30 years on: The epic chapter of intra-team 'Godzilla' battle
Repco Supercars Championship
By James Pavey
Shane van Gisbergen’s march to the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship could extend New Zealand’s run of titles to five in six years.
Van Gisbergen’s first title in 2016, however, was the first since Jim Richards in 1991.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ding-dong intra-team battle for the 1991 Australian Touring Car Championship.
Going into 1991, the two combatants were polar opposites; Richards was the reigning champion, with Mark Skaife having never won a race.
Richards and Skaife pictured in 1989
The Group A era had been kind to Richards, who won in BMWs in 1985 and 1987. Countryman Robbie Francevic won aboard a Volvo in 1986, Francevic the meat in a hat-trick sandwich of Kiwi titles.
Dick Johnson Racing and its eponymous driver turned the tide with the 1988 and 1989 titles, before Gibson Motorsport and Nissan again rewrote the history books.
Richards’ march to the 1990 title began with victory at Amaroo, before Johnson won at Symmons Plains and Phillip Island.
Richards won title No. 3 in 1990
Richards won at Winton, before a 48-year-old Colin Bond shocked the field with wins at Lakeside and Mallala. They were Bond’s first ATCC wins since 1978, with Richards claiming the title at the Oran Park finale.
Come 1991, and the Gibson Nissans went to another level. The team's two drivers won seven of the nine rounds between them, with six of those victories one-two finishes.
Nissan GT-Rs won 11 of 18 rounds across 1991 and 1992, with Richards and Skaife winning the Bathurst 1000 in both years.
Skaife leads Richards at Lakeside
Richards opened the 1991 season with wins at Sandown and Symmons Plains. Skaife was second on both occasions, and needed something more to defeat his all-conquering Kiwi teammate.
The first of Skaife’s 90 ATCC race wins came in Perth from sixth on the grid - but Richards was second, unwilling to cede ground to his upstart teammate.
Lakeside and Winton fell to Richards, with Skaife second on both occasions.
The duo dominated Bathurst in 1991
Heading to Amaroo, Richards led the head-to-head four round wins to one. BMW driver Tony Longhurst won ahead of Richards and Skaife, who won his second round at Mallala.
The penultimate round at Lakeside would ultimately decide the title. Skaife was fourth, and thanks to the drop-your-worst-round points system, Richards was crowned champion at Oran Park despite having fewer points.
Skaife bounced back in 1992 in a big way. He won seven races and the title by 20 points. Richards was runner-up, but failed to win a race in a season for the first time since 1989.
Both drivers were inducted into the Supercars Hall of Fame; Richards in 2006, and Skaife eight years later.
They would remain teammates at Gibson until 1995; Skaife won the 1994 title aboard a Commodore, with Nissan departing after 1992 following the introduction of the new Australian Group 3A Touring Car rules.
Skaife and Richards won together for a final time in 2002
Fittingly, the last of Richards’ 23 race wins would come alongside Skaife at Mount Panorama in 2002, 11 years after their first Bathurst win together.
Richards was aged 55 years, one month and 11 days when he combined with Skaife to win. To date, it remains the oldest age for a race in championship history.
Russell Ingall will tackle this year’s Great Race at 57 aboard a Triple Eight Race Engineering wildcard alongside teenager Broc Feeney.