For most Australian motorsport fans, 1997 was the year they celebrated Bathurst legend Peter Brock’s last as a full-time race driver.
After a fabled career behind the wheel, Brock had decided to hang up his helmet to concentrate on new chapters of his life.
As history would play out, until his untimely death in September 2006 he was rarely seen out of a racecar.
That included two returns to the Bathurst 1000 (in 2002 and '04), but 1997 is still etched in history as the last time he was considered a regular fixture in top flight of the sport.
In 1997, Brock actually had two opportunities to claim that elusive 10th Great Race victory, courtesy of a bitter civil war in which Mount Panorama was the jewel in the crown.
On one side there was the newly-rebranded V8 Supercars, the Commodore and Falcon-based homegrown category that had signed a new television deal with Network 10 and wanted the rights to the Bathurst 1000 to be part of the package.
On the other side was the consortium of Channel 7, the Australian Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) and Bathurst City Council that ran the traditional endurance classic.
Negotiations fell over, and V8 Supercars – led by powerbroker Tony Cochrane – went and staged its own Bathurst race.
The consortium turned to the international 2.0-litre Super Touring formula to provide the field for the traditional October long-weekend race.
BTCC legend and one-time Brock co-driver John Cleland, left, was also part of Triple Eight's Bathurst line-up in 1997
Having announced his retirement mid-season, Brock simply refused to bow to political pressure and compete in just the 'V8 Bathurst'.
A deal was organised for him to join the UK-based factory Vauxhall team, Triple Eight Race Engineering, for the October 5 race.
Triple Eight was accompanied by factory teams from BMW, Audi, Renault, Peugeot and Volvo, and a host of big-name international drivers, in tackling Bathurst.
No one knew it at the time, but Brock’s Triple Eight was the same one that would later form an Australian arm and return to win seven Bathurst 1000s and become the benchmark team in Supercars.
Signing Brock to drive the four-cylinder, two-litre Vauxhall was a logical choice.
The General Motors-owned Vauxhall squad came from the same manufacturer family as Brock’s beloved Australian-made Holdens – an easy sell for the fans.
He shared the red-and-white Vectra with ex-Formula 1 driver Derek Warwick, then a co-owner of Triple Eight. But things did not get off to a great start.
Brock barrel-rolled the #05 Vectra (backed by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation to promote the 1998 Albert Park event) through the sand trap at The Chase during practice, ensuring a late night for the TAFE Smash Repair team.
“The damage was quite bad, I remember the guys working all hours to get the car straight and I remember the car having a lot of filler in it to get it to look like a Vectra,” recalled Warwick in 2016.
“The amazing special repair guys were working with our guys to fix the car for Brocky, not Derek Warwick!”
Given it was billed as his ‘last’ Bathurst (although the V8 race was a fortnight later), Brock was given the honour of starting the race from fourth place in the #05 Vectra.
‘The King’ settled into an early rhythm, dicing with eventual winner Geoff Brabham’s Diet-Coke BMW.
Things started to unravel at the first pitstop when the minimal steering lock of the front-wheel-drive Vauxhall wasn’t enough to manoeuvre around a busy pitlane of people, thus costing time as the team pushed and pulled the car to reach the fuel rig.
Driveshaft problems later caused further delays and Brock and Warwick ended up sixth, though 13 laps behind the winning BMW.
Warwick, who collected four podium finishes during his 147-start F1 career, said the enormity of being in the famous #05 entry wasn’t lost on him.
“Driving with Brocky was a pleasure. He was a really nice guy not affected by the superstar that he was,” he recalled.
“I wasn’t really aware of just how big he was in Australia until I had the pleasure to drive with him.”
Six years after Brock’s one and only drive with Triple Eight, the British team – led by Roland Dane – was back in Australia to form its Supercars operation.
It purchased Ford team Briggs Motorsport in late-2003 and Dane set about building the best operation in pitlane.
And who was the organisation’s first major driver acquisition in Australia?
Craig Lowndes, the man regarded as Brock’s protégé...