Six-lap slap: Brock's Bathurst '79-winning A9X
One of the most celebrated Bathurst 1000-winning cars, the A9X that won in 1979 remains one of the most lightly raced Great Race victors.
The days of dominant victories in the Bathurst 1000 are consigned to history. In fact, you have to go back to 1991 and Nissan’s allconquering twin-turbo all-wheel-drive GT-R to find the last time a car claimed victory by a lap or more at the end of a long day at Mount Panorama.
The modern V8 Supercar era – for all of its criticisms – inevitably produces a nail-biting finish to the race, courtesy of the Safety Car, that leaves the nation on the edge of its collective seats.
But it was one of those confidence-smashing multi-lap margin victorious results of the ‘old days’ that is celebrated as perhaps one of the greatest feats in Bathurst history by its greatest exponent – Peter Geoffrey Brock. And the car that did it is revered as one of the greatest Australian touring cars of all time.
Brock and Kiwi Jim Richards simply dominated the 1979 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Bathurst. Actually, ‘dominated’ is too nice a word. They bloody well owned it. Their familiar #05 Marlboro Holden Dealer Team A9X Torana was placed on pole position by Brock in Saturday morning’s Hardies Heroes by a margin of just under two seconds.
Then said pilot blew them into the weeds on the opening lap to score an instant upper hand on the opposition.
Then both drivers extended the lead and led every single one of the 163 laps, really sticking it to the breathless and lifeless pack when Brock punched out a new lap record (2 minutes 21.1) on the very last lap to ram home the point.
It was a war-zone-like ambush. Their enemies were left shell-shocked, in awe and decimated by the vice-like grip the duo had on the race and the way they simply crushed any challenge before it had even had a chance to draw breath. And the winning margin? Six laps. Yep, six bloody laps. Just over 37 kilometres of embarrassment for the rest of the pack.
It was the type of dominant performance you couldn’t script and it brought down the curtain of 10 years of Toranas racing in the annual October enduro that had netted a total of five victories – three of them claimed by the Holden Dealer Team and four by Brock (who had also won as a privateer in 1975).
Last issue AMC told the story of the 1978 Bathurst-winning A9X Torana, one that illustrated a colourful racing life of a car that was actually saved from the scrapheap.
Many motorsport followers in this country would have you believe that the 1978 and 1979 Bathurst winners were the same vehicles – they most certainly were not.
And just as those victories had their unique differences in how they were won and how the opposition lost, so too do the vehicles.
The 1978 car already had a winning history before it conquered the Mountain and then had further life as the team’s sister car for John Harvey, while the 1979 car would find itself having one of the shortest racing shelf lives of a top-line race car in Australian motorsport history, being raced across the one season.
While it was short, it was nothing short of spectacular on the results sheet.
This is its life story.
A star is born
bodyshell of the 1979 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 winner was manufactured in late 1977 at GM-H’s Dandenong, Victoria plant. It was then walked down the line with a number of road car processes skipped in the interest of saving weight and construction time for HDT.
The ‘79 Bathurst winner made its racing debut in the opening round of that year’s Australian Touring Car Championship, at Symmons Plains in Tasmania.
Brock and Bob Morris, who would ultimately claim the title that year, clashed on the exit of the hairpin and that opened the door for Brock’s teammate John Harvey to win in the A9X that had won the Bathurst classic the previous year.
Brock bounced back with a victory at Calder before finishing third at Oran Park and Sandown then claiming victory at Wanneroo (despite a brake problem that sent him into a spin and later a half spin) and Surfers Paradise.
Scoring pole position at Lakeside put Brock in the best place possible at Lakeside after the
championship had taken a six-week break, though he fluffed the start and dropped back into the pack.
A cut tyre that prompted a trip to pit lane (plus a one minute penalty for a push start when #05 wouldn’t re-fire) left him fifth at the finish as Morris went on to win.
That set up a ‘winner take all’ final round at Adelaide International Raceway and, in short, Morris stood tall when it mattered most. The Ron Hodgson Racing pilot started alongside pole man Brock and the duo duked it out for the entire 34 laps with the result in favour of the Sydneysider. This classic season-long battle was told in detail in AMC #11.
While the ATCC may have eluded Brock and the HDT, their lead A9X would show its rivals no mercy when the big endurance races came around.
The eventual Bathurst-winning car led home an HDT 1-2 with Harvey second (a lap behind) at Sandown in what was also the first round of the Australian Championship of Makes made up of a handful of endurance races, though not including Bathurst.
The win from pole gave Brock an incredible fifth straight Sandown enduro race win, a streak that would finally stretch to seven and 1981 before it was broken.
Then came the well-publicised, dominant weekend at Bathurst that put
Brock, Richards and the Torana into the history books with Richards spending 47 laps at the wheel and Brock 116 on race day.
“One of the things Allan Moffat said to me about that race was that we would have won that race on fuel economy alone, because everyone was coming in around high 30s, early 40s and we were out there until lap 46 or something,” recalls then HDT manager John Sheppard.
“From our point of view we thought ‘how good is this?’ We were still going fast, doing good fuel consumption. That’s the sort of thing that gets to people at a 1000kilometre race because the opposition watches you and those things go into their heads.
“The car was fastest in practice, qualified on pole, led every lap and got the lap record on the last lap. I wasn’t even aware that had happened until later. It wasn’t like Brock rang up (on the radio) to say ‘I’m going for a fast lap’. He just did it and that was the end result. He was supremely confident in the car.
“People say you’ve got to have a long distance state of tune or a sprint state of tune. We didn’t. The car went there exactly as it used to run in all the sprint races – and it sprinted for 1000 kays!”
For co-driver Richards it gave him his second Bathurst victory.
“We didn’t even realise that we were in front by that much as the race went on,” he recalls.
“We just drove the car as hard as we could in each stint and it just happened. I was brought in to do that one race each year. It set my career up to say to people ‘hey, he can drive a touring car as well’. It was a pleasure to drive.”
1979 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 winner The ’79 Bathurst winner is unrestored and remains as it last raced – stone chips, rub marks and all. It’s part of the Bowden’s Own collection. #05 Marlboro Holden Dealer Team Holden LX Torana A9X hatchback
Peter Brock/Jim Richards
Left: This chassis had a much tougher time of it in the 1979 ATCC than at Bathurst. Below and right: With its tan interior, the ’79 winner is easily distinguishable from the ’78 winner. No backseat drivers, not with the rearseat permanently folded forward.
Left: With a six-lap Bathurst victory, this is arguably Holden’s greatest touring car. Discuss. Below left: Drop tank – drop dead gorgeous.