Ade­laide GP cir­cuit

Australian Muscle Car - - Sacred Sites -

Ade­laide is a sleepy lit­tle place that has a lot of churches. That’s the stereo­typ­i­cal view of the South Aus­tralian cap­i­tal held in larger cen­tres such as archri­val Mel­bourne. But while Mel­bourne likes to think of it­self as the sport­ing cap­i­tal of the world, it was Ade­laide which se­cured for Aus­tralia the seem­ingly unattain­able holy grail of world motorsport – a For­mula 1 grand prix.

Where Mel­bourne and Syd­ney had failed, in 1985 Ade­laide un­ex­pect­edly suc­ceeded in bring­ing the World Driv­ers’ Cham­pi­onship to our shores. The cir­cuit the South Aus­tralians de­vised to host the first Aus­tralian For­mula 1 grand prix was thrown to­gether in a ridicu­lously short time­frame, but it turned out to be a mag­nif­i­cent venue, some­thing un­like any­thing F1 had ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

For 11 years Ade­laide played host not merely to the fi­nal round of the cham­pi­onship but an end-of-sea­son F1 party that just about took over the en­tire city.

Mel­bourne has the GP now but, as good an event as the Al­bert Park race is, it’s just not the same. Ade­laide was small enough for the grand prix to be the big­gest thing in town; in Mel­bourne, it’s just an­other event.

But while Ade­laid­i­ans were miffed to see the grand prix fly east across the bor­der, things turned out all right in the end. The an­nual Group A sup­port races had shown that the Park­lands cir­cuit was a great place for tour­ing car rac­ing. So when V8 Su­per­cars Aus­tralia kicked into gear in the late ’90s, and wanted to put on a city street race ex­trav­a­ganza, the old F1 cir­cuit was the ob­vi­ous choice.

A whole new event was born on a short­ened ver­sion of the GP track. The Ade­laide 500 might have lacked the glamour of the F1 race but it had real home­grown ap­peal – it was kerb-jump­ing, wall-crunch­ing Holden-vs-Ford muscle car ac­tion at its best.

The Ade­laide 500’s suc­cess pro­vided the Tony Cochrane-led V8 Su­per­cars cir­cus with the tem­plate for fu­ture growth and, rightly or wrongly, state govern­ment or ter­ri­tory event fund­ing. But none of that would have hap­pened had the Ade­laid­i­ans not got things so right with the orig­i­nal, full 3.78km cir­cuit. This is the story of that first, longer track.

the pro­posed New York street race fi­nally fall­ing over, Ec­cle­stone had gaps to fill in the ’85 F1 cal­en­dar.

It left the South Aus­tralians just 10 months to stage the race on a venue that didn’t yet ex­ist – they didn’t even have a firm lo­ca­tion at that point!

They (quickly) set­tled on the Vic­to­ria Park horse rac­ing track end of the vast Ade­laide Park Lands. Bob Barnard de­vised a 3.8km lay­out that com­bined ex­ist­ing city roads with a new sec­tion of bi­tu­men that crossed in­side the horse track. The main straight and F1 pits were thus lo­cated on the in­side of the horse track, in the style of the old War­wick Farm, but un­like ‘the Farm’ (and Sandown), the Ade­laide track utilised al­most none of the horse rac­ing fa­cil­ity’s ex­ist­ing grand­stands (while the horse track is now gone, its ma­jes­tic 1880s-era grand­stand re­mains in place to­day, where it al­ways was, about 50 me­tres too far away to pro­vide what would have been a mag­nif­i­cent van­tage point of the car track).

While the se­ries of left/right bends from Wake­field Street through to Hutt Street and East Ter­race were set to a back­drop of Ade­laide city build­ings that left no doubt that this was a citys­treet cir­cuit, else­where it had the look and feel of a per­ma­nent road course.

The sweeper onto De­quet­teville Ter­race was a big, fast open corner, and the fol­low­ing se­quence of spe­cially-laid track, cul­mi­nat­ing in that wild first-corner chi­cane, made it a street cir­cuit with a dif­fer­ence.

The ’85 race was an un­qual­i­fied suc­cess. Fi­nally, F1 had ar­rived down un­der, and the South Aus­tralians had done their coun­try proud. The event ran like clock­work, it at­tracted a ca­pac­ity crowd, and was rated by F1 driv­ers and Ec­cle­stone alike as the best grand prix of the year.

The event left its mark on the lo­cals, too. If we’d had to wait a long time for F1 to reach our shores, it ar­rived at the right time, as this was bang in the mid­dle of the bru­tal mid-’80s turbo era, where spe­cial one-lap qual­i­fy­ing en­gines with in­sane boost lev­els ex­ceeded 1000 horse­power.

Of course, it wasn’t just F1 cars that raced in the Ade­laide Park­lands. The lo­cal tour­ing cars were there from the be­gin­ning – and they made for spec­tac­u­lar view­ing. It was at that first event that Dick John­son scored his one and only race vic­tory in the two years he ran the Greens-Tuf Mus­tang.

Among Dick’s op­po­nents was emerg­ing F1 star Ger­hard Berger, the Aus­trian hav­ing a bit of fun in a BMW 635 CSi in the Group A races be­fore jump­ing into his Ar­rows-BMW for the GP. Hard to imag­ine Daniel Ric­cia­rdo lin­ing up in a Red Bull HRT Com­modore in the Su­per­cars races at Al­bert Park, but [ED: be­fore the elit­ist F1 scene be­came too pre­cious] they used to do things like that back in the day...

The fol­low­ing year we were treated to the spec­ta­cle of Al­lan Grice at per­haps the peak of his pow­ers. Fresh not just from vic­tory at Bathurst in the Chick­adee Com­modore, but also a sea­son of Euro­pean Group A that sharp­ened his skills and pro­vided Grice with per­sonal vin­di­ca­tion of his trade­mark force­ful driv­ing style (for which he’d of­ten been crit­i­cised in Aus­tralia), Grice was un­stop­pable. No one at­tacked the Ade­laide kerbs quite like Gricey…

The fi­nal-round, end-of-term party feel­ing that made the Ade­laide GP so much fun for the vis­it­ing F1 cir­cus also per­me­ated the lo­cal tour­ing car fra­ter­nity. It was the last race of the year – ex­cept when it was a round of the South Pa­cific Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship, not that any­one cared much about that – so the re­sult es­sen­tially counted for lit­tle other than brag­ging rights.

It meant that some­times what hap­pened in Ade­laide was a bit out of kil­ter with the rest of the sea­son. This was true of 1988, when Larry Perkins and Denny Hulme fin­ished first and sec­ond in their HSV Com­modore VLs, with day­light third af­ter the Ade­laide sum­mer heat took care of John­son’s turbo Sier­ras. At Bathurst only a month or so ear­lier the new TWR Group A VLs had been to­tally out­classed.

Ade­laide was, for most, the first ex­pe­ri­ence of street-cir­cuit rac­ing. Need­less to say, there were plenty of mishaps. One of the most mem­o­rable un­hinged mo­ments came in 1990 when Mark Skaife banged the in­side kerb at the Sweeper a lit­tle too hard and put the new Nis­san GT-R on its lid. Two years later Peter Brock emerged un­scathed from a big im­pact with the wall at the chi­cane af­ter ‘some­thing broke’ on the Mo­bil Com­modore VP.

The fol­low­ing year, at the end of the first full sea­son of what we now call Su­per­cars, Perkins ac­cused Glenn Se­ton of not try­ing in the Ade­laide races, in what Larry sup­posed was a sand­bag­ging at­tempt by the Ford driver to avoid a par­ity ad­just­ment. That same week­end saw Wayne Gard­ner claim his first tour­ing car race win, in what was also the for­mer mo­tor­cy­cle champ’s last out­ing with the HRT be­fore he went off to as­sem­ble the Coca-Cola backed Wayne Gard­ner Rac­ing.

John Bowe had had to wait 10 years to win at Ade­laide when he topped the tour­ers in ’94 – but then went back-to-back the next year. Just as a DJR Ford had won the first Ade­laide GP tour­ing car event, so too did one claim the fi­nal race. To the dis­may of most South Aus­tralians,

the dreaded Vic­to­ri­ans had ne­go­ti­ated in se­cret with Ec­cle­stone to steal away the race. The AGP would now be held in Mel­bourne, but not be­fore an Aus­tralian one day sport­ing at­ten­dance record was set, of­fi­cially 205,000.

That seemed to be the end for the 3.78km grand prix lay­out.

How­ever, the track was re­vived in 2000 to host the grandly named ‘Race of a Thou­sand Years’. This in­no­va­tive con­cept called for a 1000km en­duro for Le Mans and GT-type sports cars – on New Year’s Eve (hence the name), the un­furl­ing of the che­quered flag planned to roughly co­in­cide with the stroke of mid­night as 2001 was sum­moned in with a track­side fire­works dis­play.

It was a great idea and it at­tracted a big crowd – even if they were forced to pre­ma­turely end it at 850km so the race could fin­ish be­fore the end of the year…).

It was part of a planned Asia-Pa­cific Le Mans Se­ries (APLMS), but when the APLMS failed to fire, the Ade­laide race was shelved – even though the in­ten­tion had been to run it over the next nine years.

Not that too much sleep was lost over the pre­ma­ture demise of the Race of a Thou­sand Years. By then, of course, the Park­lands venue had been re­con­fig­ured as the home of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent event – one which to­day has en­dured even longer than the orig­i­nal Ade­laide AGP.

s ap M e gl oo G

Top: Ade­laide comes alive in ’85 with the first Aus­tralian F1 GP Above and left: F1 star Ger­hard Berger raced in the 1985 F1 GP and the lo­cal tour­ing car sup­port race. In­set above: The orig­i­nal pro­posed lay­out. Be­low: Ade­laide was packed to the rooftops.

Left: The old lay­out saw cars (like Pi­quet’s Brab­ham) pass­ing the Ade­laide Fruit and Pro­duce Ex­change. Main: Hit­ting the streets was an unique facet of late 1980s/early ’90s tour­ing car rac­ing. This is 1991. Be­low left: Same year, the HRT Com­modores of Brad Jones and To­mas Mez­era em­bar­rass­ingly clashed. Bot­tom left: Grice at­tacked the kerbs like no other. Bot­tom right: The early years of ‘Su­per­cars’ (‘94 seen here) was a fu­ture glimpse of the Ade­laide 500. Be­low cen­tre: It fi­nally ended for the GP track with the in­no­va­tive Race of a Thou­sand Years in 2000.

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