Phillip Is­land MkII

Australian Muscle Car - - Resurrected -

Last is­sue we out­lined the his­tory of the orig­i­nal, 4.82km in­car­na­tion of the sea­side Phillip Is­land cir­cuit that op­er­ated be­tween 1956 and 1978. This is­sue we tell the story of how the fa­cil­ity was rein­car­nated as the slightly shorter, 4.45km Phillip Is­land Grand Prix Cir­cuit in time to host the 1989 Aus­tralian Mo­tor­cy­cle Grand Prix.

Fans of four-wheeled motorsport can thank the ‘blokes on spokes’ for the mir­a­cle that oc­curred in the late 1980s, as with­out the quest for an Aus­tralian round of the world cham­pi­onship the track’s re­vival sim­ply would not have taken place.

In fact, if we take a step back, a bloke from Wol­lon­gong de­serves a slap on the back for ris­ing to the top of world mo­tor­cy­cling and cap­tur­ing the sport­ing pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion. As Jim Scays­brook, ed­i­tor of AMC’s sis­ter publi­ca­tion Old Bike wrote, in his book Along for the Ride, “When Wayne Gard­ner won the World 500cc Cham­pi­onship in 1987, it seemed like the en­tire Aus­tralian pop­u­la­tion dis­cov­ered mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously.”

This ex­plo­sion in pop­u­lar­ity meant the eco­nom­ics of com­pletely over­haul­ing the Vic­to­rian cir­cuit be­gan to add up – on pa­per at least. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as all that, but the res­ur­rec­tion was com­pleted.

The re­worked cir­cuit dif­fered from the orig­i­nal ver­sion in three key ways. Firstly, the run into (and out of) the hair­pin now known as Honda Cor­ner was short­ened by some 150 me­tres, MG Cor­ner was opened-up and raised and the cir­cuit re­ceived the high-qual­ity hot-mix sur­face it had long de­served. The tweaks sim­ply pre­served the clas­sic track’s char­ac­ter and mys­tique.

His­tory 101


high­lighted in AMC #88, by the mid-1970s the 4.82km Phillip Is­land lay­out’s sur­face had be­come a patch­work not be-fit­ting a proper race track. It was re­ported that the bridge be­tween San Remo (on main­land Vic­to­ria) and the is­land could not fit the heavy plant equip­ment to do a proper hot-mix sur­fac­ing. The less durable cold mix track de­cayed markedly.

Big-time rac­ing on the orig­i­nal lay­out ended in ’77 and by the early 1980s all rac­ing was dis­con­tin­ued and the own­ers started farm­ing the land. That ap­peared to be the end of the line for the once great cir­cuit.

Lo­cal busi­ness­man Fer­gus Cameron bought the fa­cil­ity from the Lukey fam­ily in 1984 for $800,000. That move would soon change ev­ery­thing.

The same year saw the emer­gence of the Wayne Gard­ner as a force in world mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing’s pre­mier di­vi­sion. And when the ‘Wol­lon­gong Whiz’ won three races in 1986, his suc­cess piqued the in­ter­est of all Aus­tralian sport­ing fans.

A year later Gard­ner was World Cham­pion. By this stage, lo­cal en­thu­si­asts, en­trepreneurs and pol­lies had al­ready sniffed an op­por­tu­nity.

When jour­nal­ists vis­ited Phillip Is­land in Jan­uary 1987, plans to stage Aus­tralia’s first world cham­pi­onship 500cc GP in 1989 were al­ready in the works. When they peered through the fence, they were con­fronted by a di­lap­i­dated track and dozens of sheep munch­ing on grass that had over­grown the pot-holed bi­tu­men. The derelict race con­trol tower was the only real hint that this was once a mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit. The jour­nal­ists spec­u­lated whether the fa­cil­ity would ever be ready.

The re-birth of Phillip Is­land in the late 1980s wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble with­out the vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion of English-born Bob Barnard. Barnard came to the at­ten­tion of the mo­tor

rac­ing fra­ter­nity as the de­signer and cre­ator of the mag­nif­i­cent Ade­laide Park­lands cir­cuit that hosted Aus­tralia’s first World Cham­pi­onship For­mula 1 round in 1985.

A meet­ing be­tween Bob Barnard, Fer­gus Cameron and Wes Brown in 1987 re­sulted in the for­ma­tion a com­pany called Barfield to over­see the re-build­ing of the Phillip Is­land track/in­fras­truc­ture, and the pro­mo­tion of the 1989 Aus­tralian Mo­tor­cy­cle Grand Prix Grand Prix. Barnard had 50 per­cent share­hold­ing in Barfield and Cameron was another sub­stan­tial share­holder. Barnard had suc­cess­fully won the pro­vi­sional rights to the bike grand prix, sub­ject to the cir­cuit be­ing suc­cess­fully ho­molo­gated.

By late 1988, the 375-me­tre shorter new track had been resur­faced and was ready for rac­ing.

The 4.45km lay­out would be­come a favourite among driv­ers across all classes.

Phillip Is­land came of age both in­ter­na­tion­ally and lo­cally at the 1989 Aus­tralian 500 Grand Prix, at­tract­ing a global TV au­di­ence of 300 mil­lion view­ers and 90,000 fans.

“The inau­gu­ral World Cham­pi­onship Grand Prix at Phillip Is­land was al­ways go­ing to be a suc­cess,” wrote Jim Scays­brook in Along for the Ride, “but even the most wildly op­ti­mistic could not have pre­dicted the tri­umph it turned out to be – by any mea­sure the great­est day’s mo­tor­cy­cle sport in the coun­try’s his­tory. With around 100,000 spec­ta­tors bask­ing in the sun­shine around the cir­cuit the at­mos­phere was pos­i­tively elec­tric by the time the 500cc GP got un­der way, and when Wayne Gard­ner rode a sen­sa­tional race to the vic­tory the place pos­i­tively ex­ploded.”

The event promised a taste of what motorsport fans could look for­ward to for decades to come. But for Barnard, his part in the Phillip Is­land sagas ended after the 1990 bike grand prix, also won by Gard­ner. In 1991 Barfield was de­clared in­sol­vent and the lease re­verted back to the orig­i­nal own­ers. The lease was soon trans­ferred to the cir­cuit’s present man­ager, Phillip Is­land Mo­tor

Orig­i­nal Cir­cuit

John­son and Bowe were so pleased when Phillip Is­land re­turned to the ATCC they raised their arms in cel­e­bra­tion! The cir­cuit has claimed some cars in the in­ter­ven­ing years, though.

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