Saturday Sleuthing: HRT's First Bathurst Winner

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 26/09/2015
  • By V8 Sleuth

BATHURST-winning cars are very special machines and they form the basis of a large majority of questions our V8 Sleuth Aaron Noonan receives in his email box every Saturday after the latest Saturday Sleuthing story is published on the V8 Supercars website.

This Wednesday - September 30 - represents an important anniversary in the history of one of the V8 Supercars Championship's most celebrated teams: the Holden Racing Team.

It was on Sunday September 30 in 1990, 25 years ago, that Win Percy and Allan Grice drove home first to claim victory at Bathurst and thus the first HRT Bathurst win.

In the face of enormous competition from the turbocharged Ford Sierras and emerging 'Godzilla' Nissan GT-R, the Brit and the 1986 Bathurst victor drove their VL Group A SV 'Walkinshaw' Commodore hard all day and grinded down the opposition.

They led home the Shell Sierra of Brit Jeff Allam and Kiwi Paul Radisich and Commodore privateers Larry Perkins and Tomas Mezera to take a very popular win that was met with great fanfare from the Australian public.

We've had many emails about this car over the last few years asking the same question - where did that 1990 winning car come from and what happened to it?

To tell the story of it, you need to rewind back to 1988 and the foundation of the relationship between Holden and the late Tom Walkinshaw to trace the path of the car that finally conquered the Mountain in September 1990.

With the demise of Peter Brock's HDT racing and road car relationship with Holden, Walkinshaw established Holden Special Vehicles and contracted out the racing program in 1988 to Larry Perkins.

Perkins ran his own Australian-built and run car at Bathurst that year with Walkinshaw air freighting to Australia his own, British-built version of the new wild, 'Walkinshaw Batmobile' Commodore to run alongside it.

Both cars appeared in identical red, white and black Holden Special Vehicles livery but that's about where the similarities ended, as there was a very clear internal divide between the 'Aussie' car and the 'British' car!

The Scot shared his car with Jeff Allam but the British duo only lasted a handful of laps when the rear end collapsed in the early stages of the race, prompting an embarrassing early retirement.

For 1989 the Holden touring car assault lay idle for most of the season, so the stock of Commodores did as well and the '88 Walkinshaw car remained in Australia undertaking some test duties.

It also remained idle also in 1990 when Walkinshaw sent Win Percy out to Australia to form the official Holden Racing Team after Perkins had run cars under that banner on behalf of TWR in the 1989 endurance races.

Percy drove an ex-Perkins car in the 1990 Australian Touring Car Championship but the decision to build a new car for the endurance races at Sandown and Bathurst was one that left the team with an interesting decision.

They had a choice to either build up a new car from a brand new VL road car body shell or resurrect the '88 Bathurst car.

In the end, they decided on the latter and so the car that had last been seen with its tail between its legs (quite literally!) was given another shot at racing redemption.

It returned to the track at the 1990 Sandown 500 with Percy and Neil Crompton at the helm, qualifying fourth before brake problems sent them spearing off the road into the turn one sand.

Extra grip from a new Dunlop tyre, coupled with a wider wheel, meant that the front wheel bearings were being distorted to the point where the brake discs rubbed on the calipers and boiled the brake fluid!

There were no such problems when Grice joined Percy at Bathurst, the team's use of carbon-metallic brake pads and AP Racing calipers (as used on Walkinshaw's Jaguar Le Mans sportscars) a crucial factor in their success.

History shows that they out-lasted the turbo-charged cars that largely disintegrated under the pressure of racing flat out all day, Grice guiding home the #16 Holden to victory and Crompton and Brad Jones pairing up to finish fifth in the team's second car.

Not many people realised it at the time, but the car that had made TWR a laughing stock at Bathurst in 1988 had been re-born and taken the ultimate revenge on both its rivals and the Mountain two years later!

The Bathurst winner only raced one more time before its retirement from the race track - the 1990 Australian Grand Prix Group A touring car support races.

Percy failed to finish the Saturday race after major engine failure - the team seeing just how hard they could rev the five-litre Holden V8 power plant!

But the Brit responded in style in the Sunday morning 10-lapper, screaming from 21st on the grid to finish third behind the Sierras of Glenn Seton and Dick Johnson.

It was a nice way for the curtain to fall on the car's racing life, which totaled just five races across four events (1988 Bathurst, 1990 Sandown, Bathurst and Adelaide) and a mere 214 laps of racing competition in Australia!

The VL Commodore was pensioned off in favour of the new VN model for 1991 but the good news is that it is most certainly still around for all to enjoy.

It's retained by the Holden Racing Team and the Walkinshaw family as a timely reminded of what can happen at the Mountain when an underdog gets up to win ...

What car would you like to see featured in an upcoming story?

To get in touch with the V8 Sleuth, you can do so via the following methods:

Email: aaron@v8sleuth.com.au

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To visit the website: www.v8sleuth.com.au

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