On this day: Old hands tame Bathurst, but a new star is born

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 02/10/2021
  • By James Pavey

“I’ve never seen a Bathurst race this close in my life,” quipped commentator Mark Oastler.

It certainly seemed that way on this day in 1994 when John Bowe traipsed across the top of Mount Panorama, Craig Lowndes in tow.

On October 2, 1994, future Hall of Famers Bowe and Dick Johnson motored their way to Bathurst victory.

However, the #17 Shell Falcon’s road to victory was far from clear - but it would be a 20-year-old who proved the biggest hurdle.

The race began in wet conditions and in the aftermath of privateer Commodore driver Don Watson’s death following a practice accident at The Chase.

Johnson and Bowe celebrate in 1989 Pic: AN1 Images

Until Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat’s infamous win in 2019, Bowe and Johnson’s 1994 breakthrough remained Dick Johnson Racing’s most recent Bathurst victory.

Peter Brock had been offered a $100,000 bonus if he could claim his 10th Bathurst win - but that went out the window when he crashed out at Reid Park late on.

Brock wasn’t the only challenger to fall by the wayside. Pole man Glenn Seton retired with engine issues, Wayne Gardner sild on oil and crashed, while 1994 series champion Mark Skaife also crashed out.

Of the 45 starters, just 26 reached the chequered flag.

As the lap counter ticked towards 161, it seemed Bowe and Johnson’s race to lose.

Johnson and Bowe also won at Sandown in 1994 Pic: AN1 Images

Their chief rivals emerged in the form of Brad Jones and Lowndes in the second Holden Racing Team Commodore.

Bowe launched from 10th - after Johnson made an error in the previous day’s shootout - and managed the early laps in the wet.

Once the weather cleared, Johnson drove away from the field.

After Jones hauled the #015 Commodore back into contention, it was up to the young Lowndes to try and force the unflappable Bowe into a mistake.

And so, after the race restarted following Brock’s accident, Oaster made his comments.

The start of the 1994 race Pic: AN1 Images

The sun set behind the trees and only the most battle-weary runners remained.

Veteran Bowe, the 1989 Bathurst winner, had his work out out keeping ’The Kid’ behind.

It was a victory in itself for Lowndes to had held his nerve for so long, having crashed in the pre-race warm-up.

Bowe had been expected to run away after the restart, but Lowndes - who few in the stands and on the hill knew of at the start of the day - edged closer by the lap.

From nowhere, Lowndes swept past Bowe around the outside into Griffins Bend.

Lowndes behind the wheel during the early stages Pic: AN1 Images

Holden fans on top of the mountain erupted when they saw Lowndes drive past them ahead of Bowe, who was desperate to regain the lead.

“This kid is dynamite,” Oastler said as Lowndes approached the Cutting.

Lowndes’ lead would ultimately last little more than a lap; he was baulked by a slower car at Murrays Corner, allowing Bowe to regain the lead at Hell Corner.

Bowe sprinted away and helped Johnson to his third victory at Mount Panorama, and their second as a duo after the teamed up to win in a turbo Sierra five years earlier.

It was also the first Bathurst 1000 win by a Falcon V8 since Johnson himself had claimed his first Bathurst win alongside John French in 1981.

Lowndes leads Bowe late on Pic: AN1 Images

The 1994 race was significant for a number of reasons; notably, it was the final time V8s and two-litre cars competed together at Bathurst.

It would be the final Bathurst wins for Bowe and Johnson, and the last for DJR until 2019.

Lowndes would go on to become a titan of not only Australian motorsport, but Australian sport.

He did the title-Sandown-Bathurst triple as a rookie in 1996, won two more titles, and six more Bathursts between 2006 and 2018.

Third place went to Larry Perkins and the late Gregg Hansford, who lost his life in a Phillip Island accident just months later.

A young Lowndes after the race Pic: AN1 Images

Johnson’s son Steven made his Bathurst debut in the Ford team’s second Falcon alongside veteran Allan Grice.

Colin Bond made his 28th and final Bathurst start in the second Winfield Holden alongside Swede Anders Olofsson. They finished eighth.

Greg Murphy also made his debut and finished 23rd overall and fifth in the two-litre class.

The day, however, was all about Bowe and Johnson - and the former knew he had enough to challenge Lowndes, even after the young gun’s daring pass.

"All the furore about Craig Lowndes passing me at the end of the straight was great, but earlier on I’d actually caught and passed him and driven away from him," Bowe recalled some years later.

McLaughlin wins in 2019

“When we restarted the race, my thing was very doughy because it took forever to get the tyre pressures up again. That’s why he got to have a run at me.

"Once they came up again, I put the pressure on him and slipped past him because, essentially, we had a faster car.”

Bowe won the title in 1995, but DJR would have to wait until 2019 to taste success at Mount Panorama.

In the years between, Johnson nearly lost the team that bore his name several times before Roger Penske came calling in 2014.

"After 25 goddamn years,” Johnson exclaimed after McLaughlin crossed the line.

Johnson (L) on the 2019 podium

"Because I’m a lot older, things feel a lot different, I can tell you.

"But it’s not any different the way you feel when you win something.

"This event, you only get one shot, and one shot only. If you make a mistake early in the piece, it can cost you the whole event.

"Fortunately everything went our way."

The 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000 will be staged over six days between November 30 and December 5.

The 2021 Repco Supercars Championship will resume with the Sydney SuperNight on October 29.

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