The winds of change
It’s 25 years since the seeds of touring car revolution were sewn that would eventually see Group A exotica replaced with a formula for V8 Aussie sedans – a category that has dominated the landscape to this day.
Sunday October 6, 1991 will go down in local motor racing history as the day a Japanese manufacturer first won Australia’s Great Race. Tied to Nissan’s victory in the 1991 Tooheys 1000 was the beginning of the end for the international Group A touring car category. In fact, the winds of change began to gain strength and blow across Mount Panorama’s paddock area midway through that very race.
While the twin-turbo,4WD Nissan GT-R of Jim Richards and Mark Skaife pounded forth on its relentless demonstration of technological superiority, the vanquished – Holden and Ford – issued an historic joint statement. Mid-race!
CAMS had been expected to announce the 1993 touring car rules during the Bathurst 1991 weekend, but the confederation held off until the international governing body, FISA, tied down its plans for a global Group A replacement.
Holden and Ford grew impatient and circulated a statement demanding CAMS take action. At the bottom were the signatures of Holden Motorsport’s John Lindell and Ford’s racing boss, Peter Gillitzer.
“Both companies have been working closely with CAMS for many months to assist the drafting of the regulations involving locally manufactured, volume-selling V8engined cars,” their statement read. “The draft regulations relating to 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre cars however are too poorly defined for GMHA and Ford to establish a position on participation.”
“GMHA and Ford therefore call on CAMS to issue final regulations for 1992 and 1993 by Monday October 21, 1991,” it continued. “Failing the release of regulations by this date recognising the importance of maintaining the competitiveness of interested local manufacturers, Ford and GMHA will look to other forms of motorsport to present interesting and close racing between popular, market-relevant cars.”
The statement was probably fair enough from Holden’s perspective, as the company had an unbroken history of supporting local racing dating back to 1968. Coming from Ford, however, such an ultimatum was a bit rich, as the Blue Oval blew in and (mostly) out of local racing with monotonous regulatory since it had folded its works team in early 1974.
October 21 came and went with no significant repercussions and it was nine months before another party, the Seven Network, brought the situation to a head.
What happened next is now revealed on the following pages, in an extract from the new CAMS – The Official History book, celebrating 60 years of the governing body.
June 12, 1992 a disparate group of parties gathered at the Seven Network’s head offices at 1 Pacific Highway, North Sydney. Present were Bob Campbell and Mike Raymond representing Seven’s interests, Holden executive and passionate supporter of the local car industry Rob McEniry, Ford Australia’s Ian Vaughan, Shell’s Tom Smith, CAMS president John Large and CAMS Queensland State Councillor David Tait.
The meeting was set up by Raymond, the network’s long-serving executive producer of Seven Motor Sport and sports director of ATN7 Sydney, at the behest of Seven’s Sydney station manager Bob Campbell.
“Allan Tyson, then the CEO of Seven, Bob (Campbell) and I shared a belief that an Aussie V8 Ford versus Holden competition was long overdue,” recalled Raymond. “The mail and calls we were taking supported this view.”
The concern of Seven and Shell was that after seven years of Group A touring car racing largely dominated by foreign makes, Australian motorsport was in the doldrums. Crowds and television audiences were falling. Grids were also modest due to the high cost of running Group A cars. To bring greater relevancy to the racetrack, a formula was proposed which put the two most popular Australian marketplace motor vehicles into tight combat, both powered by pushrod five-litre V8 engines of similar power. Holden and Ford opportunistically saw a wonderful chance for their Commodore and Falcon to dominate. It was a heaven-sent, golden marketing opportunity to push their locally made family sedans.
“All the players had tried hard to keep Group A racing alive, said Raymond. “Seven had driven the Group A agenda since day one, given nonstop publicity and coverage to the class. The World Touring Car Championship at the 1987 Bathurst 1000 and exotic internationals like the Eggenberger Sierras and Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguars gave us and Group A racing breathing space. However, the inevitable was always lurking...
“David Tait and John Large from CAMS were invited to the meeting by me because they were straight shooters. I told them we needed to make some hard but far-reaching decisions and they were the two I trusted.”
The proposal for a V8 series was outlined. Shell’s Tom Smith supported the idea, while the Ford and Holden representatives both agreed that their companies would support a V8 Holden and Ford category for the following year’s championship.
Anxious for the small car versus big car challenge to continue, Mike Raymond also pushed for a competitive class to allow Frank Gardner’s factory BMW team to participate in the new-look ATCC. “Frank was keen but BMW Australia wouldn’t have a bar of it... which opened the door for Colin Bond’s two-litre Toyotas.
“If Tait and Large had said no to the introduction of V8s on that day at North Sydney, Seven was out of touring cars after Bathurst that year, Shell had indicated it would exit after the ATCC, and Holden and Ford had also supported a withdrawal from the sport”
“If Tait and Large had said no to the introduction of V8s on that day at North Sydney, Seven was out of touring cars after Bathurst that year, Shell had indicated it would exit after the ATCC, and Holden and Ford had also supported a withdrawal from the sport,” Raymond said.
There was really only one decision to make. CAMS had effectively been delivered a fait accompli. Opposing the proposal could have meant a schism in Australian motor sport, with CAMS possibly losing its sole National Sporting Association (known as ASN) status with the FIA.
“Tait and Large contacted the various board members at CAMS overnight and we met the next morning to shake hands and nut out a deal,” Raymond explained. The green light to the V8 formula shaped Australian motor sport for the next two decades.
With the touring car series sponsor Shell, the championship telecaster and two major local car makers all supporting change, CAMS rubberstamped the new direction for the series. The turbocharged Nissan GTRs and Ford Sierras that had proved so dominant were banished. Existing normally-aspirated cars such as the BMW 3 Series could continue to compete but the rules clearly favoured the Falcons and Commodores. BMW didn’t stay around much longer, moving to a new Super Touring Championship for 2.0-litre cars. Nissan simply walked away (and stayed away until 2013, when it returned as a player in V8 Supercars racing).
CAMS announced two new classes – 5.0-litre
Australian touring cars and 2.0-litre FIA Class II touring cars – later to be known respectively as V8 Supercars and Super Touring Cars.
Starting at Sydney’s Amaroo Park Raceway on February 28 1993, both categories ran together in the touring car championship and in the Bathurst 1000 of that year.
Group A racing was history and the new touring car grids (still quite thin in the start-up phase) were inhabited by local Ford EB Falcons and Holden VP Commodores, plus the non-V8 contenders – Toyota Corollas and 2.5-litre BMW M3s.
Glenn Seton and Peter Jackson Ford teammate Alan Jones were the best prepared of the lot, racing to a dominant one-two in the ’93 Australian Touring Car Championship. But Holden’s Larry Perkins and Gregg Hansford won the Bathurst 1000 of that year with a Commodore.
This wasn’t the start of V8 Supercars, but that summit in North Sydney was the trigger for its ultimate emergence four years later. Extract from the new CAMS – The OfficialOffifificial History book, celebrating 60 years of the governing body. This is just one of 500-page tome’s fascinating insights to the decisions that shaped the sport. The book is available from cams.com.au