Australian touring car racing history is full of great ‘David and Goliath’ stories where smaller cars, teams and bank balances have, on occasion, managed to conquer much larger ones.
This day - July 14 - is one day in the history of what is now known as the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship where a David (actually two of them in the form of the B&H BMW M3s of Tony Longhurst and Alan Jones) pulled off a stunning victory at Lakeside in Queensland over a Goliath in the form of the turbo Nissan GT-Rs of Jim Richards and Mark Skaife.
The Japanese ‘Godzilla’ turbo cars had crushed the field in the first part of the 1991 championship, proving far too powerful for their opposition. Between them their pilots had won six of the first seven rounds, only toppled on the tight and twisty Amaroo Park layout in round six by the nimble 2.5-litre ex-Schnitzer BMW of Longhurst.
Skaife and Richards led early
Lakeside was Longhurst’s team’s home test track and a venue that had already hosted a round of that year’s championship in April, where the Nissans ran home 1-2 with Longhurst 15-seconds in arrears in third place.
But the second round for the year at the fast and flowing 2.4-kilometre layout would be different. The BMWs were renowned for being able to punch out consistent lap times all day and they were able to keep the pressure on the Nissans.
Skaife led the first 25 laps of the timed 50-minute race from pole position, however he found his Yokohama tyres blistered by the hot pace and had to pit for replacements. That left Richards in a short-lived lead before Longhurst swooped to grab P1 and Jim also heading to pit lane for a tyre change.
From there it was all BMW, as Longhurst charged away to take an 11-second win over team-mate Jones with Richards passing Skaife (struggling with a misfire caused by the engine management system) for third, the 12 points for finishing in the final podium position enough to clinch his fourth Australian Touring Car Championship crown.
Allan Grice replaced Win Percy at HRT for the race
And Longhurst had an added reason to celebrate too that day 26 years ago, his wife Karen had given birth to a baby girl at 5.30am on race morning!
This race was one typical of the Group A era of touring car racing with only a handful of real contenders. While the BMWs and Nissans ran out front, no one else really was in the race.
A small field of 17 cars competed in this round of the championship, the recession of the time causing plenty of car owners to leave their racing machines in the garage during the ’91 season.
‘Best of the rest’ in this Lakeside race was Glenn Seton’s Peter Jackson Sierra, though a full lap down on winner Longhurst.
Behind him came Peter Brock’s Mobil 1 Commodore VN, Colin Bond’s Caltex Sierra, Allan Grice’s HRT Commodore (Grice filling in for Win Percy who was racing overseas) and the privateer Holdens of Terry Finnigan and Mark Gibbs.
Home track Shell Sierra duo John Bowe and Dick Johnson were both retirements from the race. The former broke the steering of his turbo Ford when he locked up and ran off the road, while the latter had his engine’s fan pushed through the radiator while off-road following contact with Grice that sent him there in the first place.
But this day 26 years ago was all about David beating Goliath, Longhurst claiming his third of an eventual five career ATCC/Supercars Championship round wins.