Fifty years of Bathurst drama
Wed, 03 Oct 2012 8:02a.m.
By Robert Grant
In 50 years, Australia's greatest touring car race has seen death, destruction and despair.
But Mt Panorama, which hosts half a century of Bathurst enduros this weekend, has also showcased a kaleidoscope of courage, tactical genius and breathless drama.
From a 500-mile race around a poorly-paved, weed-strewn Phillip Island circuit in Victoria featuring such wheezing crates as an unmodified Vauxhall Cresta - the first winner in 1960 - the Bathurst 1000 has become a shrine.
In 1963, organisers moved the endurance event to Mt Panorama and 2012 marks the 50th year that teams and fans have gathered there to celebrate Australia's great race.
Along the journey, which has culminated in a door-banging rumble on the mountain between fire-breathing, 300km/h V8 Supercars, Bathurst has developed into a global phenomenon.
Makes as diverse as Mercedes Benz, Mini Cooper, Jaguar, Nissan, BMW, Volvo and of course Holden and Ford, have won, often against prohibitive odds.
Drivers such as Formula One ace Jacky Ickx and world rally champion Rauno Aaltonen have taken the title.
For a decade and more, though, the Bathurst 1000 belonged to home-grown hero Peter Brock, who won nine times, twice more than the second most prolific victor, Jim Richards.
Brock, more than anyone - and his fierce battles with the dour no-nonsense Canadian Allan Moffat - stamped Bathurst with its iconic status.
A motor racing rock star, dark and handsome, and possessed with silky skills, Brock - dubbed "Peter Perfect" or "The King of the Mountain" - collected an armful of trophies from 1972 to 1987.
In 1979, Brock achieved perhaps one of the most remarkable victories in any form of motorsport, winning the race by an astonishing six laps and breaking the track record on the 163rd and final lap of the race.
Sadly, he died competing in a low-key tarmac rally in 2006 at the age of 61.
Bathurst grew rapidly from the mid 1960s on, as car manufacturers quickly realised the credibility a win gave their brand.
Thus was born the slogan: "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."
The race grew slowly into a battle of the big guns, the V8 Falcons and Commodores as the fuel-efficient and hard-cornering Minis and Alfa Romeos were squeezed out by the introduction of a minimum number of pitstops.
While the thirsty big sedans had to pit more often as their smaller rivals kept circulating, the low capacity competitors were now forced to pit unnecessarily, losing their advantage.
Cars were built especially for victory on the mountain, such as the Ford Cortina 500 and the Ford Falcon GTHO Phase III, although they all had to sell a minimum number in showrooms to qualify.
The GTHO caused a furore when it became the world's fastest four-door production car and prompted media scare headlines about such a machine prowling public roads, which eventually led to its demise.
Bathurst was from time to time a hotbed of controversy, notably when the four-wheel drive Nissan GTR won from the popular Fords and Holdens and led to an outcry.
The V8s took a back seat from 1985 to 1992 when Group A touring car rules came into force, allowing world-beaters like the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and even a Jaguar XJ-S sports car to run - and win.
Eventually the race returned to an annual shootout between Holden and Falcon and heading into the October classic Holden leads with 25 wins with 15 for Ford (discounting the years when Group A class cars ran).
Death first came to Bathurst in 1986 when Sydney accountant and privateer entrant Mike Burgmann's Holden Commodore struck a tyre barrier along Conrod Straight at 268km/h.
Former Formula One world champion Denny Hulme died at the wheel of a BMW M3 on the same strip of track when he suffered a heart attack and in 2006 fellow New Zealander Mark Porter was killed in a V8 support race.
Don Watson became another Conrod Straight victim when he died during practice for the race in 1994.
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