MO­TOR SPORT FLASH­BACK W

Can it re­ally be 30 years since For­mula 1 came Down Un­der — and 20 since rac­ing en­thu­si­asts last ven­tured to South Aus­tralia’s mag­nif­i­cent cap­i­tal for the 11th and last Grand Prix there?

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motor Sport Flashback - By Michael Clark

hen it was first pro­posed that the For­mula 1 (F1) world cham­pi­onship come to Aus­tralia, the log­i­cal as­sump­tion was that Mel­bourne or Syd­ney would host the event — or per­haps some­where like the Gold Coast would sneak in with a glitzy bid that would com­ple­ment the razzmatazz of F1.

Sleepy Ade­laide — the ‘City of Churches’ — was about as far re­moved from the glam­our of in­ter­na­tional sport as it was pos­si­ble to get.

I well re­call the com­ment of a Syd­ney­based journo I had be­friended on my an­nual pil­grim­age to Ade­laide, as we dined at one of the city’s won­der­ful seafood restau­rants on the eve of the event’s fi­nal hur­rah in 1995: “You know, Clarkie, the only state cap­i­tal less sig­nif­i­cant than this place is Hobart — no one took this place se­ri­ously for F1 yet you and I have been to ev­ery one of them, and it’s still as good as ever.” He was right! Bob Mcmur­ray has said, “It was the best place for a Grand Prix (GP) ever, ever — we al­ways went there af­ter Ja­pan, and it was a two-week af­fair. The or­ga­niz­ers put on sail­ing, kart­ing com­pe­ti­tions, wine tours — and that was even be­fore the freight ar­rived. Th­ese days, ev­ery cir­cuit puts on a con­cert af­ter the race — but who was first? Best of all, you could just walk back to your ho­tel af­ter­wards.”

Ade­laide Alive!

I still re­mem­ber the Qan­tas cap­tain, back in 1985, dip­ping the plane so that pas­sen­gers on the left-hand side could get a view of the track.

‘Ade­laide Alive!’ posters filled the ter­mi­nal, as lo­cals strug­gled to be­lieve that they had cap­tured such a pres­ti­gious event. Shops along Run­dle Mall bought into the F1 cir­cus with posters and themed dis­plays, while a bak­ery showed off its GP car– shaped cake. This en­thu­si­asm wasn’t con­fined to 1985 when it was all new and novel, ei­ther — the pub­lic buy-in lasted right un­til last race in 1995.

Ar­guably, part of F1’s love of Ade­laide came about be­cause it was al­ways the fi­nal race on the cal­en­dar.

As Mcmur­ray said, “It had that end of term feel­ing” and, while the cham­pi­onship was all sewn up when we ar­rived for that first race in ’85, there were the years when the Ade­laide round de­ter­mined who would be crowned world cham­pion.

Ade­laide — and, to be fair, Mel­bourne as well — fol­lowed the Bri­tish GP’S lead of hav­ing an ac­tion-packed pro­gramme. At some GPS, the F1 race is the only event of the day, but that was not the case at Ade­laide — and, as with the shop dis­plays on Run­dle Mall, there was never any let up in the qual­ity and quan­tity of track ac­tion. On the cir­cuit were His­toric Tour­ing Cars, races for Aus­tralian open-wheeler cat­e­gories in the days when they had such thing, old rac­ing car demon­stra­tions, plus the oblig­a­tory celebrity race.

In 1985, the celebs were in Mit­subishis and fea­tured — wait for it — ac­tual rac­ing driv­ers rather than footie play­ers or in­mates. Denny Hulme rep­re­sented New Zealand — I’d sat be­hind him on the flight over to Aus­tralia, and econ­omy class was good enough for a world cham­pion back then!

Not that the ac­tion was con­fined to the track — a Pitt Spe­cial daz­zled, but that wasn’t the only air­borne fea­ture. You’ll have heard peo­ple say, ‘I nearly leapt out of my skin’? Well, I’ve seen it hap­pen: first came the ‘BOOM’ — much as you’d imag­ine the end of the world might sound. Then, as the peo­ple around us re­turned to their skins, we caught sight of it — whether it was an F-111 or an F/A-18, I can’t re­call; it re­ally didn’t mat­ter — it was F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I- C! This be­came a reg­u­lar fea­ture, but, a few years later the sonic boom caused some­one to have a heart at­tack and there­after they al­ways an­nounced its im­pend­ing ar­rival.

That first year, on the Fri­day af­ter­noon, we snuck out early — dur­ing the Group A qual­i­fy­ing. I know what you’re think­ing: why go all that way and not take in ev­ery se­cond of ac­tion avail­able? What could pos­si­bly be at­trac­tive enough to drag an F1 tragic away from a GP week­end? Ladies and gen­tle­men, I give you: the Barossa Val­ley. In sub­se­quent years, we be­came smart enough to get to Ade­laide a day ear­lier so as to spend all of the four days at the track and make the leisurely trip to the Barossa. If you like wine, es­pe­cially Shi­raz, there can­not be any­where else on the planet where so much, within such a con­fined area, is just wait­ing for your taste buds.

Hot stuff

In 1985, the heat never gave up. As we walked to­wards the train sta­tion af­ter Satur­day qual­i­fy­ing, it seemed hot­ter at 6pm than it had been at noon. Race day — Novem­ber 3 — was no dif­fer­ent, as we watched the for­ma­tion lap from our grand­stand just be­fore the last cor­ner that led onto the front straight. Did I men­tion it was hot?

It was to be Niki Lauda’s last GP and, while one su­per­star was leav­ing, an­other su­per­star had emerged loud and clear dur­ing the course of the year — Ayr­ton Senna. It was the Brazil­ian’s black and gold Lotus on pole, with Nigel Mansell along­side for the Wil­liams team. The English­man had won his first GP a month ear­lier and fol­lowed it up with vic­tory in the next round in South Africa, so he was look­ing for a hat­trick. The name most fa­mil­iar to all the Ki­wis who’d made the trip was next in line — Keke Ros­berg, the win­ner of the 1977 and 1978 New Zealand GPS, with Mclaren’s new world cham­pion, Alain Prost, along­side him. Then came the Fer­raris and the rest, in­clud­ing World Cham­pi­ons Nelson Pi­quet, Lauda, and Alan Jones.

The race had its mo­ments — Mansell grabbed the lead but col­lided with Senna and was out. The Brazil­ian then scrapped away with Ros­berg in the other Wil­liams Honda af­ter the Finn took an early ad­van­tage. The heat was de­stroy­ing tyres — un­less you were Niki Lauda, who had looked af­ter his and was mov­ing up to the point at which a fairy-tale end to an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer looked like cap­ping off Ade­laide’s in­tro­duc­tion to world-class sport, un­til he found a wall in the way just af­ter two-thirds dis­tance. That put Senna back in the lead, but he was soon out. Ros­berg re­took the lead and held on to win Ade­laide’s first, and his last, GP.

At the max­i­mum two-hour length, Ade­laide had guar­an­teed ev­ery­one got their money’s worth. Driv­ers col­lapsed

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