Horrible Histories: Mount Panorama
Looking back at the famous track's infamous past
Earlier this year I took a pilgrimage to Mount Panorama with Canberra’s BMW club:
Armstrong 500... Bathurst 1000... Hardie-Ferodo 1000...
It’s technically a street circuit, in the vein of F1 tracks, and is also a public road. But unlike today's F1 circuits, Mt Panorama has a height differential of 174 metres between its highest point to the lowest with some grades as steep as 1:6.
As I drove around it, I saw a number of properties and even someone putting out the bin. I waved, but was ignored, and I expect if every Australian blasted their car outside my door I’d find it tiring as well.
But how did such a famous racing circuit end up in a (relatively) remote town?
A map, just in case you get lost on the circuit
The town hosted races as far back as 1906 and, until 1913, these races took place on a 33km circuit called Peel-Limekilns. As time progressed other circuits in Bathurst were used, notably the long 100km Sunny Corner (known as Mount Horrible) used from 1926 until 1930.
It wasn’t until mid-1936 that construction of the Mount Panorama circuit began and the first race meeting, for motorcycles, was held on 16 April 1938. This was the 1938 Junior Tourist Trophy and won by a 20 year old Queenslander Les Sherrin. The first car race was the 1938 Australian Grand Prix, held on 18 April 1938, and won by Peter Whitehead.
However, the town is linked to its most famous race and here's where we continue...
Staring down pit lan 2015 (By Kytabu - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46869887
The Bathurst 1000
The Bathurst 1000 (aka Hardie-Ferodo 1000; Tooheys 1000; Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000), has been run at Mount Panorama since 1963. Originally the race was 500 miles, but it changed its format to 1000 km in 1973.
In my living memory several awful incidents stand out for some winners...
Loser and winner... Dick Johnson 1980/81
Dick Johnson versus Rock 1980
Dick Johnson had a very awful year in 1980, followed by a very good one in 1981.
In 1980 Dick Johnson entered the race as a privateer and generated a lot of interest by sharp driving in the lead up races. It was expected he'd start hard and in the 1980 Bathurst he did not disappoint. He belted out from the start and led Peter Brock by a full lap on lap 17 when he crashed into the wall. He crashed after clipping a large rock on the track in order to avoid a tow truck blocking the other side. As it turns out, the rock had been accidentally kicked onto the track by a pair of boozy spectators.
Tru Blu in 1991 (By Jeremy from Sydney, Australia - Ford Falcon XD Johnson & French, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38109734)
Dick Johnson was distraught, having sunk all of his finances into a final shot at winning the race after ten years as a competitor. We, the viewing public, were also aggrieved and the Australian people reached into their pocket to the tune of $72,000, which was matched by Ford Australia, and he ended up raising $144,000.
This meant he was able to have another crack the following year, in 1981, which he won although not without incident. The 1981 race was stopped at lap 122 due to a six car pileup (but the positions were determined by the timesheet on lap 120). Still, Dick Johnson won, as he also did later in 1989 and 1994 in less controversial circumstances.
Allan Moffat's winning XB Falcon
Allan Moffat/Colin Bond 1977
October 1977. I was in hospital recovering from an appendectomy, watching the 1977 victory of Allan Moffat and Colin Bond. The cars, number 1 and 2 ended the race, respectively, at 1-2. It was a script perfect finish… but just how scripted was it?
It transpired that during the race, Allan Moffat’s co-driver, Jacky Ickx, had been a lead foot on the brakes and this made the number 1 car hard to control in the final lap. Colin Bond, driving the other Falcon, could have passed Moffat, but was ordered not to by the racing team headed by… Moffat himself. Years later, Colin Bond opined he wished he had powered by and be damned to team orders, but he didn’t and so we have, in our horrible racing histories, a well scripted finish. Moffat himself has gone on record saying he has no regrets and that he offered Colin the chance to drive in his Falcon, but Colin refused.
One from the archives..
No discussion about Bathurst can go without mentioning its most successful winner, Peter Brock, who won nine times (1972,1975, 1978-80, 1982-24 and 1987). Yet even he didn’t escape controversy. For a time in the mid-80s Peter Brock touted a device called the “Energy Polariser”, which contained crystals and magnets in an epoxy resin. The idea was the “energy polariser” would improve performance by “aligning the molecules”. I don’t know what molecules he was thinking of, but as he himself said: “It’s a magic cure. It makes a sh*thouse car good.”
However, as much hokum as it was, it does not detract from the fact that Peter Brock was a world class driver and his record number of wins around Bathurst will probably stand for many more years to come.
No Mount Panorama history is complete without a Peter Brock HDT picture
The 1987 race was provisionally won by the Ford-supported Eggenberger Motorsport team, with Steve Soper and Pierre Dieudonné taking the chequered flag in their Ford Sierra RS500, two laps ahead of team mates Klaus Ludwig and Klaus Niedzwiedz. Protests were lodged before the race and took until 1988 to be finalised. The two Eggenberger cars were disqualified for illegally modified front wheel larch guards, which allowed the team to race on taller tyres. This meant that the third over the line, the HDT entered Holden VL Commodor drivern by McLeod, Brock and Parsons were eventually declared race winners.
It was a record ninth Bathurst 1000 victory for Brock and his final victory in the race.
The year was 1992 and the winner, Jim Richards, said to the baying crowd: “I'm just really stunned for words, I can't believe the reception. I thought Australian race fans had a lot more to go than this, this is bloody disgraceful. I'll keep racing but I tell you what, this is going to remain with me for a long time, you're a pack of a***holes."
Wait... that wasn't my inner voice?
At first glance it makes Jim look bad, but there’s more than meets the eye. I’ll start with the snippet that I’ve had the privilege to meet Jim Richards and can say that he’s not only a great driver, but a gentleman.
So what happened on 4 October 1994? It turns out this was the race where an evil confluence of weather, crashes, unmet expectations plus an untimely death churned the trackside public.
Unfortunately required at Mount Panorama
First Peter Brock, the crowd favourite, had a terrible start after the tailshaft of his VP Commodore broke on the starting line. While Peter managed to rejoin the race at lap 15 in last position, he later broke a second tailshaft and was pushed into a spin by Allan Grice. In a rare show of anger, he vented about Grice’s driving on national television and ended the race in 27th place.
Next up; the rain. Yes, in drought-strickened-rain-deprived NSW, on that day in Bathurst the heavenly floodgates opened and the track was drenched. I remember seeing it on television and wondering, due to the number of crashes, if any cars would finish as the conditions were so atrocious. By lap 143 the race officials came to the same conclusion and the race was stopped for the reason of being “too dangerous to continue”.
Not the usual place we'd find the winner's car
But here’s where things went off the track, so to speak, like the winning car. The strange thing is the car declared the winner had just crashed and was undrivable at the race’s conclusion.
The aftermath of a crash
The race was stopped during the leader’s 145th lap, but required a wind back to the 144th lap. However, even at this wind back, many cars had crashed prior to the leader’s completion of the 144th lap, and the race was wound back an additional lap to allow them to be placed. Due to this wind back, Richards’ car, which had hit the wall and was barely drivable, slid off the track to join other cars that crashed about 200 metres onto Conrod Straight. But it was the lead car and declared the winner, much to the disgust of the Ford and Holden spectators.
They booed Jim Richards, who’d won in a crashed car that was a Nissan, as he arrived to the podium. What the crowd didn’t know was Jim Richards, moments before, had been informed of the death of his good friend, Denny Hulme, who died on lap 33. Denny had died from a heart attack and this, coupled with the crowd’s baying, had him snap. Badly.
Denny Hulme 1965. He died at Bathurst in 1992 during the race at Mount Panorama (By Lothar Spurzem - Originally from de.wikipedia)
Jim Richards later apologised for his comments.
This brings us to the sad part. The track has known for a number of racing deaths that total, in all, seventeen, The first being Jack Johnson on 17th April 1949 and the last being Mark Porter on the 8th October 2006. Of those deaths, three are associated with the Bathurst 1000 (Mike Burgman 1986; Denny Hulme 1992 [see above] and Don Watson 1994).
We mourn them all.
Tom Hawkes 1958 Australian Grand Prix at Mount Panorama
Did you know?
Remember how I alluded to the fact the height differential on the track might preclude it from being used in Formula One? It turns out that Mount Panorama hosted the Australian Grand Prix no less than four times; in 1938 (Peter Whitehead); 1947 (Bill Murray); 1952 (Dough Whiteford) and 1958 (Lex Davison).
The less horrible view we had from Mount Panorama