As the excitement builds for this year’s Bathurst 1000, everyone will start to look at the form guide of who the strongest pairings are heading in to the endurance classic.
Drivers such as Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell, Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber or Scott McLaughlin and Alex Prémat are being touted as the ones to watch at Bathurst this year as they have been the star drivers for the past few years.
However, we wanted to look at the combinations of drivers in the past who were possibly the strongest pairings on the grid but for whatever reason, couldn’t get the job done at the end of the day.
Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss (1976)
1976 was the year of the Torana at Bathurst as the privateer entry of Bob Morris and John Fitzpatrick won the 1000-kilometre race in an Holden Torana SL/R 5000 ahead of Colin Bond and John Harvey as well as Peter and Phil Brock in other Toranas. The podium sweep extended down the order as the top seven finishers were racing the SL/R 5000, making it one of the best days in Bathurst history for Holden.
However, in another Torana, former Formula One World Champion Jack Brabham partnered with the “greatest driver to never win the world championship”, Stirling Moss (pictured above). The pair was arguably two of the most elite drivers on the Bathurst that day and they qualified tenth, however Brabham failed to get the Torana off the line thanks to jammed gears. He was rear-ended by a Triumph Dolomite Sprint, effectively ending their day before it began. While Moss did end up having a steer of the car, an engine failure took them out of the race on Lap 37.
Peter Brock and Mark Skaife (1997)
The 1997 Bathurst 1000 was a race divided as a split between AVESCO (Supercars) and the Australian Racing Drivers Club meant the traditional 1000 was held on the long weekend with Super Tourer cars with the “1000 Classic” being contested by the five-litre V8 Supercars. It was also the year of nine-time Bathurst winner Peter Brock winding up his full-time racing career, going out with a bang at Bathurst by being teamed up with two-time series champion and Bathurst winner, Mark Skaife.
The weekend started well with Skaife putting the #05 on pole but mechanical dramas retired the lead HRT car only 52 laps in. Brock would go on to make two more 1000 starts before his untimely death in 2006 while Skaife won four more 1000’s, all with Holden.
Greg Murphy and Craig Lowndes (1997)
It’s hard to believe now but Lowndes and Murphy were once the young guns, both being drivers at the Holden Racing Team during the late 1990s. In 1996, Lowndes won the Australian Touring Car Championship in his first full-time year, an achievement which has not been repeated. He and Murphy joined forces in 1996 at Bathurst, winning in commanding fashion.
With Lowndes’ departure to Formula 3 in Europe for 1997, Murphy took the reins of the #15 HRT machine. Lowndes returned to Australia for the endurance races, again with Murphy. While the young Kiwi put the car in third on the grid, his champion counterpart whacked the wall on approach to McPhillamy Park on Lap 38, the first of two retirements for the factory Holden squad.
Both drivers would taste further success at the Mountain, with Murphy taking victories in 1999, 2003 and 2004 while Lowndes had to wait until 2006 to start winning again, taking out The Great Race again in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2015.
Mark Skaife and Garth Tander (2006)
One of the more sombre race weekends in Australian motor racing history, 2006 was a year no one present will forget. The passing of Peter Brock in between Sandown and Bathurst left a hole in the racing community while those who were close to ‘Peter Perfect’ mourned his death. The death of Development Series driver Mark Porter due to a crash on Friday cast a further pall before the Great Race had even begun.
In the Supercars title fight, Garth Tander was leading the charge and was switched from his car at the HSV Dealer Team to partner defending Bathurst winner Skaife at HRT. Starting from pole for the factory Holden team with a black bonnet as a mark of respect for Brock, Skaife booged down off the line as his clutch overheated, and struggled up Mountain Straight before being hit from behind over the crest by the unsighted Jack Perkins. Not even two corners into the 161-lap race, the #2 HRT car was out of the race. Tander’s title hopes were obliterated but he would get revenge on The Mountain in 2009 and 2011 for HRT.
Alan Jones and Allan Grice (1996)
A year for the old boys, 1980 Formula One champion Alan Jones was joined by 1986 and 1990 Bathurst 1000 winner Allan Grice for the annual endurance classic. After racing for Glenn Seton Racing from 1993-1995, Jones pulled off an upset in the off-season heading in to 1996 when he poached gun engineers Ross and Jim Stone from Dick Johnson Racing as well as Seton’s money from tobacco giant, Phillip Morris.
The old guns did well in qualifying to grab ninth provisionally on the grid, elevating the #301 to third on the grid in the Top-10 Shootout. A good opening stint in slick conditions saw Jones move up to the lead, the only car on the day to pass eventual race winner Lowndes on track. However, on Lap 25, Jones’ Falcon gave up the ghost on approach to The Cutting, bursting into flames. A frustrated Jones was left to watch on as a shattered Grice hit the showers early after not getting a steer in the car on Sunday.
Have any driver pairings which you think should have made the list? Let us know!
Images via Reddit and Supercars