Saturday, 29 October 2016

On This Day... Tourers in Adelaide

Seeing V8 Supercars and Formula 1 back-to-back is one of the greater pleasures in life. If nothing else, standing by the track in Melbourne taking in the sight of the monstrous Aussie tintops – which have 450 kW, can nudge 300km/h, and still corner at more than 2G – being made to look as clumsy as drunk mastiffs does wonders to remind you just how fast F1 really is. That's why I get annoyed that they paint over all the white markings on the road when they turn Albert Park into a track each year. I know the white hi-gloss is slippery and dangerous, but if you lose that reference point you lose your feel for how crazy fast it's all happening.

Back on topic, tourers and F1 always made a great double-header, and probably never more so than in 1986. The long-neglected Australian Grand Prix had gone through some hard years – from the glory days of the Tasman Series, it had hung on as a Formula 5000 and Formula Pacific race – until it got a shot in the arm in 1980 with the World Championship of Alan Jones. Some quick rule changes allowed Jonesy to race his title-winning Williams FW07 against whatever F5000 and FP machinery was lying around – mothballed local open-wheelers against a modern, championship-winning F1 car. The only other F1 car in the race was Bruno Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo 179; F1 star Didier Pironi had to scrounge a local Elfin MR8 Formula 5000 car (also in an MR8 was a very young John Bowe, who was about to hit the big time as a double Australian open-wheel champion). So of course Jones won by a lap. It wasn't smooth, but it was poetic; his father Stan Jones had won the 1959 race at Longford in a Maserati 250F, making them the only father-and-son duo to claim the title.

It brought the Australian GP back from the brink, and by 1985 it was where it belonged – part of the Formula 1 World Championship. And with it came the touring car support race, which in '85 wasn't a classic event, but was a significant one for two reasons.

Firstly, it was the race that got Dick Johnson noticed by future sponsor Shell, and it happened entirely by accident. Sitting on the grid waiting for the start, Johnson realised they'd put the starting lights up too high for him to see. In an open cockpit F1 car it wouldn't have mattered, but when you were strapped well back in a Group A Mustang with a roof and a narrow windscreen, the lights were completely obscured.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and leaned across the dash. With my arse out of the seat and my body stretched across the cabin, I could see the start lights. But I couldn’t reach the clutch and could barely touch the wheel. I thought about giving it a go, but I wasn’t too keen to blast down the straight without a seatbelt on.

The panic grew.

I stayed there, full of indecision, until the first light came on. Almost a natural reaction, I jumped back into my seat and clipped the belt back in. Again I could see nothing. I decided I would guess. I counted to three and dropped the clutch.

In a minor miracle it was the best damn start I had ever had. I had timed it to perfection. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
From there Dick won the race easily, against admittedly feeble opposition – most of them were leftover cars from Bathurst a couple of weeks earlier, often with both drivers' names on the windscreens, even though, as a 15-lap dash, this was a decidedly one-driver affair. But the titans that year, Frank Gardner's John Player BMWs, had stayed home, so apart from a following Peter Brock Johnson had the track virtually to himself. And so he won it by miles.
What was significant about that race is that a guy from Shell who was coming back to Australia after running Shell in Ireland was there. John Rowe was a motor racing freak and had returned to head up Shell in Australia.

We were trying to put together a deal going forward and he was at the race in Adelaide and I’ll never forget it because he was standing over the fence every lap and I won the race which just blew them away. I won the race and my name was up in blazing lights. – Dick Johnson, Dick Johnson Racing: 30-Year Anniversary
The road to the Shell Sierras started there.

It was also the last time an F1 driver pulled double-duty at a race meeting. In the old days it had been the norm – once upon a time, it wasn't unusual for Jim Clark to claim the Formula 1, Formula Junior, small-capacity sports car and touring car races all in the same weekend – but as F1 got more organised and professional, a rule had been introduced forbidding a driver to take part in a "major event" in the 24 hours before a World Championship race. Mario Andretti had fallen foul of it in 1968, finding himself barred from that year's Italian GP because the day before he'd flown back to America to take part in the Hoosier Hundred, a USAC-sanctioned dirt oval race at the Indiana State Fairground. It delayed his F1 debut by a month, and ensured it came at Watkins Glen rather than Monza as he'd dreamed.

Apparently though, a non-championship touring car race at the arse-end of the world didn't count as a "major event," so special permission had been given for the young Austrian Gerhard Berger to take part. As a driver for the Barclay Arrows team, which used BMW engines, a deal had been worked out for Berger to drive the Bob Jane T-Marts BMW 635, which had been built by (and technically still belonged to) BMW's works team Schnitzer Motorsport. Putting one of F1's rising talents in the dominant car of the season really put the wind up the Aussies, especially with the eyes of the world on them for the first time.

But on race day, it all went to hell in a hurry. Apparently Dick Johnson wasn't the only one who'd had to guess when the lights went green, because the Holden Dealer Team's second driver John Harvey jumped the start by seconds and passed three rows of cars before the others got moving. The stewards penalised him, obviously, but they took their sweet time doing it and in the meantime he fell into a battle with Berger – and, in a moment of colossal brain fade, bashed him off the road into the Turn 1 chicane. "Not against an Aussie!" laughed TV commentator Allan Moffat, who’d seen it all before. "He’ll be up against politer drivers tomorrow," was Murray Walker’s prim comment.

Berger was given a lot of credit for the sang-froid with which he eyeballed that tyre barrier sidling up to him, but at the same time, that footage probably explains why no-one else has been allowed to do it since. The following day, apparently unrattled, Berger drove his Arrows A8 to 6th in the Grand Prix, taking the final points-paying place of 1985 – which wasn't a bad effort in a car he described as "the biggest shitbox I ever drove in my life."

My only question is, what the hell had got into Harvey? That kind of thing wasn't like him at all. Forgive me Slug, but you were never that fast, and kept your job on being a good lieutenant and a safe pair of hands for the enduros. So what the hell was he doing dicing with an F1 superstar-in-the-making when he was technically out of the race already? The stewards didn't get around to applying his penalty until lap 14 of 15, and even then it was only adding 60 seconds to his race time. On our first day in front of an international audience, it wasn't a good look for Aussie motorsport.

Anyway, that was 1985; I have no idea how the 1986 touring car support race went, because I haven't had the chance to watch it yet for download limit reasons. Consider this saving it to watch later. I was intrigued to find out it was Round 2 of an attempted resurrection of the South Pacific Touring Car Championship, though, the first round apparently being the Calder Park enduro the week before. In the early 70's the South Pacific championship was an off-season dress-rehearsal in support of the Formula 5000 tour, which only drew a small entry list. I have no idea why anyone wanted to bring it back, but I suppose Group A was as good an opportunity as any; to really make it sizzle you'd want to include the Wellington street race too, though, and maybe a support bracket for the New Zealand Grand Prix... but there'd be plenty of that sort of thing coming in 1987.

In the meantime, you got to see Aussie touring car stars hammer it around the streets of Adelaide, followed by the legendary '86 Australian Grand Prix, when a shred of rubber was all that separated Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost from the coveted World Championship trophy. It was a good year to be in Adelaide.

Spotlight Cars: the Australian 2.0 Litre Touring Car Championship
While we're focusing on the obscura, it might do to mention the Australian 2.0 Litre Touring Car Championship, run for the first time in 1986. Class racing had always been the norm in Australia, and Amaroo Park's AMSCAR series had once functioned as a separate championship for the smaller cars, but it wasn't until 1986 they officially got their own silverware to chase. It was a brief five-round series: Round 1 was run as a support race for the Sandown ATCC event; the next three rounds, at AIR, Calder and Oran Park, were run concurrently with the ATCC round. And the finale, at Brisbane's Lakeside Raceway, was a standalone meeting on 27 July, unrelated to the main-game meeting a month earlier.

All five races were won by John Smith, who took a clean sweep and the championship in a Corolla hatchback built by Toyota Team Australia, a two-headed monster that also competed in the Australian Rally Championship. Toyota were rather well represented in this class, with six out of the nine entrants driving Corollas, including Smith's teammate Drew Price, and touring car stalwart Bob Holden, who'd had already been an established racer at the first ATCC in 1960! Holden drove a Sprinter Trueno to promote his dealership in Manly Vale, and ultimately this car would have the record for the most starts at Bathurst, taking its first in the Group A class in 1984, and its last in the "leftover Group A cars" class in 1993. And besides those punishing 1,000km bouts, he also raced it in sprint rounds across the country, and even managed the Spa 24 Hours earlier in the year. God only knows how many kilometres were on the poor thing's overworked odo by the time he retired it. Toyotas, man...

Other possible rides in this series included the Isuzu Gemini ZZ – which was assembled locally rebadged as a Holden, although the sporty ZZ model had to be imported, as Holden focused on their V8 Commodores – and later, the Nissan Gazelle. It went to show how quickly things were changing. When Glenn Seton made his ATCC debut in 1984, it was at the wheel of a Ford Capri Mk.III, because his father Bo built the best Ford V6s in the country. Fast-forward two years and Glenn is about to become Nissan's strike weapon for the ATCC, and the small class is dominated by Japanese hatchbacks. The times, they were a-changin'...

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

On This Day... Triumph & Tragedy II

One of the immutable laws of racing is that the race always goes on. Mike Burgmann might have lost his life, but it was only lap 5; there were still 158 to go. It's not over until they wave that chequered flag.

So let's get one thing out of the way first: this should've been Nissan's year. The Peter Jackson Nissan team and their driver George Fury had pushed hard for the Australian Touring Car Championship, and had only just been held off by Robbie Francevic and the Volvo Dealer Team. And by Bathurst, there was no more Volvo Dealer Team. Not really. At the warm-up Castrol 500 at Sandown, Francevic'd had a huge row with team manager John Shepherd over the way he was running the team (a feud which had been simmering beneath the surface since Shepherd had taken over back in March). As a result, the reigning champion had been fired for his trouble. Francevic told Speedcafe in 2011:
Group A was a development series so of course you had to keep developing the car, which John wouldn't do. When Sandown came I always said that I wanted 17-inch wheels. John said he'd trial this on John [Bowe's] car. I wanted the same and said that it's the only way to go, they would be so much better. We were seven seconds a lap slower, which was ridiculous, and he wouldn’t do anything about it.

I went up to top management and said that we were in trouble and that we were not going to win Bathurst. I also told them that they should have teamed me with Bowe. On 17-inch wheels we could win. They wouldn't do it and John sacked me. He didn't tell me verbally but told the media.
Apparently all Francevic had said was that it would be better to scratch it than carry on tomorrow and complete an expensive failure. The car was duly withdrawn and Francevic left the circuit, unaware that Shepherd was telling the media he had quit the team. "I’ve never struck a more difficult guy to work with," Shepherd said. "Obviously we were looking to work through to Bathurst, but in some ways I’m glad it's all over now."

Scorned, Francevic returned to familiar pastures with Mark Petch, the Kiwi businessman who'd founded the team in the first place and had now bought compatriot David Oxton's Ford Sierra XR4 Ti (the same car that had taken Andy Rouse to the 1985 BTCC title). As I've said, the Sierra was not the moon rocket it would become later, so that left him out of contention for the rest of the season. It also left the rookie John Bowe the senior driver at Volvo, and although history would show he had oodles of talent, he didn't yet have the experience to carry a whole team on his back at a race as important as Bathurst. Petch was less than impressed: Shepherd had been given the car, the trained mechanics, the spares, the sponsors and the driver on a silver platter – and had still run it into the ground in a matter of months. But, ask Harry Firth, he’d made a career out of that sort of thing...

So that had left Sandown to be won by George Fury and his young protege, Glenn Seton, who were also driving together at Bathurst. But there used to be a curse about Sandown – whoever did well there never had any luck at Bathurst. And sure enough, when they arrived at Mt Panorama, Fury found his number had been put on the side of a brand-new car – and it didn't work as well as the old one. Said Fury in 2010 (again to Speedcafe):
There was one year that we really thought that we had a great chance, it was 1986, the team built a brand new car for me for Bathurst.

The old cars had a different roll cage design and the new chassis was a lot stiffer and our spring/shock package didn’t work at all on the new car.

We could not get it to handle well, if we’d had run the old chassis we had the chance to win Bathurst, that was our year.
Seton concurred, telling Australian Muscle Car in Issue 80:
They were a nightmare to drive. It was only when I drove the car again, at Oran Park in 2008 in the farewell event, that I realised just how bad they were.

I'll never forget the first year at Bathurst with George Fury and me. It had a steel cage, and we were always talking about Conrod and coming over the humps and wondering whose barbecue we were going to join. They just jumped sideways.
Fury had been driving the wheels off them all year, so we can only imagine how bad it must've been that it now spooked him. But the upshot was plain to see: the second Nissan took pole thanks to a stunning Hardie's Heroes lap from Gary Scott (and tyre warmers provided by the McLaren F1 team, who shared their Phillip Morris sponsorship). Fury, who'd taken the far less tractable Bluebird to pole only two years earlier, could manage only 3rd, 1.9 seconds slower.

For the first time since its inception, however, Peter Brock had failed to make Hardie's Heroes. The man he had to thank was his co-driver, Allan Moffat. Yes, really: the former Ford hero had been mostly without a drive since Mazda had pulled out at the end of 1984, leaving him a free agent. Despite their long rivalry – or maybe because of it – Brock had a strong appreciation for his value and offered him a drive with the Mobil Holden Dealer Team, the pair taking victory in the season-opening Nissan-Mobil 500 in Wellington. Twelve Bathurst wins in this one car alone should've made the rest of the field nervous, except that in Friday practice Moffat had a moment and put the car into the wall. Said Moffat in Issue 78 of Australian Muscle Car:
I was shadowing another Commodore [Crosby] in Friday practice, not doing anything stupid, but there wasn’t daylight between our bumpers. I was actually looking through his back window to see where I was going. It had been raining in the morning and there was a rut in the sand at McPhillamy Park, parallel with the edge of the circuit. I got a little wide and the right rear tyre dropped into that rut and instantly, instantly, the car turned 90 degrees left and then up onto the concrete wall. I felt like I was going to be Australia’s first astronaut with nothing but blue sky in front of me, but eventually it fell back onto the highway at Skyline.

That afternoon I learned the gracious aspect of Peter Brock, because the crash was pretty hard for me to swallow. He couldn’t have been more gracious and he was already on the phone to GM in Melbourne and they flew everything from the windscreen forward up to Bathurst for the repair.

When I went out the next morning it was actually better than before. I told Peter I should crash them more often.
The repairs were still underway when Hardie's Heroes began, so for the first time ever, Brock was left twiddling his thumbs.

So, the Volvo Dealer Team, the Holden Dealer Team and the reigning Australian Touring Car Champion were all down for the count: it really should've been Nissan's year. Except for one thing – the car that had qualified 2nd, the only car even close to Gary Scott's pace. Allan Maxwell Grice in the #2 Chickadee Commodore. The remarkable thing about this outfit is that it wasn't a "team" in any conventional sense, more a loose association of individuals who'd agreed to work together for this one race. There was the usual complement of mechanics and support personnel, who as always go anonymous and unappreciated in these reports, but if you had to boil it down to the big three – the Holy Trinity – they'd be Allan Grice, the driving talent; Les Small, the technical brains; and Graeme Bailey, The Money.

Bailey was not a pro driver but a successful businessman, a frozen chicken magnate who just happened to have a very expensive hobby (like Mike Burgmann, actually...). You don't seem to see it anymore, but when I was a kid Chickadee chicken was everywhere. I'm not sure what his Big Idea was that made Chickadee such a major brand, but it certainly seems to've made Bailey a wealthy man. He was like Saito in Inception, the man paying for everything who was therefore entitled to tag along in any capacity he liked. If he wanted to fetch the spare tyres, the team could hardly tell him to shove off, could they? As it was, the former Celica Group C racer annointed himself co-driver and left it at that.

Allan Grice on the other hand had a longer history, and a more complicated one. Although a professional racer for a decade now, his career highlights so far had been a series of 2nd places: 2nd in the 1975 ATCC, for example, and a 2nd place at Bathurst as well – and not an especially glamorous 2nd, either. If you know your history you may recall that Peter Brock and Jim Richards won Bathurst '79 by a whopping six laps in their Marlboro HDT Torana; well, the man six laps behind that day was Gricey, in his Craven Mild Torana, an allegedly identical car (fun fact: I had this car come in on a trailer when I was working at the servo one day. It was on the way to a shindig at Eastern Creek, and I got to speak briefly to the owner, who confirmed it was the real car and not a replica. Soooo cool).

Not the same car, and seen here at Phillip Island, but still.

But this year Grice really had his eye in, having spent the first half of the season racing the Chickadee Commodore's sister car over in Europe, where every waking moment had either been spent in a 500km race, or a 24-Hour race, or a never-ending Yokohama tyre test. With the possible exception of Brock, no-one on the grid in 1986 had covered as many kilometres this year as Grice. And let's not forget, in 1982 he'd been the first man to lap a Group C touring car around Mt Panorama at an average speed above 100mph, his laptime that day a 2:17.501, his average speed 161.604km/h. And in qualifying this year – proper qualifying, not Hardie's Heroes – he'd repeated that feat in a Group A car, stopping the clocks with a 2:16.16 – this time, a one-lap speed of 163.184km/h. Clearly, Grice hadn't lost his touch.
The '82 pole-winner; Grice collected $5,000 for his trouble.

Les Small and Roadways however were a bit more complicated. Originally Roadways was a Tasmanian road-surfacing company owned by Ian Harrington, who caught the bug when he was contracted to resurface the little-known (but dearly beloved) Baskerville Raceway, just north of Hobart. He bought a car and got track president Garth Wigston to drive it, saving on transport costs by forming an alliance with Norm Gown and Bruce Hindhaugh, who ran an engine tuning company in Melbourne, allowing them to store the car on the mainland. If those names sound familiar, it's because Gown-Hindhaugh was the operation Peter Brock drove for when he won Sandown and Bathurst in 1975; Les Small was one of their employees. The next decade or so was a blizzard of different mechanics, sponsors and drivers (among them Harrington's son Steve), and the lowest ebb undoubtedly came in 1980, when Bruce Hindhaugh tragically took his own life. But soldiering on, Roadways came back strong and ended the year with their breakthrough win, taken by Queenslander Charlie O'Brien in the Compact Tennis 400 at Surfers Paradise.

After that, Roadways was more or less the Holden B-team, the nominal backup to Brock and HDT, picking up where Grice's Craven Mild team had left off – so appropriately, from 1982 onwards Grice himself was a regular showing. He doesn't seem to've been actually contracted to the team, more like a hired hand who kept getting invited back, which probably suited Grice and the team just fine (Gricey was a prickly character). The following year the Re-Car (mobile truck repair) team folded and the leftovers were snapped up by Roadways – among them a returning Les Small.

At the end of 1984, when Steve Harrington headed off to the U.K. to try his hand at Formula 3 instead, his father elected to shut down the Roadways team rather than continue. In response, for 1985 Small established "Roadways Racing Services," a completely separate company, and set about helping to build Francevic's Volvo that year, among other projects. He also started building customer Commodores to order – and by most accounts, if you couldn't get your hands on ex-HDT machinery, a Roadways car was a pretty solid second choice.

By far the best cars Small ever built were the two VK SS Group A's of 1986. One of them was taken to Europe and raced at Monza, Donington and Hockenheim, as I've detailed before; the other spent the first half of the year in a modest NSW Central Coast backyard garage, being polished by Graeme Bailey's main man, Peter Pattenden. This was the car Grice and Bailey took to Bathurst that October.

The outcome was a stunner. The car was fast, nearly as fast as a well-sorted turbo Skyline on pre-warmed tyres. More importantly, unlike the Nissan, it was also bulletproof; the Chickadee Commodore took an early lead and never relinquished it, running fast and sure all day long.

Despite what I said above, Graeme Bailey wasn't exactly "tagging along" with the team. He took over for just 30 laps, it's true – just over an hour in the car – but he was able to keep Allan Moffat a steady 5 seconds behind him in the factory-built Commodore (although Moffat was nursing a sore wrist from the touch-up with the wall in practice). But it's also true he wasn't a driver of Grice's calibre, and knew it, so he knew their best chance to win was to keep Allan in the car as long as possible. Ergo, while Bailey drove his 30-lap lunchtime shift, Grice drove the rest – all 133 of them, longer than the whole race when Moffat and Brock won it solo! Grice spent some five-and-a-half hours in the car, in baking heat, standing up to 2 and 3g cornering, with only an hour's break to get hydrated and see a man about a dog. But it did mean he finally won that damn race. Clearly Grice's stamina matched the car's.

It was Grice's first Bathurst victory, at long, long last, and to this day he never hesitates to claim it as his greatest. As he told Speedcafe in 2010:
I think my first one was my favourite win, for a couple of reasons. It was the first time that I won Bathurst after many attempts, but it was a complete, 100 percent privateer effort that beat the factory teams. I think that is always something has been extremely hard to do – it has always been hard to do and rarely done.
It was the last time anyone won it on the old track layout, before they added The Chase, and also the last time it was was won by an "amateur" like Graeme Bailey, who wasn't a full-timer and "bought" his ride with money made elsewhere. No-one seems to look down on him as a "pay driver," though, because whatever else happened that October, he sure didn't screw it up. He kept the car clean and off the concrete walls ready to hand back to Grice, and that's exactly what you want from a co-driver. Professional could've done worse.

Best of all, the car is still around. It was raced a couple more times by Bailey's son, in Sports Sedan events, but other than that it was retained by the man himself. So not only is the car that won Bathurst '86 still running, and still in the hands of its original owner, it even still has the original engine in it! And if you get yourself to the right historics meeting, you can probably see it turn laps to this day, in the hands of the Baileys, father and son – or just maybe, in the hands of Iron Man Grice himself.

Monday, 3 October 2016

On This Day... Triumph & Tragedy

Thirty years ago today, the '86 edition of the James Hardie 1000 was run at Mt Panorama, Bathurst. It was the occasion of one of the most remarkable victories in the sport's long history – but also the day of the Great Race's first fatal shunt.

There's no shortage of Peter Brock tributes in this, the tenth year since we lost him, but I can't recall seeing any for Mike Burgmann yet. He's... not exactly forgotten, just not mentioned very often. He was a Sydney-based accountant by day, and only came out to drive racing cars on weekends, as so many liked to do in those days. If you had the money and could demonstrate your fitness to hold a CAMS licence, there was nothing stopping you in those days – starting positions at Bathurst belonged to anyone the Bathurst City Council liked the look of, not to those with a Racing Entitlement Contract. So Mike raced, three times in fact, before he lined up for his final tilt at Australian motorsport's greatest crown, with rookie Mal Rose on hand to take over for the lunchtime shift. He went out to run the first stint of the day in his #33 VK Commodore, and never came back.

Dick Johnson tells the story in his autobiography:
I first spotted Mike Burgmann’s Commodore as it was attacked by Garry Willmington’s Falcon [sic: it was a Jaguar XJS]. They were coming down the straight at jaw-dropping speed; Willmington was doing close to 280km/h as he pulled alongside Burgmann, attempting a high-risk overtake. I’d seen such moves before, and I knew that the pass was fraught with danger. I kept on watching, aware that they were now both in an awkward position, and sensed that something was about to unfold.

You had to be really cautious coming down the Mountain when you hit the bumps – we didn’t have shock absorbers like you do today – otherwise your car would shimmy and shake all over the place. You were also likely to fly into the air as your 1,500kg machine smacked into the small bumps and sail towards the sky before returning to earth with a thud. There were no aerodynamics on our cars to speak of, nothing to pin them to the ground. If two cars were close enough to each other, a vacuum would be created that would suck the two vehicles together like gigantic magnets.

Both Burgmann and Willmington’s cars left the ground at the same time.

My heart was in my mouth.

In a split second the situation became deadly. As both cars hurtled through the air, the vacuum sucked them together and they touched – the impact sending Burgmann flying off the road in a violent spin toward the Dunlop Bridge.

When I came around to the Bridge, my fears were confirmed. Emergency workers picked him up out of the back left-hand corner of the car. They didn’t stop the race and they didn’t tell us officially until after, but we already knew Burgmann was dead.

These sorts of things can happen and I tried to shrug it off, even though I was a bit angry because it could have been avoided. Burgmann was a personal friend of the track promoter Ivan Stibbard, who was, understandably, in a bad way.

"You guys don’t believe me when I say these cars are going dreadfully fast now," I said. "Without aerodynamics they become aeroplanes." 
The cameras seemingly didn't capture the crash itself, but it must've been the stuff of nightmares: he sailed over the concrete retaining wall and had a head-on collision with an earth bank (only slightly mitigated by a layer of tyres) that was meant to be protecting the Dunlop Bridge, at close to maximum speed. The engine was ripped completely from the car and the fenders were crumpled like beer cans, right back to the firewall. The impact was so violent Burgmann's safety harness broke and he had to be retrieved from the back seat.

In retrospect, it's amazing it took 23 years for Mt Panorama to have this accident. Conrod Straight had been there the entire time, and touring cars raced there right through the 1960s and 70s, the danger era for almost every other form of motorsport – Formula 1, Indianapolis, Le Mans, you name it. And yet the Bathurst classic got away with its hands clean year after year. Yes, there had been quite a few fatalities in other categories – especially motorcycles, which is a whole different level of risk – but against that you have to weigh the effect of packing the grid with weekend warriors, year after year. I'm paraphrasing here, because I can't find the actual quote, but I seem to remember Pete Geoghegan summing up the Bathurst grid as, "A handful of full-time professionals, a few more who know enough not to be a danger to themselves and others, and the rest have never gone so fast in their lives!" So why did it take until 1986 for this to happen? I guess we were just amazingly fortunate.

You can see the footage from the day below, if you like, but be warned if you do you'll see his body on live TV. It's not especially graphic, but depending on your sensibilities, it could be very confronting. I don't know how much first-response medical care has evolved since that day, but I was a bit surprised to see them remove his helmet before pulling him out of the car. They don't do that nowadays for fear of spinal damage, so although officially he was pronounced DOA at Bathurst Base Hospital, to me that says he died on impact.

So Rest in Peace, Mike. You are gone but not lost.