2 Litres Set For Top Tussle Report and Photos by Rod Eime (Extract from forthcoming Fast Fours & Rotaries magazine) The 1995 Australian Manufacturers Championship (aka 2.0 Super Touring) burst onto the front pages of the nation's newspapers...
2 Litres Set For Top Tussle
Report and Photos by Rod Eime (Extract from forthcoming Fast Fours & Rotaries magazine)
The 1995 Australian Manufacturers Championship (aka 2.0 Super Touring) burst onto the front pages of the nation's newspapers and TV screens in a way no one would ever have imagined.
On Sunday March 5, a modest crowd had turned out to witness the opening round at Melbourne's remote Phillip Island circuit. A track much favoured by cycle and car racers alike for its high-speed sweepers, long straight and challenging twists and turns. Some would say it is this country's best track.
At exactly 13:30 that day, Gregg Hansford's RPM Ford Mondeo went loose in the rear, oversteering out of the hairy, flat-out turn one. The car left the track and bounced heavily off the outside tyre wall, ending up helplessly marooned in the middle of the track. Completely unsighted, Mark Adderton's Peugeot 405 slammed into the Ford at over 200 km/h. Hansford never had a chance.
Tributes and dedications flooded the media, honouring a man who, by virtue of his laid-back, no-fuss nature and considerable four and two wheel talent, had charmed motor sport insiders and public alike. The tragic loss of Gregg Hansford has ensured that every Australian, and a good many overseas, are keenly aware of our emerging 2 Litre formula.
The opening round heralded a new competition in two litre racing - Audi vs. BMW. A full tilt, flat-out battle for manufacturer honours with considerable overseas backing from the respective factories has meant that 1995's racing will be anything but the unchallenged BMW demonstration of 1994.
The 4WD Audi 80s burst onto the scene, convincingly handled by young Kiwi Greg Murphy and our own Brad Jones, shouting loudly that they will be taking it to BMW every inch of the way. Phil Ward's eye- catching Mercedes 190, the Mondeo and the curious Volvo 850 station wagon have announced themselves as serious contenders too.
Qualifying times soon revealed that huge gains had been made by all teams in the lead-up to 1995. Lap times tumbled by as much as four seconds, with BMW showing a tiny advantage over Audi on the long fast sections of Phillip Island. There was sizeable gap in times back to the other marques and teams giving a clear indication that it was to be battle of the two German factories.
Heat One was a scorcher. Brabham bolted from the line, but was recaptured when he locked a front and flat-spotted the tyre. Morris kept the BMW in front, despite Jones setting the fastest lap time. A mechanical problem slowed him at the end, allowing Brad Jones a desperate lunge, literally on the line. Morris by a hair! Murphy third. Heat Two lost none of the excitement. Morris cemented his lead over Jones, and a big touch between Brabham and Murphy put the latter out. Brabham hung in for third with Tony Scott's Volvo 850 duplicating its earlier result with fourth.
The Super Tourer circus then moved to the IndyCar event at Surfers where an exhibition event was staged on the narrow, concrete walled circuit. Here the tables were confidently turned to the advantage of the Audis. The long straights were conveniently interrupted by savage chicanes, allowing the Audis to gobble the BMWs under brakes and use their superior 4WD agility through the beachside twists and kinks.
Racing continued in exciting fashion with notable improvements coming from Charlie O'Brien in the BMW NZ 318i and newly recruited Jeff Allam, who'd been drafted into Ross Palmer's Ford Mondeo outfit as new lead driver.
Paul Murphy in the Audi took outright honours, based on his results over the two races - second in the first and a runaway win in the second. Morris recovered a little BMW pride for a second place in the latter race, but the gauntlet was firmly thrown to BMW for round two at Oran Park. There we will see the teams sporting new aerodynamic packages ie rear wings and front air dams. Something, it is argued, may have prevented Hansford's sudden loss of grip at Phillip Island.
Although BMW have taken early advantage of conditions at their favoured Phillip Island, it is abundantly clear that the series will be a full term tussle over the eight rounds. Short, tight circuits like Mallala and Winton will make the Audis hard to beat, so Frank Gardner's boys will have little opportunity to relax throughout the series.
Apart from the two German teams, Volvo, by way of Tony Scott's consistency, has taken up third place in the manufacturers tally. Having just one car, by the way, does make it hard to rack up points like the leaders. Charlie O'Brien and Steven Ellery in BMW 318is have also demonstrated ability and pace, and while Phil Ward's Nokia Mercedes 190 is the goods, it lacks reliability at this stage. Regardless of where he finishes, Phil will always give his sponsors good coverage with his distinctive driving style.
New on the scene, and largely untested is the Valvoline Alfa Romeo 155 of Steven Richards and the Opel Vectra of Graham Moore, but their heritage and overseas record indicate that they should be up there pretty quickly, if not "out of the box". Richards's Alfa made a promising debut at Surfers, but a shunt into the tyres tamed him somewhat. Another car of interest is the Hyundai Lantra of Steve Hardman, which, despite showing glimpses of promise, has yet to translate anything into results.
Upcoming Australian 2.0L Super Touring Championship Dates:
Apr 2 Oran Park NSW May 7 Symmons Plains TAS May 13 Calder Park VIC Jun 4 Mallala SA Jul 23 Lakeside QLD Aug 13 Winton VIC Aug 26 Eastern Creek NSW