Image Credit: abc.net.au
The smell of crisp mountain air; the roar of mighty V8 engines; the blur of thirty-four powerful touring cars thundering past – just some of the sensations we associate with Australia’s most famously gruelling motor race, the Bathurst 1000. First run as the Armstrong 500 in 1960, the race held each year at the Mt Panorama track has since become an icon of Australian sport, embodying archetypal Aussie values of grit, determination and resilience. The Great Race has had a long and colourful history, punctuated frequently by the great rivalry between Australia’s largest manufacturers, Ford and Holden. So what are some of the events that have shaped the modern image of this storied competition?
Cars – Performance Award
The Armstrong 500 was first held at Phillip Island in Victoria on 20 November 1960, conceived as an event for production cars rather than highly-tuned racers. The event moved to the Mt Panorama street circuit in 1963, and from there on it gained significant popularity with the public; the racing demonstrated the reliability and driving dynamics of cars you could buy from a showroom the very next day, and became a showground for manufacturers to prove their latest model against the competition.
Some of the world’s fastest cars
A number of rule changes occurred throughout the 1960s, including the introduction of a minimum number of fuel stops, which led to the dominance of the big, powerful V8 cars for which the race became known, such as the iconic Holden Monaro in 1968 and Ford Falcon GT-HO in 1969.
In 1973 the race was extended to the 1000km endurance race we know today, and the adoption of the Group C category saw the beginnings of proper racing upgrades for the competing cars. Cars were introduced that soon became household names such as Holden’s Torana, Chrysler’s Charger and Ford’s Falcon GT, although this would be the last year that Chrysler would compete. The late 70s and early 80s were dominated by one driver: Peter Brock, a man whose record nine race victories included two hat-tricks from 1978-80 and 1982-84, and who gave his name to the Peter Brock Trophy for which the drivers now compete at Bathurst.
The next big change for the race came in 1985 when the Group A racing regulations were introduced. The international standard allowed turbocharged Nissan GT-Rs and Ford Sierra Cosworths to dominate the next eight years, alongside several victories from the perennial Holden Commodores. As Group A faded in popularity at the end of the decade, a new formula was created called the Australian Touring Car class, which would eventually go on to govern today’s V8 Supercars. Entry was restricted to V8 Fords and Holdens, and they competed alongside the one remaining other class at Bathurst, the 2-litre Super Tourers. As the newly rebranded V8Supercars category eclipsed the touring cars in popularity, the Great Race was run with a single class in 1996 for the first time in history; the touring car class folded by 1999, giving rise to the single V8 Supercars category we know today.
The two-horse race between Holden and Ford harks back to the original rivalries of the 1960s, and the addition in 2013 of cars from Mercedes, Nissan and Volvo has only added to the excitement. The drama of the Bathurst 1000 is an integral part of Australian motorsport, and we can only wait and see where it goes next!