THE LAST GREAT RACE

CRAIG LOWN­DES ON LIFE AF­TER V8 COM­MODORES

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL GOVER

It’s the end of Bathurst as we know it. The Great Race was built on the “win on Sun­day, sell on Mon­day” mantra, as home­grown he­roes Ford and Holden raced hairy-chested V8s de­signed to lure buy­ers into show­rooms. When the check­ered flag falls at Mount Panorama, it will be the last time a V8 Com­modore com­peted on Sun­day and sold on Mon­day. The Com­modore ceases lo­cal pro­duc­tion in a fort­night; its archri­val Fal­con is al­ready gone.

From 2018, Holden’s race­track hero will be a car­toon-style lash-up of the com­ing ZB Com­modore, a car de­signed, de­vel­oped and built in Europe. It is front-wheel drive with a four-cylin­der turbo or all-wheel drive with a V6.

The ZB will race oc­ca­sion­ally as a hy­brid in 2018, mas­saged into a rear-wheel drive Su­per­car with a Chevro­let V8, but Holden’s longer-term dream is to have a V6 Com­modore as its full-time race ace from 2019.

“This week­end is go­ing to be sad. It’s the end of an era,” says Holden hero Craig Lown­des, who has won four times at Bathurst in a Com­modore, pick­ing up the ba­ton for the Red Lion from his friend and men­tor Peter Brock.

“The buzz here at Bathurst is enor­mous. The fans come to see th­ese Aussie V8s.”

Lown­des is stand­ing along­side his Com­modore at Sky­line on a mid­week af­ter­noon, sur­rounded by more than 150 fans who have ar­rived early for the full Bathurst im­mer­sion. They push close, keen for a word and a sig­na­ture and to wish Lown­des luck for his ef­fort in The Great Race with Steven Richards as his co-driver.

Steve Marshall has come from Mel­bourne to Mount Panorama for 21 years and says he is not sur­prised by the com­ing changes to Su­per­cars rac­ing. “It’s just a sign of the times,” he says.

Bathurst has been a bat­tle­field for home­grown V8 mus­cle cars for 50 years. Ford scored with its Fal­con XR GT in 1967 and Holden coun­ter­punched with a Monaro in 1968.

The bat­tle has raged through the years, as show­room-stock gave way to pur­pose-built rac­ers con­structed from ba­sic pro­duc­tion-line bod­ies, be­fore V8 Su­per­cars rules forced the con­ver­sion to pur­pose-built rac­ers with show­room body pan­els.

But race teams have al­ways main­tained a link to the road cars, en­cour­aged — un­til re­cently — by Ford and Holden man­age­ment who be­lieved that “win on Sun­day” mantra.

Ford is out of rac­ing and block­ing plans for a Mus­tang-bod­ied Su­per­cars racer. Holden has wound back its sup­port al­though the crack Triple Eight op­er­a­tion, which now op­er­ates as the of­fi­cial Holden rac­ing team, is de­vel­op­ing a ZF com­pe­ti­tion pro­gram.

Lown­des is happy to talk about the clas­sics at Bathurst but ad­mits his cur­rent Com­modore is just an­other weapon for suc­cess.

“It might be a Com­modore but it’s still a race car for me. And the only thing that’s still truly

Holden is the badge on the front,” he says. “Th­ese days, we make or change or mod­ify ev­ery­thing else on the car.”

But the shape is di­rectly re­lated to the VZ Com­modore, there is a V8 un­der the bon­net — it’s a Chevro­let, not a Holden — and it is fac­ing the Ford Fal­con again at Mount Panorama. That’s enough for the Holden hordes.

“I’m with Holden. I al­ways will be Holden,” says Flynn Leonard, 10, who has ar­rived at Bathurst with his twin Josh and their fa­ther Peter from In­ver­cargill, New Zealand. “I’m Holden as well. I go for Lown­des,” says Josh.

The young­sters are car­ry­ing on the Ford v Holden ri­valry that’s run for gen­er­a­tions, and helped to build the his­tory and mys­tique around The Great Race.

“It’s a tra­di­tion. The great Aussie V8s. Red against blue,” says Bernie Flower, from Gos­ford, NSW — who has been com­ing to Bathurst for 39 years. “Bathurst is V8s. It is Com­modores and Fal­cons. Some­thing will be lost when that ends. It’s go­ing to be a tragedy.”

It’s the same for Peter Valenti, even though the Mel­bur­nian has only been to Mount Panorama twice.

“It’s not go­ing to be the same. I’m a Holden fan and I’m dis­ap­pointed about the end of the Com­modore,” he says.

But Lown­des, al­ways smil­ing and al­ways the op­ti­mist, can still see a bright fu­ture in Su­per­cars.

He hopes rules that al­low looka­like body­work and more en­gine choices can bring more brands to Su­per­cars, just as Nis­san and Volvo — which has since with­drawn — came to join the Fords and Hold­ens.

“We will still have the tra­di­tional flavour but if more man­u­fac­tur­ers come in then we will have more herbs and spices at Bathurst,” he says.

Al­ways the op­ti­mist: Craig Lown­des at Mount Panorama; twins Flynn and Josh Leonard, be­low; fans catch up with Lown­des, be­low left. Pic­tures: Thomas Wi­elecki

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