20 years on: Skaife's Bathurst breakthrough for Holden

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 07/10/2021
  • By James Pavey, Pics by AN1 Images

Mark Skaife won all before him for Holden between 2000 and 2002, having raced for the famous Aussie marque from 1993.

However, he would have to wait until 2001 - having already won three titles, two Bathursts and nearly 50 races - to claim his first Great Race win for Holden.

On October 7, 2001, Skaife combined with Tony Longhurst to claim Holden's third Bathurst win in its record winning streak of seven straight from 1999 to 2005.

It was a race of attrition which began in sunshine, but featured rain and hail.

Eight Safety Car periods soaked up 36 laps of the race, with 21 of 39 starters classified when Skaife took the chequered flag.

The Skaife/Longhurst #1 Holden Racing Team Commodore launched from fifth, with rookie Marcos Ambrose having claimed a stunning pole on his Bathurst debut.

Skaife and Longhurst won the race from the Ozemail Ford of Brad Jones and Scottish BTCC veteran John Cleland, which started 22nd.

The series leader ran the bulk of the race with an eye on defending his 2000 title, but with Jones behind in the final 30 laps, Skaife tightened the screws.

Skaife crossed the line just 2.3 seconds ahead of Jones after nearly seven hours of racing.

The seas parted for Skaife and Longhurst a number of times on the day.

Steven Johnson and Paul Radisich’s bid ended with a blown engine while the Shell Falcon was running second.

Ambrose’s maiden pole ended in heartbreak when his Ford’s engine also blew.

Skaife's HRT teammate, Jason Bright, could do nothing but watch on as co-driver Tomas Mezera buried the #2 Commodore in the sand late on.

Russell Ingall also looked a chance to win before co-driver Larry Perkins sensationally crashed at pit entry.

The start of the 2001 race

Even Glenn Seton, who was partnered with Steven Richards, had a chance at an elusive first win before Richards found the wall.

It left Skaife to win on the 10th anniversary of his first Bathurst win in 1991, and his first Great Race victory since the controversial 1992 race.

"I wasn't too pleased with the car in qualifying, but today I was thrilled,” Skaife said.

"The car was fantastic and Tony and I barely made a mistake all day.

"It was safety first from the championship perspective at the start, but when I had a sniff in the last stint, I just went for it.

"It was a great race by Brad, I really had to race hard at the end and not make a single mistake to hold him off.

"It was one of the best wins I have been involved with as the wet-dry conditions meant it was just so easy to put it into the fence.”

The winning #1 HRT Commodore

It was a second Bathurst win for Longhurst, who won in a Sierra in 1988.

It was redemption for Longhurst; in 2000, he came agonisingly close to winning the race despite making more pit stops than anyone else.

However, 10 laps from the end, Longhurst clashed with Adam Macrow on the approach to Forrest's Elbow, damaging his car's suspension and putting him out of the race.

"Straight after the crash last year, I spoke to my wife and decided to call Mark to ask for a drive with him this year,” Longhurst said.

"He told me to ring [HRT team manager] Jeff Grech and that led to this.

"Having spent a couple of months working with the team now, I understand why they win so many championships and why Mark wins so many races.

"They were just a joy to work with.

Skaife and Longhurst celebrate

Jones had taken the wheel of the car from Cleland on lap 130 and rejoined the field in sixth place.

However, he fought his way to second and pushed Skaife to the line.

It came after Jones’s team worked through the night on his Falcon to find extra pace - which he unlocked in the final hour with the win on the line.

"The team worked on the car until 5.30am this morning to give us the fastest Ford out there today," Jones said.

"Two of them didn't even get any sleep. They are probably having a nap now, or a beer. Probably a beer I'd reckon.

"It is certainly one of the most satisfying results I have had in my career.

"Skaife and I were just blow for blow over those closing laps and that's the way racing should be.”

Skaife won three more times for Holden, in 2002, 2005 and 2010

Greg Murphy and Todd Kelly finished third; they led the race until the young Kelly was caught out by one of the many showers which lashed Mount Panorama.

Kelly spun out and fell to eighth, but Murphy recovered the car to the podium.

"It was as tough as it gets today,” Kelly said.

"One lap you would go round in the dry, then the next lap you would drive into some rain.

"The spin effectively ruined our chances."

"We had our chances. We led the race a fair few times,” Murphy added.

"Skaife and I had our share of epic battles while we were negotiating the rain at the top of the mountain.

“It was a very tough race today.”

The Repco Bathurst 1000 will be held over six days from November 30, with race day on December 5.

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