With the impending departure of all mainstream car manufacturing from Australia, the Great Race at Bathurst is at a watershed; which way it will go in the long term future is still to be decided. But this is not the first time the annual enduro has undergone a major restyle, and it is not likely it will be the last.
In the 1960s the race was for purely standard production cars, just like you or I could buy from our local dealership. The adage of “race on Sunday and sell on Monday” was very valid and the cars that won at Bathurst really were a true indication of what you could buy.
But the rules were always open to interpretation and many people pushed the boundaries, massaged the rules and modified their cars within ever-changing limits by producing short-run homologation specials. This culminated in the public outcry in 1972 over the sale of these limited run “super cars” to the general public.
So, the rules changed for the Australian Touring Car Championship and Bathurst, to be run under new Group C Touring Car rules. These had their basis in the Group C Improved Production Car rules, which had been introduced in 1965 for the Australian Touring Car Championship. The primary difference was that the revised Group C would require minimum numbers of cars to have been sold in Australia, like the previous Group E Series Production Car rules that were also replaced by Group C in 1973.
Over the years, manufacturers, racing teams and drivers again stretched the rules until they or the cars were hardly recognizable from what had appeared in 1973. By the early 1980s the in-fighting over rules, rampant cheating (real or imagined) and political turmoil caused CAMS to declare that from 1 January 1985 both the ATCC and the Endurance Championship, the pinnacle of which was Bathurst, would run under the new International Group A rules.
Group A had been introduced for the European Touring Car Championship in 1982, the British in 1983 and in New Zealand in 1984. One of the main goals of Group A was that the cars would be more representative of what was available for sale, with a minimum of 5,000 cars being built, but allowing for a minimum of 500 of “Evolution” or “Evo” models.
Another goal of the new formula was that cars would be less expensive to prepare and competitive almost anywhere in the world, regardless of where they originated. It was a good plan, in theory.
In the early days of Group A everything looked promising for racing to be run fairly, with a wide variety of car brands and models, and affordably enough for privateers to be able to compete on equal terms with the professional teams.
While certain panels had to be retained, including inside door trims and standard dashboards, to make the cars appear more like those in the showroom, other areas were wide open for interpretation and resulted in much confusion over restrictions and legalities.
This resulted in many teams being disqualified from races due to breaches of the rules – some were deliberate and blatant transgressions, while others were simple misunderstandings of the rules.
Engine modifications were limited, while gearboxes and brakes were free, provided the components were homologated with the FIA. Suspensions could be modified, provided they were of the same type and used the original mounting points as the production road car.
Over time the reality became far removed from what had been proposed and Group A found itself embroiled in even more problems than the categories it had replaced. Group A was abandoned from the European Touring Car Championship in 1988, lingered on in Australia until 1991 and was finally dropped from Germany, the last country, after the 1994 season.
The Canny Scott
Born in 1946, Tom Walkinshaw began racing in an MG Midget in 1968, and was soon competing in Formula Ford. By 1970 he was driving in a Lotus in Formula 3 and later raced in F5000 and F2.
In 1974 he won his class in the BTCC, driving a Capri for Ford, and two years later he established his own racing team, Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), driving BMWs. That year he won the Silverstone Six-hour with John Fitzpatrick.
TWR worked as a consulting firm, dev-eloping race and road cars for numerous manufacturers.
In 1982, Walkinshaw scored a deal with Jaguar to develop the XJS as a racing car and immediately began to get results. Jaguar came on board with full factory support for 1983 and the following year TWR dominated the ETCC and took the title, winning seven races, with Walkinshaw being crowned champion.
The year included 1-2-3 finishes at Enna-Pegusa 500km and Brno 600km as well as winning the Spa 24-hour outright.
The same year Jaguar approached TWR to develop the XJR project for the World Sports Car Championship. In 1985 TWR switched to the 3.5lt V8 Rover Vitesse for the ETCC, while continuing to develop the XJR for WSCC.
While the ETCC started well, with 1-2-3 finishes in the first two rounds, they were plagued with problems for the middle of the season but again performed well toward the end, with a 1-2 at Silverstone and 1-2-3 at Nogaro in France.
Meanwhile, the WSCC was approached methodically with a three-year plan. In 1986 TWR Jaguar won one race, the Silverstone six hour. The following year they won the Championship, with eight wins from ten races, while in 1988 and 1990 they won Le Mans.
In 1988 TWR also took over the Jaguar XJR programme for the IMSA championship in the US. The previous year TWR formed a partnership with Holden in Australia, creating Holden Special Vehicles, after Holden had parted ways with Peter Brock’s HDT operation over the infamous Energy Polariser saga. Their first vehicle was the Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV homologation special, and spawned the Holden Racing Team that won Bathurst in 1990.
Walkinshaw had a foray into Formula 1, joining Benetton as Director of Engineering in 1990 and owning the Arrows team between 1996 and 2002. However, the spiraling costs of F1 saw the demise of TWR and all assets sold off in 2002.
Walkinshaw had recovered financially enough by 2005 to start Walkinshaw Performance in Melbourne in 2007, bought part of HRT and all of Australia’s home-grown sports car maker, Elfin. TWR took complete control of HRT from Mark Skaife in December 2008, and the team went on to win Bathurst in 2009 and 2011.
Walkinshaw died in 2010 after a short battle with cancer.
Take One At Bathurst
It was during the hectic and successful period in the mid-1980s that Tom Walkinshaw first got a taste of the Mt Panorama circuit at Bathurst, and it was certainly a case of mixed fortunes.
Jaguar Rover Australia (JRA) at the time wanted to promote the Rover Vitesse and organised for Walkinshaw to prepare and enter two cars in the 1984 Bathurst 1000, sponsored by Mobil in its first tentative foray into Australian racing.
That year was the first that Group A was included at Bathurst, and the final year for Group C. The Rovers were entered in the Group A class, dominating the class completely, running two to three seconds a lap quicker than their nearest BMW rivals. Jeff Allam and Armin Hahne won the Group A class and finished twelfth outright; four laps ahead of the second-placed BMW.
Team boss and lead driver, Tom Walkinshaw, was in a Group C Jaguar XJS owned and prepared by 1977 Bathurst-winner John Goss. Goss had raced the car since 1980 and it had morphed into what was once described as “a bewinged and flared monster”.
Walkinshaw found it quite a handful, but the team still managed to put the car in eighth place on the grid at the end of official practice. Reportedly using one of TWR’s potent Group A engines for qualifying, the Jaguar was clocked at 290km/h (180mph) on Conrod straight.
However, gremlins appeared during the Hardies Heroes and the car was unable to complete its second run – the Top Ten shootout then being over two one-lap runs – and had to start from tenth spot.
When the flag fell, Walkinshaw dropped the clutch, which disintegrated, leaving the car stranded on the grid. More than thirty cars got past without incident, but the Camaro of John Tesoriero glanced off the side of the Jaguar, pushing it across the right side of the track, and spun into the path of Peter Williamson’s Toyota Supra. The result was three smashed cars blocking the track, an inconsolable Williamson and the race red-flagged and re-started – with three fewer cars.
In an interview shown during the Great Race telecast in 1985, Walkinshaw said: “For quite a few years we wanted to do Bathurst and there was always a conflicting ETC race or something that prevented us from doing it. Then last year we got the opportunity to do it, the calendar permitted it, so we came down there and we ran the Jag down there, and after seeing the place and coming away with our tail between our legs we decided we just had to go back, come what may and try and do it properly.”
Back With a Vengeance
With an almost open-book sponsorship from JRA, Walkinshaw returned to Bathurst in 1985, armed with the three ETCC XJS Jaguars, on a mission to win the race.
“The three Jaguars were the sensation of Bathurst”, Brad Leach wrote in Australian Motor Racing Year 1985/86. Never had this country seen the likes of the Tom Walkinshaw team which arrived at Bathurst with the three superb racing XJS coupes, a mountain of spares and what looked like the entire 1985 production run of Dunlop Denloc tyres. The operation oozed professionalism and that cool way of getting the job done that typifies European racing teams.”
TWR’s driver line-up was very impressive. Walkinshaw would be sharing the lead Jaguar, number 8, with Win Percy, who had won the previous year’s 500km events at Monza, Donnington and Salzberg. The pair had also won the Spa 24-hour together in 1984.
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The BMC Experience Issue 15. Oct-Dec 2015 Magazine
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