Today, 17 years ago, on Sunday November 14, 1999, the famous Bathurst 1000 was held as part of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship for the first time.
That year’s FAI 1000 was the 13th and final round of what was then known as the Shell Championship Series with a range of special events unfolding on this very day in Supercars racing history.
A total of 55 cars stormed into Hell Corner on that day in the middle of November, the race held in the period where the event actually was not held in the traditional month of October.
But the date didn’t really matter. True to form, there was plenty of history made on the Mountain that day.
Victory for Greg Murphy and Steven Richards in the Gibson Motorsport Wynn’s Commodore was certainly the headline.
Murphy and Richards were a strong combination that drove hard and smart all day, seeing off the almost race-long challenge from Paul Radisich and Steve Ellery in their #18 Shell Ford from Dick Johnson Racing.
The win in 1999 was the second win for each of the duo; given Murphy had won with Craig Lowndes in 1996 and Richards had won the previous year in the Stone Brothers Falcon EL with Jason Bright.
The victory was also the third and final Bathurst victory for Gibson as a team owner, going along with the Nissan success achieved by Jim Richards and Mark Skaife in 1991 and 1992.
Murphy and Richards’ jubilation on this day back in 1999 was offset by late race heartache for Ford rivals Radisich and Ellery.
Their Shell Ford led from the start and all but dominated the race, rarely running outside the top three cars and leading a whopping 94 of the 161-lap distance.
Leading with just over 20 laps to run, Radisich clashed with privateer Mark Poole at the top of the Mountain, deflated a tyre and speared off across the pit entry road as he desperately tried to get back into the pits to have it replaced.
That off-track excursion damaged the AU Falcon’s brittle front spoiler and ultimately ended their race when the car came to a halt soon after with its engine cooking.
The 1999 race also closed the book on Dick Johnson’s legendary Bathurst career.
One of the most popular drivers ever to tackle the Mountain, Johnson shared his Shell AU Falcon in his retirement year with son Steven.
Although his fourth Bathurst win may have eluded him, Dick was still the highest-placed Ford driver in 1999 finishing fourth and recorded a faster lap time in the race than ‘Junior’, who took over the wheel of the famous #17 full-time the following season.
For the Holden Racing Team the 1999 Bathurst classic was a race of playing the odds.
There was not only the biggest race in the country to win but also the championship on the line to consider.
With both Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife in contention to win the championship the team hedged its bets and split the two lead drivers across their own cars with Cameron McConville and Paul Morris the respective co-drivers.
The bet paid off, Lowndes and McConville coming home second, the points enough for Lowndes to seal his third Supercars title – which in fact remains his last championship in the category to this very day!
Skaife and Morris crossed the line third, the two HRT cars lining up for a form finish over the line for the two minor spots on the podium.
Mark Larkham had taken his Mitre 10 Falcon to pole position but he and Brad Jones retired after 62 laps with clutch issues, while rear axle problems accounted for the 1998 winner Jason Bright in the Pirtek Falcon he shared with Kiwi Craig Baird.
Valvoline duo Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna were wiped out of contention, though in an accident at Forrest’s Elbow, the former at the wheel when he collected the spun Commodore of privateer Tomas Mezera at one-quarter race distance.
A very young teenager, Paul Dumbrell, made his Bathurst 1000 debut on this day in 1999 (he crashed out in an ex-HRT car run by John Faulkner Racing in the first stint) and Steve Owen made his Supercars Championship debut, finishing ninth in the second GRM/Valvoline Commodore alongside Greg Ritter.
Just 22 of the 55 cars that started the race were classified as finishers with just seven cars finishing on the lead lap at the end of the race – the last of them was the Castrol Commodore VT of 1997 winners Larry Perkins and Russell Ingall.
And of those 22 finishers, just four of them were Ford Falcons, though they all finished in the top 10 on a day.