Flashback: Controversy, carnage in first Adelaide 500
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
By Stefan Bartholomaeus
Controversial. Physical. Sensational.
The first running of the Adelaide 500 in 1999, held under the Sensational Adelaide 500 catchcry, had it all.
Four years after Formula 1 departed Adelaide for the last time, the inaugural 500 proved the home-grown heroes were more than capable of taking centre stage.
Fans flocked in – a reported 158,000 over the three days – and witnessed a spectacle unlike any the category had put on before it.
Then at the peak of his powers at the Holden Racing Team, young star Craig Lowndes proved the headline act.
He was the villain on Saturday, involved in multiple incidents, including punting Danny Osborne’s privateer Ford into the wall on the back straight, on his way to victory.
On Sunday morning Lowndes was disqualified from the opening leg, losing 100 points and $40,000 in prize money, as well as being forced to start the second 250km from the rear.
In an era where 20-minute sprint races were still the norm, backing up for a second 250km race proved torturous, no matter where you started.
Ford hero Paul Radisich was carried from his Dick Johnson Racing Falcon after being overcome by fumes, while Mark Skaife and John Faulkner retired with back issues.
Others such as Glenn Seton joined Skaife in alternating between right and left foot braking to alleviate the physical stress.
Blisters and heat exhaustion were the order of the day and, while sailing through the field to victory, Lowndes was not immune.
“It was unexpected to be on the top step at the end of the day, but I remember standing on the podium exhausted,” he reflected to Supercars.com.
“I remember taking my shoes off, my feet were burning, my body was exhausted but we got the result we needed.
“It went on to be one of the best victories I’ve had in my whole career. That year was my last championship win, so there are some very fond memories.”
Lowndes’ Saturday points and money were reinstated at a CAMS tribunal following the event, ending an unusual saga.
The action off-track had been just as action-packed as that on it throughout the weekend, with the twin 250km format receiving several on-the-run changes.
Originally the 500 was being promoted as one race, simply split into two legs. Lowndes’ official winning race time stands at 25 hours, 35 minutes and 23 seconds.
The concept had been that no points at all would be awarded for the Saturday but, amid fears that the drivers would be too conservative, 100 were added at the last minute.
Furthermore, cars were to go into parc ferme conditions after the opening leg, with retirees unable to rejoin and those off the lead lap to remain that way for the second day.
That all changed on Saturday evening, allowing names such as Wayne Gardner – who had nearly come to blows with John Briggs following an early on-track skirmish - to rejoin.
Speaking after the Sunday race, then Supercars chairman Tony Cochrane admitted that the radical format idea had brought about some unforeseen challenges.
“There is no question we got a few of the rules wrong. I will fall on my sword on that one on behalf of my team,” he said.
“We made some errors and we tried to correct most of them during the weekend. It’s been a giant learning curve, but one that we have really enjoyed.”
Although 1999 remains the only year the event was considered one race, the spirit of the format lives on with the Sunday victor declared the winner of the Adelaide 500.
The only anomaly to that is 2000, where the supplementary regulations declared the round winner based on who scored the most points across the two races.
Sunday race winner Mark Skaife was awarded the Clipsal 500 trophy on the day, but Garth Tander sits in the record books as the winner of the event, and Garry Rogers Motorsport retains the round winner's wreath.
While declaring an event winner based on the Sunday result remains remains a unique format, Adelaide set a template for a series of new street races that followed during the 2000s.
Running under the Clipsal 500 banner from 2000 to '17, the Adelaide 500 name returns for the event’s 20th running this week, kicking off the '18 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
Lowndes and Tander are the only two drivers to have competed at every event. The inaugural year remains Lowndes' only 500 win, while Tander added the 2010 trophy to his '00 success.