THE Saturday Sleuthing email box is full every week and this week we bring you the story on the car that is asked about most by V8 Supercar fans – the Holden Racing Team Commodore VS driven by Peter Brock and Mark Skaife at Bathurst in 1997.
It’s a car that has been on our radar for quite some time and finally we can bring you the story of this particular chassis’ history and where it has ended up in a Saturday Sleuthing Exclusive.
This particular car - HRT 034 - started life in 1996 built as sister to the infamous ‘bar’ car driven by Craig Lowndes in the second half of the Australian Touring Car Championship.
A diagonal brace bar running through the front passenger section was highly controversial at the time and one was actually included in Brock’s new machine in the early stages of build until it was ordered to be removed by CAMS before the car would be cleared for racing.
HRT’s Tony Fredriksson was heavily involved in the builds of the team’s new cars at the time and had a penchant for nicknaming each new machine – this car became known as ‘Steffi’ named after Steffi Graf, the German tennis star.
The car made its debut at the 1996 Sandown 500 as a VR model in the hands of Brock and Tomas Mezera and finished third before then finishing a delayed fifth at Bathurst, one lap down on the winning team car of Craig Lowndes and Greg Murphy.
The team took two older chassis to the end-of-season races in New Zealand, leaving 034 to be updated to a VS model and re-liveried in 1997 war paint for the new season.
Brock again drove the car throughout the ATCC, halfway through it announcing to the world that he would retire at the end of the season and thus turning the second half of the year (the first run under the V8 Supercars banner) into a farewell tour.
He finished sixth in the championship and won the Barbagallo round – his final ATCC victory – without winning any of the three races in changeable conditions that weekend!
But his form certainly was strong late in the ATCC and he sat on pole at Oran Park and was on target for a round win before a late tyre delamination extinguished any hope of a fairytale victory.
Mark Skaife had signed as Brock’s co-driver for Sandown and Bathurst and put the #05 Commodore on pole for both races, though dramas snuffed out any chance of Brock claiming a 10th victory in either endurance classic.
A throttle cable drama early while leading at Sandown left them seven laps down and in 12th at the end, while an under bonnet backfire while Skaife was leading took them out of the Primus 1000 Classic at Mount Panorama.
With Brock retiring, Skaife signed with HRT full-time and not only took over his place, but the HRT 034 chassis as well – which was re-numbered to #50 for 1998 given it was Holden’s 50th anniversary but also had nice synergy given it was Brock’s famous #05 reversed.
Skaife ended up finishing third in the championship behind teammate Lowndes and Russell Ingall, taking one race win at Phillip Island.
The arrival of the new VT model meant this car was benched after the completion of the ATCC though it made one more appearance at the non-championship Gold Coast event in October in Skaife’s hands to ensure the new model cars were shiny and straight ready for Bathurst.
The chassis was moved across to the Noske/Young Lions squad for 1999 and became the #15 Commodore driven by Todd Kelly.
He competed at Albert Park’s non-championship event and was in the field for the first Shell Championship Series round at Eastern Creek, only to have a front tyre explode at the high-speed turn one that sent him hard into the concrete wall.
Kelly was lucky to emerge and escaped with only a bruised and swollen, er, groin area, though the car was damaged and the chassis then stored at HRT’s chassis constructor Dencar in Melbourne.
And there it sat for a time before being secured by a Victorian collector, who in turn sold the car to another private collector in Queensland with the long-term ambition of returning it to 1997 Brock/Skaife HRT livery and specification.
Steve Andrew has a collection of ex-HRT chassis (including the sister 033 ex-Lowndes ‘bar’ car) and agreed to speak to our V8 Sleuth Aaron Noonan exclusively about his famous car.
“There’s no doubt that this car and the ex-Lowndes ‘bar’ car are the pride and joy of the HRT cars I have,” says Andrew.
“I secured 034 back in about 2008 and it’s pretty much a shell. There are a pile of original bits and pieces for it, but I haven’t done anything with it. Work has been so busy over the last few years, but now it’s a real priority to get the work on the 033 and 034 chassis going along and get them restored.
“I also have the 032 chassis, which Peter Brock raced in 1995 at Bathurst, in the 1996 championship and was also the Young Lions car in ’97. I’d look at selling that one in order to help fast track the work on the other two.
“It’s really great to hear that this car has been the basis of lots of enquiries to the V8 Supercar website. There’s plenty of emotion attached to it considering the emotion that was around when Brocky was retiring in 1997.
“A lot of fans will remember Todd Kelly’s accident at Eastern Creek, which it’s hard to believe, was already 14 years ago! But this gives them the story of where things are at with this car now. There’s no one more keen that me to see her back in the 1997 Brock/Skaife HRT colours!”
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