The day they raced Oran Park in the opposite direction.
It’s an idea that pops up from time-to-time: hold a big-time motor race on a circuit in the opposite direction.
It’s also an April Fools Day chestnut, witness speedcafe.com’s April 1, 2014 news story (illustrated with the shot above) declaring that, “Racing traditions will return to Bathurst in Easter 2015 with a five-day event for V8 Supercars using the full 6.213 kilometre Mt Panorama circuit in reverse for the first time ever.”
You would pray for a good firm pedal heading uphill into Forrest’s Elbow from The Chase, likewise downhill from Griffin’s Bend into Hell!
Of course, in this day and age it’s totally impractical from a safety point-of-view to run any circuit in the reverse direction. All current circuits feature such immovable objects as sandtraps, run-off areas and crash barriers.
Yet, 30 years ago, one circuit, Oran Park, was brave – or foolish – enough to hold a meeting featuring races held in the opposite direction. June 8, 1986’s national level meeting.
This bizarre occurrence came to our attention when an image surfaced on Facebook of Ford Lasers heading the wrong way around Oran Park. AMC contributor Paul Gover shared it and brought it to the attention of former Oran Park Raceway promoter Alan Horsley, who worked at circuit in the 1970s.
“At first I didn’t think they were racing,” Horsley explained. “The guardrail and flag points would be back-to-front. Perhaps they were just doing a U-turn to come back to the grid.
“Then I double-checked and the picture is not faked. On further investigation I found that a race meeting was held in reverse on the eighth of June, 1986.
“It was just mad and I’ll bet there was no insurance cover or correct race permits.”
We don’t know about that, but we can confirm that officials were kept on their toes with formula cars racing on the traditional (long) layout in the regular direction that day, while other categories raced the short circuit in the opposite direction.
Australasian Auto Action declared it to be “Australia’s first ever reverse direction race program. In fact, a total of seven different categories were sent on their way in both directions. Going in the ‘right’ direction (anticlockwise) over the Grand Prix circuit were the Formula 2s and Formula Fords.”
The five categories doing it in reverse were Group E production cars, the Laser series, Queensland Geminis (making a NSW cameo), Appendix J (what’s now Group N) and Sports Sedans. Yes, Sports Sedans. Those wild machines would have been quite a handful getting through the final turn.
Racing Car News’ (and now AMC’s) Bruce Moxon reported that the concept was the brainchild of then promoter Jim Ferguson.
“One of Jim’s recent marketing ploys was to conduct a reverse direction race meeting – something many people have been curious about for some time – and this worked quite well. The spectacle of a full field of cars jostling up the straight to plunge headling into Castrol Corner was a thrill denied racegoers for too long.”
When we searched our archive we found a mere handful of images of that occasion. The most striking was of Bob Tindal’s virginal white Torana hatch battling Steve Reed’s Escort-Chev (now there’s a unique combo!) heading up and over the Dog-leg, which was surely blind in either direction. Mark Skaife was prominent in the Laser series images.
We’d be interested in hearing from competitors via firstname.lastname@example.org, particularly from Sports Sedan competitors, about the challenges the reverse direction layouts tossed up. We imagine the first corner (the final corner, BP, when run in the regular direction) would have been particularly tricky with the wall waiting to suck in any understeering competitor.