Australian Muscle Car - - Back in the Day -

You could say it was cool while it lasted. But it’s more ac­cu­rate to de­clare ‘it was cold while it lasted.’

Can­berra joined the V8 Su­per­car sched­ule in 2000, af­ter the ACT gov­ern­ment saw what the Ade­laide 500 achieved for South Aus­tralia. It was a unique event with a de­mand­ing race­track around the Par­lia­men­tary Triangle, held at the start of win­ter just as the Fed­eral politi­cians were break­ing from their slum­ber and head­ing back into their elec­torates.

The driv­ing force be­hind the event was ACT chief minister ‘Can Do’ Kate Car­nell. In an­nounc­ing the ‘Na­tional Cap­i­tal 100’ in 1999, Car­nell’s po­lit­i­cal spin in­cluded the ab­surd no­tion that Can­berra had edged out bids from Queens­land, West­ern Aus­tralia, Tas­ma­nia and New Zealand to se­cure the stag­ing rights for the race. Oh please...

The Na­tional Cap­i­tal 100 moniker was re­placed by the GMC 400 la­bel, to re ect nam­ing rights spon­sor­ship from a power tool brand.

The GMC 400’s job was to ll ho­tel rooms, restau­rants, cafes and bars on a tra­di­tion­ally quite week­end for tourism and hospi­tal­ity – and show­case the na­tion’s cap­i­tal to the world as a place of ex­cite­ment. Trou­ble was, tele­vi­sion im­ages of freez­ing fans try­ing to avoid hy­pother­mia wasn’t ex­actly the mes­sage Can­berra’s tourist chiefs typ­i­cally ran in their glossy brochures.

V8 Su­per­cars darted be­tween old and new Par­lia­ment Houses over three con­sec­u­tive win­try Queen’s Birth­day long week­ends, 2000-2002. The tight and twisty 3.8km lay­out was de­signed with in­put from Mark Skaife and in­cluded a quick blast on State Cir­cle. The 15-turn cir­cuit skirted Lake Bur­ley Grif­fin, the Na­tional Li­brary, Trea­sury build­ing, Al­bert Hall (a build­ing far more el­e­gant than the jour­nal­ists who worked from it) and var­i­ous em­bassies. It twice passed un­der Com­mon­wealth Av­enue.

For all the im­pres­sive land­marks, the cir­cuit’s most distin­guish­ing feature was its nar­row­ness and lack of pass­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. A per­fect track, then, to in­tro­duce a ded­i­cated re­verse grid race! What were they think­ing?

Sure enough, the in­au­gu­ral event proved a panel-crunch­ing af­fair. Steven Richards kept his

VT Com­modore’s nose clean and was de­clared the over­all win­ner of the GMC 400, de­spite not win­ning any of the three sprints. In fair­ness, a rea­son­able crowd rocked up to that rst June 2000 race meet­ing but, un­sur­pris­ingly, the nov­elty value soon wore off and far less pun­ters at­tended the two sub­se­quent 400s. Even by street cir­cuit stan­dards it was dif­fi­cult for Gen­eral Ad­mis­sion spec­ta­tors to see over the bar­ri­ers and catch a glimpse of the cars thread­ing the nee­dle through the con­crete canyon. Even the most rusted-on V8 rac­ing fans at­tended just the once, vow­ing to stay home the fol­low­ing year to watch it on TV in front of the heater.

The event car­ried on into 2001, with Dick John­son Rac­ing’s Steven John­son win­ning his rst ever round, a rare suc­cess for the hap­less AU model Falcon. Some­what ttingly, track de­signer Mark Skaife won in 2002 en route to that year’s ti­tle for the Holden Rac­ing Team.

And that’s all she wrote. While it was a nice idea to have Fal­cons and Com­modores rac­ing past the Prime Minister’s win­dow, the event suf­fered from not hav­ing the Ade­laide race’s fes­tive at­mo­sphere, sum­mer climes and spa­cious boule­vards that en­cour­aged good rac­ing. The cry­ing shame was that most roads form­ing the ACT lay­out were in­deed wide enough – two lanes each side of a low medium strip – to fa­cil­i­tate over­tak­ing. Yet, the track utilised only half of that avail­able width, prob­a­bly due to the cost of re­mov­ing said medium strips. This begs the ques­tion: why cre­ate a cir­cuit in the rst place if the track’s nar­row­ness en­sures fol­low-the­leader rac­ing? Mad­ness.

The writ­ing was al­ready on the wall af­ter the GMC 400’s sec­ond run­ning. Then, when the ACT had a change of gov­ern­ment, the event was quickly put out of its misery. In an­nounc­ing that the nal two Can­berra 400s (of a ve-year con­tract) would not be run, in­com­ing La­bor ACT tourism and sports minister Ted Quin­lan said he couldn’t un­der­stand why the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral Gov­ern­ment de­cided to hold an event of its cal­i­bre in the mid­dle of a Can­berra win­ter. No one could.

“Se­vere win­ter con­di­tions have done lit­tle to show Can­berra at its best and im­ages of freez­ing fans hud­dling in the grand­stands say it all,” Quin­lan said in 2002. “Ex­ten­sive TV cov­er­age and other pub­lic­ity is negated by im­ages that re­in­force a stereo­type that our city is cold and bleak,” Quin­lan added.

Yep, that pretty much summed it up. The three events soaked up $29 mil­lion in pub­lic funds, a far cry from Car­nell’s promised eco­nomic boost. What’s more, the ACT auditor-gen­eral found that the promised in­ter­na­tional tele­vi­sion and in ux of over­seas tourists in fact never even­tu­ated. Shock hor­ror!

What was a mas­sive coup for the cat­e­gory ahead of the rst event ul­ti­mately proved to be its great­est fail­ure. V8 diehards found the sight of V8s thrash­ing around the na­tion’s cap­i­tal heart­warm­ing. Prob­lem was, winds straight off Mount Kosciusko froze ev­ery other in­ter­nal or­gan.

There’s no doubt V8 rac­ing has been well man­aged over­all through the years, but Can­berra was a right royal zzer. When V8 Su­per­cars mas­ter­mind Tony Cochrane was wind­ing down his time as head hon­cho and chief head kicker, AMC asked him if he had any re­grets from his 15 years in charge.

“I re­gret be­ing talked into hold­ing the Can­berra street race in the mid­dle of win­ter. The ACT Gov­ern­ment was adamant they wanted that event on the June long week­end and I con­ceded to their wish against my bet­ter judge­ment.”

The Can­br­rrr 400 was in­deed a missed op­por­tu­nity for the sport.

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