Motorsport: Back to Bathurst's 'good old days'

By Eric Thompson

Veterans respect pioneers after doing 130 laps in 1963 Cortina.

Kiwi driver Craig Baird (right) and Lee Holdsworth couldn't believe how much easier the Bathurst course was in a 2012 V8 Supercar compared to the basic family car Cortina.
Kiwi driver Craig Baird (right) and Lee Holdsworth couldn't believe how much easier the Bathurst course was in a 2012 V8 Supercar compared to the basic family car Cortina.

It's been 50 years since the first Bathurst 1000 endurance. That's a lot of bangs and scrapes around Hell Corner - and way more thumping and crashing under the bonnet.

All those years ago, drivers were hustling glorified family cars up Mountain Straight, across Skyline and down through the Dipper, through Forrest Elbow before settling in for the long drag down Conrod Straight, pre-The Chase days.

Irwin Racing's endurance pairing of Lee Holdsworth and Kiwi Craig Baird got a history lesson during the week when they drove a 1963 Ford Cortina GT around the Mt Panorama circuit.

The two were handed the keys to a replica of the 1963 Armstrong 500 Race-winning car, identical to the vehicle that Bob Jane and Harry Firth drove to victory in the first Great Race at the track 49 years ago.

The two drivers tackled the course in a 1.5-litre, four-pot production specification Cortina, developing a mere 78hp compared to a modern V8 Supercars' 600hp plus.

You don't have to be a racer to understand that if you drive the Cortina at the sprint pace, as the drivers will in the 2012 event, it would run out of brakes before completing five laps.

Baird and Holdsworth were amazed at how basic that car was.

"It gives you a great perspective on how things have evolved with the cars and the track," said Baird.

"We can recreate what it would have been like to drive the car, but in terms of how the track has changed you can't go back to the days without fences - thank goodness."

The car was spot-on to the winning car, down to the number plates required under the "road-registered rules" of the time.

It was finished with vinyl seats and standard wheels and tyres of the day. In fact, the car completed the distance on the same set of tyres it started with.

One thing was different: Baird and Holdsworth lapped the circuit under normal road rules, obeying the 60km/h speed limit.

Even at that leisurely pace, both drivers got an appreciation of what it would have been like to race the first 800km production car race at Bathurst.

At last year's Bathurst 1000, the winning car completed 161 laps in just under 6hr 27 min at an average speed of 155km/h.

Compared to the 1963 race teams, the modern cars do 30 more laps, finish the race an hour and half faster and average 50km/h faster per lap.

"You certainly wouldn't want to have a crash in it, that's for sure. No six-point driving harness, sliding around on vinyl seats with no safety gear," said Baird.

"It was real 'survival of the fittest' back in those days. It gives you a great perspective on how things have evolved with the cars and the track."

Holdsworth also appreciated the cojones needed to race those cars for hours on end.

"It's great to get to drive one of the old production cars and it gives you an appreciation of the era of racing.

It did all 500 miles on one set of tyres and this year we expect to change the rubber up to eight times during the 2012 race.

"Standard everything in the car and no power steering, plus the track had very little in the way of run-off areas or safety fencing.

"The race these days is called an endurance event, but it's a 100 per cent sprint from the word go. You couldn't have driven the Cortina like that," he said.

That was then this is now

1963 Ford Cortina MK I GT

Engine: 1.5-litre Kent
Carburettor: Weber DCD twin-choke, downdraught
Power: Estimated 78bhp at 5200rpm
Gearbox: Ford, four-speed manual, all-synchromesh
Differential: English 150mm
Clutch: Diaphragm-spring
Suspension: Front, independent McPherson struts with coil springs and integral shock absorbers and anti-roll bar; rear, semi-elliptic leaf springs with telescopic shock absorbers
Brakes: Front, 241mm discs; rear, 229mm x 45mm drums
Wheels: Pressed steel 4J x 15cm
Tyres: Crossply road tyres
Top speed: 153km/h, 0-100km/h in 13.5sec

2012 Ford Falcon FG

Engine: 5-L Windsor fuel-injected V8
Power: Estimated 635+bhp limited to maximum 7500rpm
Gearbox: Control six-speed sequential Holinger
Differential: 230mm
Clutch: Triple-plate carbon 188mm
Suspension: Front, double wishbone suspension with coil over adjustable damper and cockpit-adjustable front anti-rollbar; rear, four-link suspension with adjustable watts link, coil over adjustable rear dampers with cockpit-adjustable rear anti-roll bar
Brakes: Front, Alcon 6 piston Mon bloc Caliper with removable bridge bar 375mm ventilated discs; rear, Alcon 4 piston Mon bloc Caliper 343mm ventilated discs
Wheels: Rim stock control 432mm x 280mm magnesium alloy
Tyres: Dunlop control tyre
Top speed: 294+km/h, 0-100km/h in 3.8sec

- NZ Herald

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