Tin-top devotees were treated to a tremendous feast of door-banging and paint-trading over the weekend.
On the other side of the world, the magnificent, old-school sweeps of Mount Panorama played host to the Australian V8 Supercar series’ blue-riband marathon, the Bathurst 1000. Antipodean stalwarts Holden and Ford, joined in recent seasons by Mercedes, Nissan and Volvo, waged their annual battle around the circuit’s infamously fast and narrow peaks and troughs.
These big, grunty, bucking-bronco, rear-drive V8s with their agricultural technology (that’s the antithesis of a criticism, you understand) and their Australian-household-name drivers have always attracted a cult following. I was certainly converted when the ‘Great Race’ was aired on telly in the 1980s. The names Peter Brock, Allan Moffat, Larry Perkins, Allan Grice, Jim Richards, Dick Johnson and John Bowe soon resonated as Channel 7’s pioneering onboard footage caught every belch of flame and oversteery moment on ‘The Mountain’, not to mention the colourful and characterful soundbites delivered in that typically gritty-yet-endearing Aussie style.
And the 2015 edition of the six-hour thrash provided a feel-good sixth victory for Mount Panorama’s favourite son, Craig Lowndes. The 41-year-old Melbourne-born veteran guided his Commodore VF to Holden’s 30th Bathurst victory, helped by Richards’ son Steven, who nailed his fourth win. They eclipsed Ford’s fastest Falcon, the FG of championship leader Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen, by just 1.3 seconds.
Lowndes’ win was the reward for a very early get-up. My first visit Down Under included a trip to Bathurst in 1994, where I witnessed an epic win for Johnson and Bowe, by a few metres from a then-20-year-old rookie by the name of Craig Lowndes. Securing a record-breaking 13th podium finish only added to Lowndes’ joy this time round, especially as he surpassed nine-time winner Brock’s top-three tally.
Closer to home, the finale of the British Touring Car Championship came to a spellbinding conclusion around another epic, old-school venue: the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.
‘Watching Shedden carve through the pack in a series that prides itself on (mostly good-natured) argy-bargy was thrilling.’
The climax to a highly competitive, 30-race season during which the championship-lead momentum swung back and forth several times came down to a last-gasp, race-three bout between former champions Jason Plato and Gordon Shedden.
With Honda-mounted Scot Shedden ahead on points but mired towards the back of the grid, and Volkswagen ace Plato on the front row thanks to the reversed-grid lottery after race two, the mathematicians and permutation police were busy working out who had to do what.
What it all boiled down to was that if Plato was running up front, ‘Flash’ Gordon had to fight his way up through the pack and finish at the business end to maintain his points advantage. And that was all the hurry-up the 2012 champion needed, the 36-year-old staging one of the greatest comeback drives the series has ever seen, rising from 19th to fourth – only nine seconds adrift of race winner Plato – to land title #2.
Watching Shedden, who you can watch clinch the Revival’s RAC TT here, carve through the pack in a series that prides itself on (mostly good-natured) argy-bargy was thrilling, the ballast-free Honda (thanks to a poor finish in race two earlier in the day) taking advantage of its rivals wanting to avoid spoiling the outcome.
Plato, who did everything he had to by notching up win #94 in a stellar BTCC career, was gracious in defeat and the spectre of yet another runner-up spot to add to his titles of 2001 and 2010. More wins in 2015 than anyone else, in year one of his tenure with the BMR Volkswagen squad, is a mighty fine effort and he’ll be back for more next year, you can bet.
It was the sort of afternoon that yet again proves why the British Touring Car Championship is our biggest, boldest and, I’m certain, best four-wheeled race series. Although, it would be better still if they all had lairy, rear-drive V8s…
Photography courtesy LAT