American military bases in Saudi Arabia – but I think the connection with Arab-Western violence is enough. Girard could've been reading anything, even other Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus would've been a profound statement about the racing driver's life, that no matter how hard you work, eventually you will lose and someone else will take the championship. But this movie isn't about racing drivers, it's about a man who started a war with the entire Arab world. So no, Girard is reading The Stranger, a book about a man who killed an Arab. That Meursault went to the guillotine but Bush went back to Texas to paint godawful kiddie paintings is a contrast I'll mention but gloss over here.

Anyway, there you have it: Talladega Nights is not classic cinema, but it's worth a closer look, and there's probably a lot more to dig through if you want to take the time. Like, how Ricky, Cal and Lucius accidentally form the French flag as they leave the hospital, which has to mean something...

...but I've leave the really deep analysis to someone who knows what they're doing. For now, it's enough if I've convinced you to dust off your old DVD and give it another watch. Movies should be watched just like a racecar should be driven: mercilessly, but with a big grin on your face.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Adelaide: Holden's Parthian Shot

With the big one at Bathurst done and dusted, for Australians the motor racing year was all but over, with a month-long lull before the final dance with the F1 machinery on the streets of Adelaide. For the actual teams, however, the pace remained frenetic, with several top-tier endurance events still on the horizon to keep their sleep schedules chaotic. That of the four remaining events only one was a home race in Australia just added the cherry on top of the stress sundae, ensuring the deadlines were always close and the logistics remained punishing. And yet they did it, because these were just very special people...

Nissan Mobil 500 
It soon emerged the Wellington 500 was another casualty of the World Touring Car Championship, as moving it to so late in the year had rather sucked the soul out of it. As the Tasman curtain-raiser it had stood alone, a blue-ribbon event featuring the best of Australia, New Zealand and Europe in an all-out no-holds-barred brawl. By contrast, in October it was just another enduro competing with Bathurst, and in that context it was always going to suffer. No team was going to sacrifice Bathurst prep to focus on Wellington, not even the ones based in New Zealand. It was another domino knocked over by the WTCC, made worse by the same FISA interference that had dogged Bathurst earlier in the month.

The race doesn't seem to be on YouTube, not even a cut-down highlights reel. Weirdly however, we do have Saturday's pre-race build-up and support events. I haven't watched the full thing because it's nearly three hours long and my internet plan isn't that generous, but if you have the time and megabytes you'll see a dry-to-wet Group A practice session, a gloriously wet Sports Sedan race, a Porsche New Zealand Championship race (think oldschool Carrera Cup, with 911s, 944s, and even a single 356 Speedster!), and a celebrity race in production-spec Nissan Sentra ZXE hatchbacks.

The pretty silver Swedish Sierra that had managed to keep off the walls at Bathurst "had a conversation" with the Armco in Wellington, but it was repaired in time for the race. Dick Johnson took pole with a time of 1:29.75, which was a third of a second slower than Klaus Ludwig's pole here last year (which was probably down to tyres), but only nine-hundredths quicker than Win Percy's FAI Commodore, showing how far the Holdens had come in only twelve months.

It was another FISA rolling start, which inexperience rather took the shine off: the Pace Car was so slow most cars had to drop back to first gear to make a decent getaway. Johnson nailed the start in his Shell Sierra, beginning his first lap with a huge gap back to Win Percy's #2 FAI Commodore and Jeff Allam in the #11 HSV Commodore. Around the twisting Wellington streets however a turbo car was no match for the instant squirt of a big V8, and Percy took the lead on lap 2. Steve Soper in Andrew Miedecke's #6 Blast Dynamics Sierra got by too, but was unable to keep up with Percy. Johnson's brilliant start soon came to nought when he pitted on lap 8 with a misfire, putting himself and Bowe out of contention for the day.

The first actual retirement however was Peter Brock in the #56 Mobil BMW, who stopped with a drivetrain failure – Peter had already done his deal for a different car next year, so the ex-JPS team machinery was probably well past its warranty and not worth maintaining any more. (Intriguingly, the Adelaide broadcast would also point out that although Brocky had year left on his contract with BMW, he was already working on a special, limited-edition vehicle for Ford Australia, fuelling the rumours that he'd be driving a Sierra in 1989).

The next retirement was one of the privateer Commodores, and then it started raining Sierras: the #45 Whittaker's Peanut Slab car of Armin Hahne & Robbie Francevic blew an engine; the #8 Miedecke Sierra of Pierre Dieudonné and Miedecke himself crashed out; the #21 Swedish Bagnall/Simonsen car pitted for an extended service; and Steve Soper retired with a rear hub failure.

Then the pace car stuck its nose in, costing Paul Radisich in the #55 Bill Bryce Racing BMW half a lap. The restart, when it came, was as slow as the first one: Emanuele Pirro in the #52 Schnitzer M3 lost 2nd place to Jeff Allam, but the Italian fought hard, as with his frugal flyweight M3 he could contemplate a one-stop strategy, while Percy would need at least two: as long as he did nothing silly, the lead would almost certainly come to him eventually. This duly happened on lap 46 when Percy pitted, leaving Pirro leading by 40 seconds over Bowkett (who took over from Percy), followed by Hulme (who'd taken over from Perkins) and Andy Wallace (replacing Allam).

Peter McLeod's Yellow Pages Walky remained too pretty not to photograph, even if it barely featured in the results.

Halfway through the race, Pirro finally pitted and handed the car over to Roberto Ravaglia, without even losing the lead. Ravaglia pulled still further away from Bowkett and Hulme, and the M3 was a whole lap ahead after the second round of stops. Percy came in on lap 122 with zero oil pressure – he was out, while Radisich's co-driver Ludwig Finauer crashed into the barriers after running as high as 3rd. Tony Noske, guesting with Neil Crompton in the #57 Mobil BMW, came in to hand over to Brock, only for an official to inform him that he was not cross-entered in this second car and could not drive! Noske carried on with his stint, but half a lap later the car retired anyway with a "computer" failure.

In the closing laps it was Ravaglia leading with Larry Perkins 2nd in the HSV Commodore, Colin Bond 3rd in the Caltex Sierra, and Mark Thatcher – co-driving Trevor Crowe's #53 John Sax Racing BMW – in 4th. At the last moment he was bumped up to 3rd when Bondy was forced to make a splash-and-dash, the turbocharged Sierra's appetite for Caltex go-juice putting him slightly in the red over 500km!

So in the end it was victory for Pirro and Ravaglia, the Italians putting in an aggressive yet contained drive in the factory M3 Evo to dominate the race. It was the start of a phenomenal five-year winning streak for the M3, just one more accolade in an endless march that would cement its reputation as a performance car legend.

The M3 and the streets of Wellington, a forbidden love...

Promo Touring Car 500
The second part of the Nissan Mobil double-header was held, as was the custom, at Pukekohe the following weekend. Despite which, this year the second race was not actually sponsored by Nissan and Mobil, having taken up a deal with someone called Promo (or ProMo, accounts differ – no idea who they were).

It was a rather anemic 21-car grid at Pukekohe, with only single-car entries from HSV (Perkins/Hulme), the Mobil BMW outfit (Brock/Crompton) and Schnitzer (Ravaglia/van de Poele). Granberg and Simonsen were back in the Team Sweden Sierra, as were Colin Bond & Alan Jones in the Caltex Sierra. The BMW lineup was padded out by Bill Bryce Racing (Radisich/Finauer) and a new entry from New Zealanders Kayne Scott and John Sorensen. The rest of the grid was made up of New Zealand regulars in outdated or small-class cars; Dick Johnson Racing was a complete no-show, as was Fred Gibson's Nissan team.

But in stark contrast to the one-car dominated Wellington, Puke was a real nail-biter that saw Andrew Miedecke and Steve Soper make an incredible comeback to steal victory right at the finish. Miedecke had started from pole after setting a time of 1:02.71, and led the opening laps comfortably before he was forced to pit to repair a damaged oil cooler (no word on what caused the damage, but I'd wager he tripped over backmarker – Puke is a fast track, so closing speeds with the lower-class cars can catch you out). This unscheduled visit to the pits cost them three laps, handing the lead to Win Percy in the FAI Commodore. Percy looked set to take the victory in turn, until he broke a rear wheel hub on lap 94 and passed the lead to Schnitzer BMW of Ravaglia and new co-driver Eric van de Poele. But behind them the Blast Dynamics Sierra came zooming back through the field, making up the lost three laps to surge through to victory by just over 4 seconds! It was an impressive comeback from a car that seemed completely out of the running, and it showed how the Asia-Pacific Championship might've gone had Miedecke only had a bit more luck on his side.

Radisich M3 leads Brock M3: the fast, sweeping Pukekohe favoured the Sierras over the Bavarian pocket rockets.

InterTEC 500
The final round of both the Japanese domestic series and the Asia-Pacific championship was held at the Fuji Raceway in Japan. To his credit, Andrew Miedecke chose to chase Asia-Pacific points despite the cost of racing in far-off Japan (as a former open-wheel racer he had contacts in this part of the world – Teddy Yip of Theodore Racing, Macau F3, that sort of thing). Steve Soper had returned to Blighty, so he wrangled New Zealand biker Graeme Crosby to be his co-driver instead, and their chances were actually pretty good in a race so thin of foreign entries. Sadly however they failed to finish, DNFing for reasons unknown with just 11 of the 112 laps completed. After 12 months on the front line, with successive Bathurst, Sandowns and Wellingtons on the clock, the Rouse-sourced car was probably just worn out. Polesitters Anders Olofsson and Aguri Suzuki retired in their HR31 Skyline as well, leaving the race to another Euro-Japanese double act, Klaus Niedzwiedz and Hisashi Yokoshima winning in what was probably a customer Eggenberger Sierra.

A for effort to Miedecke, but ultimately he couldn't clinch the series in a car that was apparently running off his own wallet (this and several other photos from the race available at

As for the championship, Emanuele Pirro seemed certain to clinch it for BMW until the Schnitzer car retired with a holed radiator. But as we know, the title ended up going to New Zealand's Trevor Crowe, which has fans scratching their heads to this day.

South Australia Cup 
So that just left the grand finale on the streets of Adelaide. The Australian GP support race was, compared to previous years, absolutely huge: a full 35 cars fronted up, featuring absolutely everyone of any consequence in the ATCC scene, even Sydney-based drivers who normally restricted themselves to Oran and Amaroo and didn't usually show up for interstate races like this. It seems it had finally dawned on everyone that, bugger me, that race will get our sponsors on the telly not just in Australia, but worldwide! That combined with looser purse strings thanks to the success of the event, and the chance to go all fanboy over the F1 superstars and their machines, meant we had everyone: Tony Longhurst in his Bathurst-winning B&H Sierra; Dick Johnson and John Bowe in their Shell Sierras; George Fury and Mark Skaife in a pair of Gibson Motorsport Skylines; Brocky and Gentleman Jim in their Mobil BMW M3s; Larry Perkins and Denny Hulme in the works HSV Walkinshaw Commodores, together with Allan Grice in the rival Roadways FAI Walky, just three of a swathe of V8 Holden Commodores; Phil Ward in his Mercedes 190E; Lawrie Nelson in his Capri Components Mustang; even Darrel Belsky was there to drive Joe Sommariva's BMW 635 CSi. It was stacks-on on the streets of Adelaide, and everyone was back in their individual cars with their ATCC numbers on the doors. The only real no-shows were Allan Moffat's ANZ Sierra, Mark Petch's similar Peanut Slab car, and Andrew Miedecke, who was busy contesting the Fuji round in Japan. Even without them, we still had a full 35-car grid, a huge number for such a "minor" event.

Indeed, it would've been 36, but troubles with the Caltex Sierra earmarked for Alan Jones meant he had to sit this one out. Although he doubtless would've preferred to race, he ended up spending the race locked in the commentary box with Channel Seven sports voice Darrell Eastlake.
Darrell Eastlake: I believe your teammate Colin Bond in the Caltex Sierra had a little trouble throughout the week?

Alan Jones: Yes, he built up an engine which he thought was going to give him well over 500 horsepower, and unfortunately that only lasted about half of Thursday! So then they went back to a lesser horsepower engine, which they thought if nothing else would give them reliability, [but] that’s playing up [as well]. I spoke to Colin last night and he’s having to run very low boost and very low revs, and that’s not the way to go motor racing and I really don’t know if he's going to finish this race. He's way back, but they're having a go anyway.
Bondy's confidence probably wasn't boosted when race day – Saturday, 12 November – dawned with the kind of burning, lung-searing heat people assume Australia puts on all the time. That was going to place firm limits on what you could get out of a turbo car, which tended to run searing temperatures on the best of days and saw a sharp reduction in power once the intercooler got too hot. Turbo runners had the unenviable choice of whether to turn the boost down and hope it all held together to the finish, or turning it up and trying to build a gap so they could turn it back down if they needed to, and then hope it all held together to the finish.

Starting from pole, Dick Johnson elected to take the second option. At the green he was beaten off the line by Longhurst, who'd actually started slightly ahead of his starting box, and down to the first chicane they stormed, the two Sierra rivals side-by-side. Thanks to pole Johnson had the inside line, and he took the lead into the first turn. The first few through the chicane were surprisingly neat and tidy, Gricey clattering over the kerbs in his FAI Walkinshaw, followed by Larry Kogge in the Hella Skyline DR30. Through the turns Johnson worked his Sierra for all it was worth, squirming for traction, with Longhurst chasing hard right behind. Onto the short Jones Straight Longhurst got right out over the kerb looking for a way through, but nothing was going to beat a Johnson Sierra in a straight line: down Brabham Straight the red car flew, peaked somewhere around 270km/h, then applied the brakes and nipped through the Dequetteville Hairpin. By the time Johnson was completing lap 1, he had already pulled out a gap of about fifteen car lengths over 2nd place – and that was now John Bowe, who'd moved past Longhurst in the meantime to take the place. End of lap 1, and the DJR teammates were 1st and 2nd.

Behind the casualties were already piling up: Ray Ellis had already retired his yellow VL, while Lusty's black-and-orange Walkinshaw suffered a non-fatal spin and rejoined, dusty but uncreased. Early on lap 2 the Oliver Corolla also pulled off with oil pouring out the side. One who seemed like he'd be joining them on the DNF list was Larry Perkins in 4th, who was driving with controlled yet overt aggression, throwing his HSV Walky at the corners and seemingly daring the Armco to stop him. He was actually keeping up with Longhurst as a result, but time would tell whether his car could stand up to this kind of treatment on such a hot day and survive the full 32 laps – that epic bodykit had cut down on cooling, after all.

By lap 5 the DJR cars were clearly taking it slightly easy, making some effort to preserve their cars, and with a solid gap back to Longhurst that was possible – but Longhurst was still fanging it through the turns, little puffs of smoke under braking, and that also made it necessary. The commentary team then took a moment to gush over their new toy, real-time telemetry streaming live from Peter Brock's BMW. This innovation from Netcomm was fairly rudimentary compared to today, showing only the speed, revs and gear changes, but it was cutting-edge for 1988 – and unlike its first outing at Bathurst '87, this one was actually working. "The only problem with that of course Darrell," joked Alan Jones, "is if you miss a gear or over-rev it, they know about it straight away."

Prophetic words, as about 20 seconds later Perkins started closing up on Tony Longhurst, even though they were on the fastest part of the Brabham Straight. Poor Tony swung it through the Dequetteville Hairpin, but didn’t have the grunt to accelerate away again: as Perkins stormed by, the yellow Sierra's engine let out a sizeable belch of white smoke and puttered pitifully around the rest of the circuit, his engine having busted a head gasket. The car had lasted 161 laps at Mount Panorama, but wouldn't see number 8 in Adelaide. "The ol' Sierras," mused Jonesy, "while they go like rockets they can also prove to be hand grenades..."

Something that was doubtless on the minds of Johnson and Bowe as well. They both had oil and water temps in front of them, and neither probably liked what they saw: by lap 9 Larry Perkins was starting to close up on Bowe, meaning he either had a problem, or was having to back off to avoid a problem. By lap 10, Perkins was past and up to 2nd place.

On lap 12 we heard rather than saw that Allan Grice was in the pits, the commentary team telling us that it looked, "fairly terminal, they're not rushing around the car too much." Roadways cars always did run hot, and it seemed combined with the searing heat in Adelaide that day, it was more than the FAI car could take. Eventually Gricey fronted up and told the cameras:
Broke fourth gear, which is a little disappointing always. In this case the temperature is very hot, [I] reduced revs, kept the revs down to have a good water temperature, looking after brakes and tyres, the car was running very well. I was certainly ready to have a charge once a few more of them have heat problems, as you can hear they're having. But going down the straight already in fourth gear and pulling, the gearbox suddenly broke fourth gear. I had a look through the box to see what was left, the only thing that was left was fifth. I don't think it would’ve been terribly good in fifth around here!
So that was Gricey over and out, and it seemed like he was about to be in good company. By lap 15 reports started coming through that Johnson's car was backfiring and sounding different than it had earlier on. With his experience of turbocharged Ford engines from 1986, Alan Jones saw good to weigh in, saying: "Well, with a turbo car it might be an exhaust, or something like that. It looks to be going approximately the same sort of speed. But with a turbo car, you can never really tell. He might've just – dare I say it? – turned the boost down."

But this wasn't Johnson turning the boost down: this was something more serious. All through lap 16, Larry Perkins was reeling the Shell Sierra in, hunting him down like a shark following a trail of blood. Finally, as they rounded the final hairpin and re-emerged onto the pit straight, Johnson abruptly slowed and Perkins powered soundly by, leaving the Shell car in a cloud of Holden dust. "No way should that happen normally," gasped Jonesy. "I'd reckon that he's got some fuel pickup problem, because he seems to be going reasonably well on the straight, but then it coughs and splutters coming out of the corners. So I think he's in some sort of trouble."

He was right, as although both Shell team cars would continue on, trying to make the finish in limp-home mode, ultimately neither would make the chequered flag. As Johnson told us many moons later:
My car was slowing because it was vaporising fuel and the pumps wouldn't pump air so the thing stopped.

And wouldn't you believe it, Bowe and I both stopped within a lap of each other and in exactly the same spot on the track. – Dick Johnson, Dick Johnson Racing: 30-Year Anniversary
So that was the Shell team cars done, char-broiled on both sides and now the walking dead. The first half of this race had belonged to the DJR Sierras, but the pendulum had swung and the second half now belonged to the HSV Commodores. By lap 17 Denny Hulme was into 2nd place, putting the factory Holdens into a 1-2 formation they'd never lose. But the race wasn't yet over.

At the start of lap 18 the HSV team hung out the boards, showing their drivers their lap times and a 9-second gap back to Johnson, and Jonesy noticed something: "Hulme just did a lap time point-two of a second quicker than Perkins, a 47.4 as opposed to a 47.6. So Denny's really going for it. It'll be interesting to see if there's any team orders when it gets down to the wire." It quickly emerged that there weren't: on lap 23, approaching the Dequetteville Hairpin, Hulme was visibly pulling out of his boss's slipstream to have a look at a pass, but on this lap he didn't quite have the edge to get it done and fell back into line. As they stormed down Brabham Straight for the twenty-fourth time, however, Denny found that edge: out of the slipstream he came, stood on the brake pedal and had the ghost of a wobble, so late had he left his braking. But not too late: Denny rotated the car smartly into the hairpin, took the advantage of the inside line, and passed Larry Perkins for the lead.

Larry didn't take that lying down. Through the following series of chicanes and 90-degree switchbacks, anybody would be forgiven for thinking the boys were racing each other, the body language of the cars aggressive, looking for a fight. "So there's no team orders," commented Jones, sounding surprised. Thinking about it though, he went on to add: "Thank God for the Holdens, they’re making a race of it."

By lap 25 the HSV pair were coming up to lap Dick Johnson, who'd been sitting pretty less than ten laps earlier. Bowe meanwhile found himself under threat from – of all people – Colin Bond, who hadn't expected to even see the finish with the engine under the bonnet today. Here he was in with a shout of a podium!

Perkins re-passed Hulme during a commercial break, and that was it for the lead changes. Perkins completed the final six laps smoothly and cleanly, pulling a nice little gap on his teammate, suggesting either Hulme had a problem of his own or Perkins had been sandbagging earlier on, putting on a show for the crowd. If so he rather overdid it, as the final lap saw Perkins slow right down to try and back into Hulme for a formation finish. But he'd left it too late, and the former World Champ was too far back. Instead, Colin Bond cleverly slowed to allow Perkins to pass him before the line, reducing his race distance to 31 laps and ensuring he wouldn't have to complete one final lap that might have broken his car once and for all. Through guile as much as skill, Bondy chalked up a solid 3rd place, sending bookies across the city broke in an instant. Nobody saw that coming. It was a final flourish for a year that was okay but could've been better for Colin Bond – he'd failed to bring home Bathurst or the ATCC, but he had won the AMSCAR series at Amaroo Park, which was always prominent on the agenda for a Sydney-based driver.

But the works Holden team had rounded out the year with a slam-dunk 1-2 finish, in front of an international audience, on a day that was an absolute gift to the marketing team – they're nice, these European cars, but if you've got a distance to cover on a forty-degree day, you've just gotta have a Holden. The crew at Perkins Engineering had broken the duck in the middle of a very lean patch for Holden, but the suits at Fishermans Bend could be forgiven for entering the Christmas shut down with a spring in their step. They'd ended the year on a high, the new-model VN Commodore was on sale, and the company was beginning to claw its way out of the financial black hole in which it had spent the bulk of the 1980s.

The future seemed bright, but no-one could've predicted what Japan did next.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The Long Haul: Bathurst '88

If last year's Bathurst 1000 had been messy, the 1988 version made no promises to be any easier. The Australian Racing Drivers' Club, longtime organisers of the event, had been broken by the strain of last year's World Championship round, while James Hardie Industries, the money behind them for nearly two decades, had pulled up stumps and simply walked away. If that wasn't enough, a blizzard of protests and counter-protests over the legality of some of the most high-profile entries threatened to reduce actual motor racing to a sideshow. Yet, in the end a Great Race was held, and in the final accounting the winner was popular and well-deserved...

Money, Money, Money
The problems in 1988 traced back to the outcome of the James Hardie 1000 the previous year. Bringing a back road in rural NSW up to world standards was far from cheap, and the worth of the investment hung on the World Touring Car Championship returning each year for the foreseeable future. And as we now know, the 1987 WTCC had been a one-off. Without it, a lot of numbers in some very important columns stopped adding up, and a yawning financial abyss opened beneath the people responsible for the Great Race.
It was an event that almost didn't happen. The massive infrastructure improvements the Australian Racing Drivers' Club had been forced to make to accommodate the WTCC the year before had bankrupted the club, forcing CAMS and telecaster Channel Seven to institute a bail out.

The worst casualty was long-time sponsor and supporter James Hardie Industries. Here was a sponsor as excellent as ANZ. For every dollar you saw of their money, they invested another three quietly behind the scenes. But people who didn't understand that had arrogantly demanded Hardie stump up with heaps more sponsorship dollars and the company, quietly outraged, declined. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain
So, no money to hold a race, and no sanctioning body to arrange it: all that was left was the track itself – still technically a public road, and therefore owned by the Bathurst City Council – and a tradition stretching back nearly thirty years. But tradition can have a momentum all its own, and it was unthinkable that there would be no Bathurst 1000 in 1988, the year white Australia was celebrating its bicentennial. If they could find a new sugar daddy to stump up the cash, the race would surely go ahead somehow.
The new sponsor was brewer Tooheys and they introduced a new sharpness to naming rights investment. Woe betide anyone who brought, and especially tried to sell, an opposition product on site. Perhaps a bit naïvely, and not completely understanding the ramifications of my actions, I'd accepted a personal endorsement from rival Fosters that involved me always wearing their cap. It could have been worth a lot of money on the victory dais but it proved just another distraction and one that didn't go down well with the new sponsors. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain
Via Logopedia

With effectively Australia's national brewer on board, the rest soon came together. The impoverished ARDC had no choice but to kick the race upstairs to CAMS, the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, the highest motorsport authority in the land. But CAMS was a member club of the FIA, which placed the race in the hands of the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile, or FISA, the semi-independent sporting branch of the FIA. Its president Jean-Marie Balestre had been a Nazi collaborator in WWII, and he'd seemingly learned his leadership techniques around this time – FISA ran Formula 1, the World Rally Championship and the World Sportscar Championship with military precision, but with no small amount of corruption, officious snobbery and bullying. With the loss of the WTCC, FISA wanted something major for the Asia-Pacific area, and the Bathurst classic was the jewel of the region. Thus Bathurst, Wellington, Macau and Fuji were bundled into FISA's new Asia-Pacific Touring Car Championship.

Now on paper it sounds like a bitchin' championship: the best of New Zealand, Japan, Australia and SE Asia going head-to-head at Mount Panorama, on the steep banking of the Thunderdome, on the tight streets of Wellington, the slopes of Mount Fuji and that absurd layout that winds around the casinos of Macau. Unfortunately Macau quickly pulled out, and it wasn't long before Calder followed them out the door. Everyone was sick of dealing with FISA, and Bob Jane now had his Thunderdome and firmly believed NASCAR was the future of Australian racing, so there was no reason to pretend to care about touring cars. It would’ve been nice to see what that combined road-course/Thunderdome layout was like in the dry, but Janey had spoken, so no dice.

A replacement was found in the Promo Touring Car 500 at Pukekohe Park, but in the end the Asia-Pacific Championship consisted of just four rounds – Bathurst, Wellington, Pukekohe and Fuji. Even that was overly ambitious, as the expense of travelling such vast distances was beyond the pockets of most teams, even if they could be bothered. And most couldn't: Andrew Miedecke was the only Australian to even attempt all four rounds, with the bigger fish mostly staying in their own local ponds, and the title ended up in the hands of New Zealand's Trevor Crowe, which is a mystery in itself. Even Frank de Jong of had to admit, "In the end we had a champion, though today nobody seems to know how he got the title..."

The Clutch
That left the Australians to get through a Great Race administered by FISA. A glance at the 48-car field revealed the Euro invasion of '87 was back, with almost all the top Sierras – the cars most likely to win the race – featuring at least one imported driver. Andrew Miedecke was due to share his #6 Blast Dynamics Sierra (MM4) with Britain’s Steve Soper, while the other (MM3) due to be handled by longtime Miedecke collaborator Andrew Bagnall, with help from the Belgian Pierre Dieudonné – meaning Miedecke had managed to entice two of Rudi Eggenberger's four drivers to join him.

A digitised explosives consulting firm? Could there be a more perfect sponsor for a Sierra?

Taking it a step further, one of the new Sierras on the grid, the silver #21 of Team CMS Sweden, featured two Europeans and a Kiwi. Apparently the 1988 Bathurst annual lists this car as another Rouse kit-car, one which had made its debut at the Silverstone TT and then done the Nogaro round of the ETCC before being shipped to Bathurst. Two of the team's drivers were Swedes – Ulf Granberg (whom Wikipedia lists as a train driver, believe it or not), and Christer Simonssen – with the third being New Zealand's Ian "Inky" Tulloch, although the windscreen stripe implied it was Simonssen and Tulloch who were the prime drivers, with Granberg there as a spare. I'm guessing Tulloch had just bought the car for the upcoming New Zealand championship and was on hand to offer some expertise and ensure they kept his investment off the walls.

It was a similar Euro/NZ mix that made up the #45 Sierra, an ex-Wolf Racing car owned by the indefatigable Mark Petch, whose driver Robbie Francevic (1986 Australian Touring Car Champion with Volvo) was having yet another crack at Bathurst with help from Wolf driver (and 1985 Bathurst-winner) Armin Hahne. This is one of the more fondly-remembered cars on the grid because of its sponsor, Whittakers Peanut Slab, the chocolate for those who wanted something more decadent than a Werther's Original.

Even Gibson Motorsport got in on the act, wrangling Allan Grice's Spa 24-Hour hireling Anders Olofsson to share the #15 Nissan Skyline with Glenn Seton (with the #30 reserved for George Fury and Mark Skaife). About the only thing missing was BMW's famed works team Schnitzer Motorsport, who'd entered two cars but then declined to make the trip, leaving it to the local works team of Peter Brock instead. He kept the driver lineup he'd used at Sandown, pairing himself with Jim Richards in the lead car and palming off the other on Skippy Parsons and Neil Crompton, but an innovation apparently used only in this race was a special 6-speed gearbox supplied by Prodrive. The usual Getrag unit only had five speeds, but the long charge down Conrod just begged for a ratio all its own, and British rally squad Prodrive (who'd only got into touring cars when Frank Sytner asked if they'd mind building him an M3 to do the BTCC) had apparently got such a gearbox homologated.

They did get backup from New Zealand, however: John Sax Racing was arguably the leading BMW team in East Bondi, and their driver Trevor Crowe had often seemed to find his way into ex-JPS team machinery at a time when that operation was at its peak. Crowe was down to drive the #53 Cardinal BMW, with co-driving to come from Australia's "Captain" Peter Janson – no commentary box for him this weekend!

I'll go out on a limb and assume it was Janson who brought the Bundy sponsorship.

The backup #54 meanwhile was shared between John Sorenson and Kayne Scott, two regulars of the NZ series, though how they would go was anyone's guess. An intriguing single-car effort also came in the form of the #55 Bill Bryce Racing M3, also of New Zealand. Its drivers were listed as young British star Paul Radisich, former JPS engine man Ludwig Finauer and former Formula Ford wannabe and future V8 Supercars engineer Wally Storey, but he was probably only there as a spare. lists their car as, "the ex Petch ex CeeBiEmme car [sic]," by which they presumably mean the one Petch entered for Francevic here last year. The only other entry in Class 2 was the #51 Mercedes 190E of Phil Ward & David Clement, another leftover from last year – a car whose day would come, but not yet.

I'd argue it looked better in last year's black and gold, even if it was too similar to the JPS BMWs.

Going some way toward balancing all these imports was the return of our Gricey: Allan Grice was home from his European holiday and he'd brought Win Percy back with him, the pair entered in a #2 Walkinshaw Commodore built by Les Small's Roadways operation and dressed in the attractive blue-and-white of insurance giant FAI. (Since my last post I’ve found a list of Roadways chassis numbers: this was apparently a new car known as RWGPA8, which presumably means Roadways, Group A, car 8.)

Another notable entry, albeit for very modern reasons, was the #33 Commodore of Garry Rogers. In 2017, the Walkinshaw outfit that also owns HSV lost its official status as the Holden Racing Team and went looking for a new partner, finding one in American IndyCar team Andretti Autosport. The result was the new Walkinshaw-Andretti United, the crew now trying to get the Camaro approved for 2020 (meaning Andretti are now associated with Honda in IndyCars, GM in Australia and BMW in Formula E. They're a complicated family). Well, in 1988 Garry Rogers united with John Andretti (nephew of Mario) in a Walkinshaw Commodore, albeit one that was apparently unsponsored. This privateer effort was never going to be a real factor in the race, but John would still go on to find Australia a happy hunting ground, taking his first and only CART win at Surfers Paradise in 1991.

A bit bare of sponsorship there, guys.

Also on the grid was a certain Bob Forbes, the former driver returning to Bathurst as a team owner.
I'd been out of it for seven years and I must have been getting itchy feet. Initially I thought, I just want to do it, because I want to get back involved – but not as a driver. So I got two experienced guys, and it went well. – Bob Forbes, AMC #96
The "experienced guys" turned out to be his old Bathurst co-driver Kevin Bartlett, and former HDT lieutenant John Harvey (presumably moonlighting from his day job at HSV). The car was PE 007, a Perkins-sourced Walky, which they ultimately brought home in 14th.

Other Commodores included Walkinshaws like the Yellow Pages #3 of Peter McLeod & Jim Keogh; the #23 Beaurepaires car of Chris Lambden & Kerry Bailey; and the #36 Everlast Batteries car of Bill O'Brien and his Mr Moneybags, prestige car dealer Ray Lintott. But these were restricted to the well-financed privateers only. The true weekend warriors, those like the Lusty brothers Graham & John, or the Lansvale Smash Repairs team of Trevor Ashby & Steve Reed were left with the standard VL – or even, as in the case of the #24 Jagparts entry of Geoff Munday & Gerald Kay, with the outdated VK.

Or the Sunliner entry of Tony Hunter & Steve Harrington.

But the elite special forces of the Holden army were always going to be the works cars of the HSV team, who this year had to contend with a unique level of intra-team rivalry. This year there were three cars on the trailer – the #10 of Larry Perkins & Denny Hulme, the #20 of Tom Walkinshaw & Jeff Allam, and the #40, which was listed as belonging to Perkins & Walkinshaw, but was only there as a spare car. The beef was between Larry's #10 and Uncle Tom's #20, locked in what Mark Oastler described as, "an Ashes-style rivalry between TWR and Perkins." Although they looked identical, these two cars had been built by different teams in different workshops on opposite sides of the world: Tom's car bore the chassis number TWR 023, and had been put together in Oxfordshire in the U.K. and airfreighted to Australia; Larry’s was PE 005, the car that had finished 2nd at Sandown, and had been built in Melbourne. Although ostensibly competing in the same team, they were the bitterest of rivals, mechanics on one side of the garage not talking to the ones on the other. Only time would tell whether this would push them to greater heights or bring it all to a tearful end.

In truth though, you had to be in a Sierra to win this year: nothing else could live with the absurd power of a turbo-boosted RS500. "The torque was through the roof," said Dick Johnson to Australian Muscle Car #77. "Those things used to go up the hill at Mount Panorama just as fast as they came down it." A new addition to their ranks was the #14 Netcomm Sierra of former Ford stalwarts Murray Carter & Steve Masterton: the old Skyline having finally been put out to pasture, Murray had followed the herd and bought an RS500, which he remembered as a good car, "if you had a bottomless wallet."

Or hadn't spent the budget on some very period graphics.

Ahead of them with rather more development time were the two Caltex team cars: Colin Bond had already won this year's single-track AMSCAR championship with his ex-Miedecke MM1, which was to race as the #44 in the hands of John Giddings & Bruce Stewart. His prize new car however, CXT1, was to race as the #4 in the hands of Bondy himself and our 1980 F1 World Champion, Alan Jones.

And of course, there were the ones everyone was watching, the red Shell Sierras of Dick Johnson. Bathurst was the only mountain left to climb in a triumphant year for DJR, and leaving nothing to chance, this time they'd brought along three cars. Besides the #17 for Johnson and his lieutenant John Bowe (chassis DJR4, the one Dick had limped across the line on the starter motor at Sandown), they retained the pairing of Alf Costanzo & John Smith in the #18 (chassis DJR1), while DJR3 was finally back in Australia and was entered to race as the #28 in the hands of New Zealander Neville Crichton and British series regular Robb Gravett. It's possible Gravett had been impressed by Dick's pace at Silverstone and casually asked what he planned to do with the car after, though I wouldn't be surprised if he'd been in touch with Dick even before he left Australia – Dick probably needed a garage in the U.K. to work from, and Gravett was doubtless looking for a way to break Andy Rouse's monopoly on customer Sierras in Britain. Apart from Rouse, who charged a small fortune for cars and parts, the only other option was Rudi Eggenberger, who charged a large fortune and didn’t do customer cars anyway. Someone who'd got to the heart of the Sierra and could do the job cheaper than Rouse was a very attractive proposition to a British racing driver circa 1988; that such a machine might also be faster than a Rouse kit-car was just gravy.

Then there was the #9 ANZ Sierra of Allan Moffat, still riding high after his Sandown win. His partnership with Gregg Hansford was carried over for this event, but given this was the big one Moffat had a secret weapon – an extra brain, and a third driver.
One amazing outcome of my trip to Switzerland was that I persuaded Rudi Eggenberger to return to Australia. Not only that, he agreed to bring half of his 1987 winning-driver combination – Klaus Niedzwiedz – with him, along with some pretty decent mechanics. Klaus also performed the role of interpreter. Although his English is pretty good, Rudi had built a wall around himself for this return, and for all intents and purposes the only way to communicate with him was in German. The CAMS officials were well advised to steer clear.

Rudi turned up with a laptop computer. Compared to what we see today it was, pardon the pun, rudimentary. But for the time it was eye-opening. Rudi and his computer were seldom separated, even when he was speaking to Klaus who, it was pretty obvious, was to be the lead driver in my team...

Klaus and Rudi were obviously a close team. When you're setting a car up for a race, you don’t want a multitude of development drivers. The fewer inputs, the better. Klaus was on a wavelength with Rudi that I could never achieve and they worked together to bring our times down and build us a race package. Gregg and I watched, truthfully a bit in awe. My respect for Klaus grew by the session, and that led to an association that would last for years. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain
Remember that since January, all Australians had got to see either Dick Johnson winning the race by miles, or else Dick Johnson not bothering to show up. With the Silverstone campaign fresh in everyone's minds, there was a lot of speculation about whether there was a car anywhere in the world that could beat a Dick Johnson Sierra in a straight fight – but if there was one, then it just had to be the Eggenberger-built ANZ car that had cost its owner six figures. If there was going to be a race on Sunday, it would surely be between these two giants; everyone else would be fighting over 3rd place.

Nobody gave the Benson & Hedges Sierra of Tony Longhurst and Tomas Mezera a second glance.

By the time official qualifying was over on Friday, Sierras had locked out eight of the top ten grid spots for Sunday – Perkins in the #10 HSV Commodore was the first non-Sierra in 8th, with Fury's Skyline the only other interloper in 9th. Even within the Sierra ranks there was a sharp divide between the haves and have-nots, Johnson laying down an unbeatable 2:16.46 to secure pole position for himself, the only driver to break into the 2:16s. Bowe in the meantime was sent out to qualify the #28, which he duly put on the grid 2nd with a 2:17.52 (Dick had been careful to cross-enter himself and Bowe in all three cars, and as DJR3 was a newer, more developed car, it made sense to have a full-timer like Bowe qualify it). Fourth-fastest was Niedzwiedz in the ANZ Eggenberger Sierra, with a 2:18.02, but ahead of him with a 2:17.96 was Tony Longhurst in the banana-yellow #25, showing a turn of speed no-one had expected from this car.

Qualy was where the HR31 was all thumbs, developed before Ford moved the goal posts for turbo engines.

Two of the next three qualifiers were in Miedecke cars, Colin Bond splitting Miedecke's own #6 from that of teammate Pierre Dieudonné, but poor old Larry Perkins had only managed to drag his Walkinshaw around in 2:22.48, a whopping six seconds off Johnson's pace at the very track the Commodore had been built for. Even if they could count on the reliability of the Holden V8 – which wasn’t a given, what with all the changes it had undergone – that was a hell of a gap to make up.

Most intriguingly, however, two of the three wholly European-built Sierras on the grid – the silver #21 of Team CMS Sweden, and the #45 Peanut Slab car of Mark Petch Motorsport – had only qualified at roughly Commodore pace, Simonssen stopping the clocks with a 2:22.20, Francevic even slower with a 2:22.62. That raised certain eyebrows over in the HSV pits.

You See the Powerful Got Nervous...
On the Friday afternoon immediately after the close of official qualifying, the paddock was suddenly thrown into an uproar. Tom Walkinshaw made a visit to the FISA office and handed over a big wad of paperwork, lodging a formal protest against the five all-Australian Sierras entered in the race – the #25 of Tony Longhurst, the #4 of Colin Bond, and the #17, #18 and #28 of Dick Johnson. No cars with a European connection were protested, only the five built right here in Australia, as Tom felt they were unduly fast (he deliberately ignored the #9 Moffat car in this equation).

The protest itself covered seventeen points and mainly involved turbos, engine management systems, rear suspension and panels, but the meat of it was that Tom had chosen to interpret the turbo as a part of the exhaust system, which couldn't be modified – exhausts were free only after the first join, and the turbo clearly anteceded that. He told the TV cameras:
It should've been sorted out on Tuesday and Wednesday scrutineering when they went through. We asked them to do it of their own accord, uh... They all can't be right! We only want to know which one's right. There's about seven different versions out there, and six of them are wrong.
It was a fairly specious way of looking at things, as the rules clearly implied the turbo was a part of the intake system, not the exhaust. The "seven different versions out there" were because Group A's philosophy about getting air in basically required all dimensions to remain stock, but left the actual components free. You could fit any turbo you liked – Garrett, Holset, whatever – as long as it was no bigger than the one in the homologation papers. Tom surely knew this, but the rulebook didn’t explicitly state that the turbo was not a part of the exhaust system, and that gave him the thin end of the wedge he was looking for.

The feeling among the Aussies, even those driving other cars, was that the protest had little substance and was mainly intended to disrupt race preparations for Tom's rivals. All five of the listed Sierras would now require an overnight tear-down in the TAFE bay in front of the FISA scrutineers, which in turn would leave the teams in a mad rush to put them back together again in time for the Tooheys Top Ten on Saturday. DJR had the worst of it, as they had to put Humpty Dumpty back together again three times, despite the #18 qualifying behind Perkins, in 12th. Worse, the turbos themselves were then impounded as FISA decided their eligibility could only be decided in their offices in Paris. At the press conference Johnson snarled that Walkinshaw would, "Protest against the cut in his bagpipes if he could," and that, "All he wants to do is win and he doesn't care how he does it." That said, it should be noted that Perkins was in total support of the protest, as all through that year's ATCC he'd been vehement that the Sierras were running illegally and that CAMS needed to enforce the rules.

Yes, although often forgotten about, this car was protested too.

DJR team manager Neal Lowe decided to fight fire with fire. He filed a protest of his own targeting all three of the HSV Commodores, including the #40 that was never intended to race, and in fact had never even hit the track in qualifying. Calling on his intimate knowledge of the Commodore from his time with the Holden Dealer Team, Lowe focused on the front air dam, the size of the rear spoilers on the factory cars, and in particular on the steering racks. Lowe contested that the production VL (including the new Walky) was designed only for variable-ratio manual and power steering, while all three HSV cars ran the VK's constant-ratio manual steering. The VL's cross-member also had different mounting points than the VK to take the appropriate variable steering racks, and Lowe alleged that to make the VL accept a VK steering rack, an adapter plate had to be attached with the correct mounting holes. The question was: had the adapter plate been homologated for the Walky to use? This too could only be sorted out in Paris.

While the stewards combing through the mess, however, Walkinshaw's protest was already having knock-on effects: there was a good handful of local battlers who were facing exclusion from the start on the basis of falling outside the (FISA-mandated) "110% rule," that to qualify for the race you had to set a lap time within 110% of the pole. With Johnson having set a 2:16.46, that left the cutoff at just 2:30.10, and multiple race stalwarts – including the Gulsons' BMW 635 CSi, and the Commodores of Chris Clearihan, Ray Ellis, Tony Kavich and Alf Grant – had fallen afoul of it. They had no choice but to throw themselves on the officials' mercy and point out that with the provisional polesitter under an eligibility cloud, there might be some grey area around the benchmark time. Ultimately, none of these competitors were allowed to start, however, even though there was ample room on what was then a 60-car grid.

It was a schemozzle, but overall I'm not sure why they were surprised. The strategic protest was an established weapon in the Bathurst arsenal, and had been a favourite of Harry Firth back when he'd been the head of HDT – Moffat's preparations in 1974, for example, had been compromised by a fifteen-point protest from the Grey Fox (although the car had other issues that year too). The only thing that was unexpected, really, was the timing – the teams had been turning laps here since Wednesday, and Tom had chosen to submit a protest only now? Firth had at least delivered his protests during practice, depriving his rivals of track time but leaving space for it all to be settled before the crowds arrived on Saturday. By the time the serious business of the stopwatch began, all cars were usually sorted and above-board. In this sense the real victims of Tom's shenanigans weren't the teams, but the fans, who wouldn’t be able to trust what they were seeing with their own eyes. Before it even started, the race was to be contested in a courtroom, not on the track.

Tooheys Dozen
The protest of these five Sierras took the wind out of their sails just as we came to the traditional top-ten shootout for pole. None of them got back to the speed they'd shown before being dismantled, but that was okay because – and get used to hearing this – under FISA things had to be done differently, so the shootout would be for prize money only. Since being introduced in 1978, Hardie's Heroes had become an institution at Bathurst and one of the highlights of the weekend. Although James Hardie Industries had departed, both Tooheys and Channel Seven were keen for it to continue, the former because it was one more chance to get their name out there, the latter because it was some of the most-watched pieces of television all year.

But FISA wouldn't budge on the notion of Bathurst being a championship round, and as such they couldn't allow procedures to differ. So the Tooheys Top Ten would go ahead – soon modified to the Tooheys Dozen, the officials using their discretionary powers to promote crowd favourites Allan Grice and Peter Brock – but it would be strictly for cash, with the cars gridding up tomorrow in the order they’d qualified on Friday.

In the end (2:42 to 5:30 in the video below) it was virtually a pointless exercise, as only one car – the silver Team CMS Sweden Sierra driven by Ulf Granberg – actually managed to improve on their Friday time. Grice provided some interest by starting his run from the escape road at the bottom of Conrod, the theory being that its wider radius would allow him a higher speed across the start/finish line than if he'd taken the second-gear Murrays as normal. And the addition of Peter Brock in a Class 2 car was a borderline farce, crowd pandering at its most blatant, but after last year it was unthinkable that the King of the Mountain wouldn't be allowed to mount his throne. The deafening cheers as he completed his hotlap in the tiny M3 showed it had been the right decision.

Grice also failed to improve his grid position, but at the car looked good at least.

But the star on the day was shootout winner Klaus Niedzwiedz, who blew away even the high-boost Johnson cars in a breathtaking display of bravado and car control.
Klaus was on it from the start, setting the fastest time in the opening session. By qualifying, he'd slipped to 4th but then came the Saturday afternoon lap dash, which traditionally decided pole but this year would only be for show and the promise of a healthy $15,000 prize purse. With only the money to gain and everything else to lose, Klaus let rip and blew the field away.

Watching on the monitors, I found it heart-stopping stuff.

If he got it wrong, we were sunk. Into the downhill wheel-lifting Dipper, where I am always so super cautious, he took an aggressive first gear and missed it. For a split second, it could have been wall-time, but he got the gear and blasted home 1st.

He had shocked me by taking first gear there. I eased through in second, maintaining pace but not putting the car under so much stress.

When he was on a flyer, Klaus was so physical in the car that he taped up his hands under his gloves to ensure strong grip on wheel and gear shift. This was motor racing at the top European level and, as much as I wanted to believe we were on the same page, we weren't.

On Saturday night after the lap dash, we pulled out the practice motor and installed the race motor. It was F1 stuff being played out on a country road just over the Blue Mountains. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain
It's interesting that Moffat's book mentions $15,000 up for grabs, while the TV broadcast mentions $40,000. I have no idea if he'd mentally converted it to U.S. dollars or if he was just remembering it wrong, but if I had to guess I'd say the $15k was Moffat's own share as the team owner, and with the passage of thirty years he's mistaken that for the whole amount. If anyone has a better idea I'm all ears.

Also interesting is Allan's insistence that we weren't "on the same page" as the top European teams, when only weeks earlier Dick had laid down some pretty convincing evidence that we were. But as fellow Ford heroes the rivalry between this pair was always quietly bitter, so Moffat would probably have signed his entire team over to HSV before he’d give Johnson any credit. More than anything else, I think that comment reveals that Moffat the man was tiring, finding it hard to get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube and maintain his place among the young lions – he alone knew that his career only had 12 months left to run.

The Race

Despite the best efforts of the commentators, the race start – a rolling start, for the first and last time – was a complete fizzle. The European teams had been unable to talk the ARDC into starting the race this way last year, but this year they had it, giving the tall-geared European-built cars with their fragile drivelines a little extra cushion.
For the first time in my Bathurst career – and Bathurst was my life – I would not face the starter. That had to be Klaus. In fact we considered letting him double stint, going as long and hard as he could to create a gap. There was no thought of not winning.

It was the first time the Bathurst 1000 featured a flying start. If the Sierras had an Achilles' heel, it was their drive train, and officials had succumbed to pressure not to impose an axle-breaking standing start – although it was sold to all as a safety precaution, referencing my wild ride up the wall in the Mazda those few years before. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain
Whatever their intentions, it proved an anti-climax. Down Conrod they marched like Noah's Ark, two by two, but as they filed into Murray's Corner they took the racing line and sheared off. Polesitter Dick Johnson crossed the start line and the organisers released the balloons as usual, but the feeling of pre-launch tension, built up and then released, was just not there. Johnson convincingly led the field into Hell Corner and the 47-car pack was very strung out as it headed up Mountain Straight for the first time, the first four Sierras of Johnson, Niedzwiedz, Bowe and Bond already streets ahead of the next few cars.

No crush at the first corner, just a mild feeling of, "Well, that began..."

In truth, however, the standing start was hardly needed to bring on mechanical issues. The casualty rate in the opening laps was truly staggering, losing six cars before lap 20 – four of them major players. Poor Glenn Seton started the race with the world's worst case of deja vu: as soon as he'd put his foot down in the #15 Skyline the car had apparently got stuck in gear, triggering yet another gearbox failure in a car already plagued by them (half the Nissan's ETCC races had ended with gearbox failures). If you needed proof the standard Nissan gearbox was scrap metal, look no further than Bathurst '88: the team had to get something better homologated, and soon.

Another view of the race start, with a clear view of some unique cars.

But with the failure at Sandown and several more in Europe, our souls had been prepared for such a thing from the Nissan. It was a far greater shock when Tom Walkinshaw's HSV Commodore came trickling into pit lane with a tyre scraping on the bodywork on only the fifth lap! This car might've been built in the U.K., but it was still part of the works Holden team so it was carrying the hopes of about half the crowd on the hill, and reliability was supposed to be the ace up the Commodore's sleeve. But no, ten minutes of actual competition at the Mountain was all it had taken to break it. In a panic the pit crews fitted new tyres – and dropped the car off the jacks before the left-rear was bolted on, forcing them to lift it again to finish the job – and Tom was sent back out, but this was not a mere tyre problem: the rear suspension had completely collapsed. Wally Storey, who worked on this car in other, happier days, revealed that the unequal-length link arms had been binding up at the extremity of the rear suspension travel, placing huge stress on the four-link chassis mounts and beginning to shear them off. The imminent failure had dropped the ride height low enough to start rubbing the tyres, triggering that trip to the pits; unfortunately, when they dropped the #20 off the jacks and Tom axle-tramped it back out into the lane, the camel's back was finally broken. The mounts were ripped right out of the chassis. "He’s going to be lucky to make it around the track..." gasped Neil Crompton; "He won't," interrupted Garry Wilkinson. "He won't, the tyre's shredding, look at it!" They were right: the TWR Commodore crawled apologetically up Mountain Straight, puffing huge amounts of choking white tyre smoke, before the tyre finally popped in the middle of Griffin's Bend and Tom parked it by the escape road in the fence. His race was over with barely 30 kilometres out of the 1,000 completed.

And it had looked so good in free practice.

A lap later, the silver Swedish Sierra was also out with a blown turbo, followed on lap 7 by the Yellow Pages Commodore, whose electrics had let it down. Then on lap 9 Andrew Bagnall's Miedecke Sierra blew a head gasket. Fearing another Aussie favourite might be about to jump onto the DNF list, the commentary team then had a chat with Allan Grice – as last year, the in-car pictures showed the diff and gearbox temperatures in the FAI Commodore were off the scale. Last year both had been brand-new parts with very tight clearances, so they were bound to run hot until they got some miles on them and loosened up, but this year Gricey had other explanations.
Crompton: Gricey what’s happening out there, does the temperature bother you?

Grice: No, we knew it was going to run like that, it’s been doing it all week. The problem is this beautiful aerodynamics package has slowed the car down down the straight [sic], taken air from under the car therefore we can’t get air to the gearbox cooler. That’s why it’s running so hot.

Crompton: Is it going to be able to run for six-and-a-half hours at those temperatures, Allan?

Grice: Yeah, Les [Small, the car’s builder] seems to think so, and he’d have a better idea than you or I, I guess, so...
So Grice was okay (despite going in a tad deep at The Chase and leaving the road, then nearly collecting Perkins as he rejoined), he was still in the race and running hard. One who wasn't was George Fury, whose #30 Skyline threw a water pump belt on lap 17 and promptly cooked the engine, signing off almost certainly on the shittiest weekend Gibson Motorsport ever had at the Mountain.
When we went from the DR30 Skylines to the HR31 Skylines we had two cars and were late getting ready for Bathurst. We had a marketing director at Nissan who was very strong on you’ve got to win races, you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that.

Circumstances meant that both cars were out within 10 laps of the start. Glenn blew his gearbox off the line and the other one flicked its fan belt off and overheated; so we were packing up and heading home in the first 20 laps. That wasn't a good weekend at all and all the marketing guy was worried about was what he was going to tell the board on Monday morning. I told him that all you need to tell them is we didn't win the race! – Fred Gibson, Speedcafe
None of which produced the wail of anguish that came with the next major retirement, however. If the HSV team had been carrying half of Australia's hopes, then Dick Johnson was almost certainly burdened with the other half. Knowing that, Dick had entered three full cars with three different strategies – one with high boost, one with medium boost and one with low. Cleverly, Dick had then cross-entered himself and John Bowe in all three cars: his game plan was to run the three cars at different speeds and take over whichever was best-placed in the final stages.

As the newest and most developed of his cars, the #17 was almost certainly the team hare – and given its performance at Sandown, where it had almost run down the winning Moffat car after an early pit stop to fix a silly electrical issue, it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that it could run flat-out all day. But the vagaries of the racing gods can undo the most carefully-laid plans: on lap 20, while building on a comfortable lead, it burst a tyre halfway down Conrod and was pitched into a lurid, high-speed spin that zoomed almost to the top of the first hump. Gingerly, Dick waited for the pack to rush past before limping back onto the road, headed for the pits for fresh rubber. But like Tom before him, his problems went far beyond the tyres.
So here's me going backwards doing 280 kays and the thing is spinning down the straight. What had happened, it blew a tyre and then it grabbed hold of the mudguard and it just locked everything up. It wasn’t until I got back to the pits and they got it back out again that I felt these horrendous vibrations so we had to retire the thing.

When we got it back home in Brisbane and had a look at it, it had twisted the crankshaft and twisted the tailshaft and the main shaft to the gearbox was all screwed. – Dick Johnson, Dick Johnson Racing: 30-Year Anniversary
Dick ultimately retired the car on lap 22, the same lap we also lost Murray Carter, whose #14 Netcomm Sierra snapped a driveshaft. Rubbing in salt, four laps later DJR was reduced to a single-car operation when Bowe brought #28 in with a blown engine. This was DJR3, Dick's championship-winning and Silverstone car, which had probably been the medium-boost car, with just too many miles on the clock to go any further. All that was left was the #18, the oldest of the three Shell Sierras, probably running an engine map that was ultra-conservative with absolutely no surprises – the unkind might say, it was de-tuned junk. Having had former Toyota leading man John Smith start the car, Johnson and Bowe took it over for the rest of the day, leaving Neville Crichton and Alf Costanzo to enjoy the Shell hospitality tent instead. And it's arguable they still could've won, had it not been for yet another mishap when Johnson climbed in for his stint – a broken starter motor delayed the car for 6 minutes. Was it the same one they'd used to get across the line at Sandown? I have no idea, but if so it was a cruel irony – the same part that gave them a miracle 3rd-place at Sandown also ensured they were only 2nd at Bathurst!

The end of a hard day for the Queenslander.

John Andretti crashed his Commodore at Reid Park on lap 37, bringing out the pace car, but that was the only incident for about an hour. The next major casualty didn't come until lap 65, when the 10th-placed Bill O'Brien brought in his Everlast Batteries Walky for fuel and tyres and put his gentleman co-driver Ray Lintott in for his first stint. Unfortunately, Lintott's outlap lasted about 30 seconds, as he stuffed it into the wall at Griffin's – a rookie mistake, pure and simple.
The deal was that whoever smashes it pays the bill. Unfortunately in the race poor old Ray crashed it heavily at Griffin's Bend. We had done a brake pad change and bolted on new tyres. He didn't pump the pedal and couldn't stop. He was so distraught that he relinquished his half share, which helped me pay for the repair. – Bill O’Brien, AMC #98
Brock meanwhile had got stuck behind the Commodore of John Harvey, the two old teammates having a fair old dice which at one point saw the Mobil M3 take a trip across the sand trap at Skyline. When Terry Finnigan's #19 Trojan Walky punctured a tyre on lap 84, depositing the carcass on Conrod, an unsighted Brock barrelled straight into it. This smashed the oil cooler and sent the #56 Mobil BMW to the pits for repairs. He told the pitlane cameras:
Well, someone lost a wheel or a tyre coming down Conrod Straight, and I was just sitting behind some traffic there. The bloke in front just dodged out and, lo and behold, here's a tyre sitting on the road in front of me, and I'm doing about 250 kilometres per hour! And I went straight over it – it happened in a split second, and it's knocked out the oil cooler. So the guys'll try and bypass it I guess, and we'll just get out there and see what happens.
Sadly, what happened was an overheating engine: Neil Crompton, pulling double-duty as both a driver and a commentator that day, was put in as a seat-filler, but by lap 89 the car was dead. In the meantime, Jim Richards had been put into the #57, with Brock scheduled to get in at the next stop, but this car too was overheating and would eventually retire on lap 68. Lap 27, meanwhile, had seen fellow Class 2 entry Phil Ward lose the rear end of his Mercedes at Skyline, going for a single roll in the sand trap. Footage on the day showed poor Phil on his hands and knees, trying to dig his car out by hand. Ultimately, the Crowe/Janson M3 emerged the strongest remaining Class 2 car, working its way into the top ten as the afternoon rolled on.

The camera in the headlight also gave some fabulous on-track footage.

Hahne, Mezera, Hulme, and Bond scrapped for the minor placings, a gaggle that was reduced when the Miedecke/Soper Sierra dropped out with a split bore on lap 102, followed by Hahne's Peanut Slab Sierra a lap later with overheating ("Brittle car, that," jibed Wilkinson). Walkinshaw insisted on a stint in the surviving Aussie-built Perkins/Hulme car when it was in contention for a top three placing – still aiming for the history books, it seems – and as the team owner, he got his wish. Tom hopped into car #10 for a stint.

So all of that left Niedzwiedz out in front, in splendid isolation, the car running as neat and swift as Swiss public transport. Longhurst had dropped a lap after making two trips to the pits to cure a sticking throttle, so today the ANZ Sierra had no peer. Niedzwiedz had blitzed the opening stint, made easier by the problems for Longhurst and Johnson, then handed it over to Moffat for his stint – as it turned out, his final one ever. "I didn’t know it then," wrote Allan in Climbing The Mountain: "They were to be my last race laps at Bathurst."

1969 to 1988: Not a bad innings, mate.

Klaus then got back in and added another lap to their lead before giving it back to regular team driver Gregg Hansford. By the closing stages, about 30 laps from the chequered flag, the ANZ car had a three lap lead – not three seconds, three laps.
Initially I'd planned to take the last stint myself, to see the chequered flag and claim my fifth Bathurst crown. But it didn't feel right. Something was gnawing at me. It surprised me when I asked Klaus if he would be prepared to take a third stint, with Gregg and I having only one each. If it worked out, I would win my fifth Bathurst having covered just 29 laps, a long way from my solo victories back in 1970 and 1971. But it would still be a win. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain
When Garry Willmington’s #50 Leeson Civil Engineering Walky stopped at Skyline with a shredded left-rear tyre, race control decided this warranted a pace car to pick up all the dead cars. The pace car stayed out for 12 interminable laps, with the field bunched up behind, their tyre and engine temps dropping, and dropping, and dropping...
This was looking so good, and yet I had a premonition.

The use of pace cars is quite different now from the way it was then. Back then, you’d have "clearing" interruptions to the race so broken-down cars and debris could be collected from the track at random periods with the field bunched behind the pace car.

They pulled one on Gregg and he fell into line, third in the queue behind lapped cars. You want the safety car to go as fast as it can so you can manage your temperatures, both tyre and engine. In a turbocharged car like the Sierra, temperature is critical. You need to gap the car in front to give yourself free air. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain

We were behind the pace car with Gregg Hansford driving and Rudi had brought out a sophisticated telemetry system that showed us the 12 most important functions. As the laps kept dribbling along, driving me crazy, I kept glancing over at the computer and saw the temperatures going down. Rudi gave me the Swiss salute, which we would call the wave-off, and said, "It will be fine." That was the most significant bad management decision of my life because I should have said they were too low. – Allan Moffat, AMC #77
Eventually the yellow flags cleared and the pace car peeled off. The race rotated back to green, and everyone put their foot down. Blasting up Mountain Straight, Longhurst passed Hansford to go from three laps down to only two, but the end was nigh for the ANZ car. "Apparently it got vapour lock," said Moffat to the cameras that day, a phenomenon less familiar today than it was 30 years ago: suddenly back at maximum attack, under-bonnet temps shot up so rapidly that the water in the coolant pipes boiled away, leaving the engine sucking on air instead of nice, cooling fluid. "Running cold behind the pace car, Rudi feels that it got very cold and then as Gregg accelerated perhaps a little bit too quickly, who's to say, it developed a vapour lock and it just overheated instantly. Gregg said he came to the end of the straight and it had a flutter and that was it."

Moffat was aghast. He was too polite to come out and say it, but Gregg wasn't the most experienced driver in the field, so it was possible he didn't realise how carefully you had to manage the temperatures on the restart. Moffat the old master had managed it perfectly after the Andretti pace car period, but it seems no-one had told Gregg exactly what he had to do. Nevertheless, with two laps in hand there was still every chance they could fix the car and get it back out for the run to the flag, they just needed Rudi to work his magic. If anyone could get it running again, it was Eggenberger himself.

He couldn't. With no cars to drive Peter Brock was spending the afternoon in the commentary box, and when he saw the live feed he spotted it in one: "That looks very much like a cylinder head gasket to me." He was right.
Rudi had the bonnet up, then he had the spark plugs out, but nothing will re-start a car when its head gasket has blown.

Tony Longhurst flashed by in the winning car – a Sierra – while we were still working in front of the pits, before we pushed the car away.

In hindsight, we all knew Gregg could have managed the safety-car period better. But we had radio contact and maybe Rudi could have offered better advice. Maybe I should have listened to my premonition, but I didn't want to talk across Rudi. Or maybe pigs could have flown that day.

I couldn't help thinking: what if I'd been in the car? What if the main thing I'd brought to the team that day had been twenty years of experience at the Mountain? Because at Bathurst you're not racing 60 other cars or whatever the field size is, you're fighting the Mountain. That's your only task – to take on the Mountain and beat it. And nothing beats it like experience. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain
Bathurst 1988 would go down in history as the one that got away for Allan Moffat Racing: they'd virtually had one hand on the trophy. They could've brought the car in, brought it up to temperature in the pits and sent it on its way still with a full lap in hand over Longhurst & Mezera. But they didn't. The long faces in the ANZ pits and hospitality tent said it all.

Tony Longhurst inherited the lead, ahead of Walkinshaw, Bowe, Bond, and Janson. The HSV Commodore soon retired, though, when it suddenly lost oil pressure. At the end of Walkinshaw's stint the car came in for a scheduled stop, Perkins got back in for the run to the flag, and then found himself the duck at the wheel when the car retired 24 laps from home with a broken engine rocker and oil pump drive. There were suspicions that the Scot had deliberately buzzed the engine to ensure the Aussie car didn't show up its imported rival. Nobody takes them very seriously, but it showed how poisonous perceptions of Holden's "intercontinental" team had become! It was little wonder that, immediately after the race, Tom Walkinshaw made the shock announcement that he was retiring from driving.

He never did manage a Bathurst win, as a driver at least...

That left the B&H Sierra in a league of its own. Tomas Mezera hopped in for the final stint, narrowly avoiding the black-and-orange Lusty Walky when it spun at the final corner: Mezera wisely took to the escape road and stayed right out of its way until it sorted itself out. Apart from that momentary fright, he drove it smoothly to the chequered flag, he and Longhurst deservedly celebrating their first Bathurst triumph by over a lap – total race time, 7 hours, 2 minutes and 10.28 seconds.

The car looked as good after seven hours at the limit as it had in the pre-race warm-up.

It would've been easy to dismiss Tony Longhurst as a rich kid playing with toys, but like Peter Revson before him, he was a serious racing driver. His father might've made a lot of money building speedboats – and then Dreamworld on the Gold Coast – but Tony never had any help from daddy's chequebook (well, except $10,000 to put the Dreamworld logo on the Camaro he'd shared with Mike Burgmann in 1983). He'd spent several years as the apprentice at JPS Team BMW, where despite his youth, the former water-skiing champion had been wise enough to park his ego, listen and learn: team boss Frank Gardner was not the sort to be soft on his pupils. Now, five years in, all his listening and learning had paid off. Unfancied against Eggenberger from Europe and DJR from home, Longhurst and Mezera had taken the first pukka Bathurst win by a turbocharged car, and the first for a non-V8 since Bob Holden & Rauno Aaltonen in a Mini Cooper S in 1966.
We had haemorrhaged early in the year. We kept blowing engines up. The rule was you had to use pump fuel and Dick Johnson had the best fuel. For Bathurst, Frank put his foot down with [engine builder] Ivan Tighe and we had a conservative package. But when we got to Bathurst and put in the same Shell fuel as Dick, the car was a weapon. We had 550 or 590 horsepower. My weakness was I wasn't a good test driver, but we had tested at Lakeside and worked well. It was a pig at Sandown, but worked well at Lakeside.

In the second portion of the 1988 race we could just cruise and collect. – Tony Longhurst, AMC #82
Again a reference to Dick Johnson using special fuel – which might answer my question about Sandown '87, at least. Dick had actually used three cars to finish 2nd, but it was hardly satisfying; 3rd went to Colin Bond and Alan Jones in the #4 Caltex Sierra, making a Sierra 1-2-3. The highest finisher in Class 2 was the 4th-placed Trevor Crowe/Peter Janson M3, whose fastest race lap (set by Crowe) was 12.6 seconds slower than Longhurst's fastest lap (2:19.06). The first Holden to finish was the 6th-placed Walky of Brian Callaghan & Barry Graham, which was actually a major face-saver for Holden as the cars that finished 7th and 8th were outdated VK's.

The surprise of the race was actually the 9th-placed car. With so many faster cars in front of them, no one expected to see a Class 3 (Up to 1,600cc) car finish in the top ten, but that is exactly what happened, and in spite of multiple Class 1 and 2 cars being denied classification after failing to complete enough laps. After sprinting all day in their works Corolla, John Faulkner and Drew Price outlasted many of the more fancied teams and scored themselves a top-ten finish. This was a great achievement after starting 41st with a time 22.38 seconds slower than Johnson's pole time, while also delivering a quiet message to John Smith, who’d forsaken the Toyota team for Johnson's outfit.

The older AE86 Sprinter again showed its superiority as a track-car over the FWD hatches.

But the fans were still switching off, unmoved by the sight of cars that weren’t even for sale in Australia battling for Australian motorsport’s greatest prize.

After the Battle, the Counting
Which just left the question of the protests to sort out. During the race, Tom Walkinshaw had stepped in and, on live TV, withdrawn his protest on any car that should happen to win the race, " the interests of the sport." In other words, he'd suspended his complaint on the winning car so the result would be known immediately, instead of after months in the courtrooms as had happened last year. This was seen by many as a slap in the face after the mayhem it had created in the preceding days, so if it was meant as a conciliatory gesture it backfired somewhat.

Paul Gover's been at it that long? Well there you go.

He really should've known better. The DJR cars were ultimately cleared and Bond was excluded a month after the race following a FISA hearing in Japan. An angry Bond appealed to CAMS and was reinstated to 3rd place after proving not only was his car legal, but that the stewards had erred in procedure by not allowing him to put his case forward at the time of the protest.

The whole thing was then reduced to a farce when, for an encore, Bond also showed that Tom Walkinshaw hadn't actually had the authority to lodge a protest in the first place. To lodge a protest you had to be a team entrant, and the entrant for the HSV cars at Bathurst in 1988 happened to be Perkins Engineering, not TWR. Although he supported the protest, Perkins had not given Tom the necessary paperwork on the day, and the FISA stewards had stuffed up by not checking for the entrant's licence. After all the rigmarole, the five Aussie Sierras were left with no legalities to answer for after all. Rubbing in salt, the counter-protest against the HSV team's steering racks was upheld, although since neither car had finished, no penalty was enacted.

The whole thing was hateful, but nobody went to bed that night with a head full of troubles like Allan Moffat.
That night [ANZ boss] Will Bailey walked up to Rudi. This was a bollocking that we knew had to come. How could Will face his board, some of whom, to put it mildly, weren't as supportive of the motor racing idea as him? He could he, personally, handle this crushing, avoidable, loss?

"Next year," he said to Rudi, "bring two cars."

Will had picked it in one. Our fault had been that we'd bet it all on the black. We had the resources, the ability and the will to win, but we had spread it all too thin. We had left ourselves with no contingency. And Will, at the time of our greatest despair, was giving us a chance to redress it. – Allan Moffat, Climbing The Mountain