View Full Version : Bathurst 1978 - The Opening Laps

Steve Holmes
10-10-2011, 03:56 AM

Early October for race fans in Australia and New Zealand means Bathurst time. The great endurance race for touring cars, over Mount Panorama, on the outskirts of the sleepy little New South Wales town of Bathurst, is deeply ingrained in Australian and New Zealand culture. The first Bathurst race was held in 1963, over a distance of 500 miles. Up until 1972, the race was held for standard production vehicles. From 1973 1984, the Confederation for Australian Motor Sports (CAMS) introduced Group C regulations, to partially do away with the need for manufacturers to build, effectively, road registered race cars. The 1973 event also saw the race distance increase from 500 miles to 1000 kilometers, which it remains to this day.

From 1985 1992, the race was held to international FIA Group A regulations, while homegrown V8 Supercar rules were introduced from 1993, to replace Group A.

Today we're used to seeing V8 Supercars run flat out from the drop of the green right throughout the race distance. The cars are effectively bullet proof. But in the '60s and '70s, this wasn't the case. The race was still very much considered an endurance event, and the race start and early laps were usually fairly gentlemanly affairs, with plenty of racing room given, and positions often not fought for. Car conservation was as important as outright speed.

But in 1978, that all changed. Actually, the early laps of the '77 race gave some indication that teams were becoming more confident in the ability of their cars to be pushed hard and not break, but the opening laps of the '78 race were an all-out dog fight. After being so dominant throughout 1977, finishing 1-2 in the Australian Touring Car Championship and at Bathurst, Allan Moffat was told by Ford that funding for 1978 would not increase. The Ford execs sat on their laurels, thinking they'd be as dominant as they were in '77.

Moffat knew otherwise, and after a frustrating ATCC, in which he finished 4th in the championship, with just one race win, with team mate Colin Bond in 5th, also with a single win, Moffat knew he was in trouble heading to Bathurst. His main rival throughout the '70s, Peter Brock, had returned to the Holden factory team after running privateer Toranas from 1975 '77, and had narrowly won the '78 ATCC from fellow Torana driver Bob Morris.

Ford pushed through homologation of its '78 endurance challenger, the XC Falcon Cobra, but it wasn't enough. Brock took pole in the 'Hardies Heroes' single flying lap for the top ten qualifyers to decide grid positions on 2:20.006. Bond was next on 2:20.871, with Moffat 3rd on 2:21.597. Morris was 4th on 2:21.766, while his team mate, Derek Bell, was a massive 3sec further back in 5th, on 2:24.602.

Brocks rivals needed to run hard, and hope to break him. And run hard they did! Bond and Moffat got the jump at the start, while Brock bogged down and was running 5th by the first turn behind Morris and up and coming Ford driver Dick Johnson who was 4th. Morris went after the two Cobra Falcons in front, outbreaking them at the end of Conrod Straight, and getting all crossed up as he powered onto the pit stright to try and lead the first lap. He tried desperately to reach the start/finish line first, and ducked to the middle of the track to block a fast closing Moffat, but Bond got the run down the outside and was alongside as they crossed the stripe, before the pair made contact heading into Hell Corner to start lap 2. Meanwhile, Brock soared past Johnson on Conrod, and rapidly closed on the leading trio by the time they all hit Hell Corner for the second time.

It was an opening segment unlike any ever seen before at The Mountain, with everyone going at it, and commentator Mike Raymond going balistic.

Try as they did, Brocks rivals couldn't break him. Instead, it was he who broke them. He won the race handily, by a full lap, from the Torana of Allan Grice. By lap 81 (of 163), both Bob Morris Toranas and both Allan Moffat Falcons had retired. It was a race of attrition, no doubt, at least partially a result of the frantic pace. 31 cars reached the finsh, while 32 retired.

10-10-2011, 04:52 AM
A great win by Jimmy Richards and his Aussie co-driver. I went to the 78 race, those really were the days because it wasn't just the big cars, but all the smaller cars fighting amongst themselves. The loudest cars would have to have been the flame spitting rotary Mazdas, great days.
Unfortunately because Bathurst was fogged in all morning we couldn't fly out of Sydney until about half an hour after the race start and the Ford Cobras were out by the time we reached the top of the mountain, but what a great experience. Been since, but it isn't the same as it used to be back in those days.

Steve Holmes
10-11-2011, 03:40 AM
Nice post Gavin! Too bad you guys got there late. Bathurst was a real endurance race then. The cars were effectively hot rod road cars. It was a combination of speed and relaibility that was needed, and very few cars possessed both.