Post-race, The Biggest Push Is For A Price Ceiling

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday April 24, 1992

By PETER McKAY

Twelve hours, or 24? Relevant affordable cars, or more exciting irrelevant exotics? Showroom stock or freer Group N regulations? These are the big questions facing organisers of the James Hardie 12 Hour production car race at Bathurst and the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) after last Sunday's encouraging second edition of the Easter enduro.

I don't know if sponsor James Hardie and promoters Forcefield Marketing and Bathurst City Council expect the race to grow to the size of the long-established Tooheys 1000 in October, but others have their own thoughts on that.

Most leading drivers quizzed don't think it will, although they generally consider it will become an important race in its own right.

This year a modest roll-up of 10,400 spectators watched the race. That's double last year's turnout.

My thought is that the 12 Hour is a race for the industry and the consumer but not really for the fan. It's probably always destined to be a television event.

"I think it's a great event, a stepping stone to the October race with the opportunity for new faces to make an impact," said Peter Brock. "It's a formula for the manufacturers. They can spend their money here instead of throwing it at advertising agencies. But it's got to be 24 hours, there's no doubt about it."

Not all of Brock's contemporaries are as excited about the prospect of a 24-hour grind, nor are they overjoyed about crawling out of bed for the present 5.30 am start.

But Brock is insistent: "I couldn't care less if it's 5.30, pitch black and snowing. Let's have a degree of difficulty. Who wants wimps' paradise?"

Forcefield's Vince Tesoriero warns that the move to 24 hours, while inevitable, cannot happen until a tunnel access to the infield is constructed

He would also want CAMS to agree to extending the capacity of Mount Panorama from the current 55-car limit.

Colin Bond has been arguing in favour of Group N cars, which allows greater modifications than the existing regulations - including larger brakes. But he has attracted little support to date, with most competitors and certainly the majority of car manufacturers wanting cars to remain as close as possible to stock.

Brakes are usually a big problem for all entries (with the exception perhaps of the Toyota MR-2) but it is part of the appeal for most drivers that they have to cope with this and other problems.

I think it should be beholden on motor racing to do its job, which is to improve the breed.

By far the most vexed question is that of whether to have a price limit for competing cars.

Last year and this, Forcefield contentiously appointed itself as the sole vehicle eligibility arbiter. This led to some strange inclusions (the Holden ute sideshow, for one) and questionable exclusions. Banned this year, for reasons not altogether clear, were all Porsches, the Nissan GT-R and the Honda NSX.

Three days before the race, Tesoriero was indicating he favoured the introduction of a price ceiling for future races.

But after the event became a romp for upmarket cars, Tesoriero had done an about face. He's already talking about again compiling the list of eligible cars for next year.

"I believe 12 hours of hard racing around the mountain is a great leveller," he said on Sunday night.

At the media conference following Sunday's race, the drivers of the first three cars - priced at $73,000 (Mazda RX-7), $155,000 (BMW M5) and $84,000(Saab 9000 turbo) - were never going to endorse the idea of a price lid.

But the majority of teams and manufacturers have come out in favour of a limit of $45,000 - at which the Federal Government's luxury car tax comes into play.

There are several obvious advantages to a price limit, stretching beyond pure economics.

A large group of cars very similar in performance would make the race very competitive, far more so than this year. Included in this bunch are examples of the best-selling cars on the market, the Commodore and Falcon.

A simple price ceiling would make redundant Tesoriero's job of compiling a list of eligible cars and so the promoter would no longer suffer suggestions of discrimination or bias. There is also a safety benefit: the speed differential between the fastest and slowest cars drops appreciably. In qualifying, the difference in lap times between fastest and slowest car was all of 40 seconds.

Market relevance is another factor. More than 90 per cent of all cars sold in Australia retail for less than $45,000.

Had that limit been in place this year, the 12 Hour would have fallen to the Holden Commodore V8 which finished fourth behind the expensive sports sedans.

BMW spokesman Chris Van Wyk, not surprisingly, wants the race left open to the likes of the M5 even though it sells in almost irrelevant volumes of"around 40 to 50 units a year".

"If it's available in this market, it should be in the race," he said.

Mazda, a winner by three laps, would like to continue to race the RX-7 at Bathurst, even against tougher competition missing from this year's race.

If Tesoriero wishes to continue to compile his own eligibility list, then CAMS must take a greater say in the matter or else next year we might have Mack trucks in the race along with utes.

MAZDA'S GAMBLE

Win on Sunday; sell on Monday. That's what Mazda's substantial investment(and gamble) in the Hardie 12 Hour was all about.

In tossing two of its new twin-turbo road rockets into the marathon, Mazda took the real risk of the RX-7 publicly disgracing itself and irreparably damaging the reputation of the car.

But after some early dramas it got what it wanted - a victory, and, hey presto, a pedigree for the RX-7 within days of its release on the Australian market. Mazda now plans to capitalise extensively on the victory with heavy advertising and promotion.

"In terms of corporate prestige, the 12 Hour success is of great benefit to us, with a rub-off on other products in the range," said a Mazda spokesman.

TAKE A BOW

For the record, and because they don't ever get the credit or recognition they deserve, here are the 12 Hour class winners.

Class A - cars under 1600cc: Mark Brame-Henry Draper (Suzuki GTi); Class B- cars 1601-2500cc: Peter McLeod-Peter Dane-Peter Janson (Citroen BX); Class C- cars 2501-4000cc: Tony Longhurst-Alan Jones (BMW M5); Class D - cars over 4000cc: Warren Cullen-Glen Cullen-Kim Jane (Holden Commodore SS); Class S -sports cars under 2200cc: Rick Bates-Geoff Morgan-Keith Carling (Toyota MR-2); Class T - turbo and 4WD: Charlie O'Brien-Garry Waldon-Mark Gibbs (Mazda RX-7)

THE WASH UP

Seeing how the 12 Hour is considered to be a consumer guide, we should take a look at the cars that didn't make it to the finish on Sunday.

Two, a Honda CRX and a Citroen BX, crashed out.

Victims of mechanical problems were three Commodores, the two Hyundai Lantras, another Citroen (clutch), another CRX, Peugeot 405 (clutch), Ford Laser turbo (driveline), Toyota Supra (lost wheel), Toyota MR-2, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Pulsar SSS, and Mitsubishi Galant VR-4.

Others had dramas but were able to keep going.

Fifty-five cars started and 39 were still running at the end, after a 12-hour thrashing. That's not a bad endorsement of the modern motor car.

TOURERS AT EASTER?

Organisers of the 12 Hour want to widen the appeal of the Easter long weekend of speed by adding a round of the Australian Touring Car Championship to the program.

Forcefield Marketing has indicated it intends applying for a Shell series race to become part of an expanded package of car and motorcycle racing next Easter.

But the CAMS is unlikely to give the idea the green light.

NSW already has three touring car title races - two more than any other State. As well, CAMS has a policy of protecting its classic events and this certainly includes the annual Tooheys 1000 for touring cars.

The Australian Racing Drivers Club, promoter of the Tooheys race, would surely oppose any move to expose the touring cars at Bathurst more than annually.

I also think that it might not be wise to put the far more spectacular touring cars on the same program as the much slower 12 Hour production cars. It could be a case of the support act stealing the show from the headliner.

SCRIBBLERS GO WELL

A couple of motoring journalist colleagues can hold their heads up high after strong Bathurst debuts in the 12 Hour.

Paul Gover, driving for Peugeot, and John Wright, part of the Citroen team, each looked sharp around a circuit not noted for kindness to neophytes.

Gover came under added pressure when he found himself sharing a car with Peter Brock after the maestro decided on some last-minute car hopping. But he rose to the occasion to put in a heady, mistake-free stint.

Wright, who usually provides his own pressure, left his forebodings behind when he jumped into his BX. He came away rightly pleased with his efforts.

He was staring at a second-in-class result when the Cit crashed while in the hands of a co-driver.

DIFFERENT SERVICE?

Former Davis Cup tennis star and car buff John Alexander was seen cruising through the Mount Panorama garages on Easter Saturday.

Could a 1993 James Hardie 12 Hour drive be on the agenda for the one-time racqueteer who these days is a Channel Seven sporting commentator?

Alexander, who has owned some spectacular machinery at different times, has just bought himself a new Subaru SVX, which he insists is the best grand tourer around.

BRAD CHASES THIRD

Brad Jones goes from being part of a circus act at Mount Panorama last weekend, to title contention in the 1991/92 AUSCAR championship at the Melbourne Thunderdome tomorrow.

The Castrol Commodore driver heads into the final round of the series 47 points clear of Ken James, who also drives a Holden.

A finish in the top 10 will secure Jones his third successive AUSCAR crown

In wild-and-desperate AUSCAR racing, this is no formality, and Jones knows it.

"A race win would be a nice way to end the season, but I'd rather win the championship by getting the car to the line in one piece," he said.

The outbreak of track activity has encouraged Jones to get into cycling as part of a fitness regimen.

CAUTION, LADS

The inaugural Targa Tasmania, a five-day event inspired by the classic European road races of the past, kicks off on Wednesday with a vast and varied cast of machines, some modern and a lot more that fall into the aged and exotic category.

The course, over more than 2,000 kilometres, ranges from genteel touring to flat-out racing over highways closed to the general public.

Some famous names are among the list of drivers, starting with world champions Sir Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme, the legendary Stirling Moss and rally hero Roger Clark.

Touring car driver Andrew Miedecke, sports sedan champ Greg Crick, AUSCAR specialist Brad Jones, and rally man Dean Rainsford are other entrants who have generous experience at the wheel.

Most of the competitors in the entry of more than 200 cars, though, are ordinary enthusiasts with a love of glorious cars.

Let's hope that ambition doesn't outstrip ability when the field is flagged off on some of the special stages. That well-credentialled drivers such as Moss and Brabham were caught out during a pre-event recce suggests the route is a bit of a minefield.

Authorities will not be pleased if competing cars start trying to knock over the Tasmanian flora and fauna. Those big Tassie tree trunks don't provide a soft landing.

REBELS FOR SANDOWN

Sandown promoter Jon Davison has made good his threat to put NASCAR and AUSCAR racing on his May 3 program, supporting the 1992 Drink/Drive Truck Super Prix.

After a poor attendance at the Shell touring car championship round at Sandown earlier this year, Davison launched into an attack on CAMS and its policies and said he would even consider using the "rebel" NASCAR and AUSCAR categories in the future.

This move means that both Melbourne racing circuits have stepped outside the control of CAMS, at least in the short term.

AUSSIE EXPORT

These are the business stories we love - a good-news tale.

Australian manufacturer VDO Instruments has beaten world-class competition to win a 10-year contract to supply vehicle instrument clusters to Mercedes-Benz of Germany.

It is the first time that Mercedes has placed an order with an Australian company for the design, development and manufacture of a component.

The deal calls for VDO to supply $12 million worth of instrument clusters, starting in 1984.

HEAVIER NISSANS

Organisers of Europe's best-known touring car race, the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, have handed out a nasty shock to Nissan, the defending champion team.

For this year's event, on August 1 and 2, cars with four-wheel-drive must carry an extra 40kg and turbo cars must carry an extra 50kg. It's an unsubtle move directed squarely at the Nissan GT-R which last year won by a huge margin, dishing out an awful hiding to the BMWs, Opels, Audis and Porsches.

It sounds very much like the Belgians have followed the lead of CAMS in an effort to slow down the Japanese supercar.

Australian touring car championship leader Mark Skaife is likely to be part of the Nissan assault on the Belgian classic, which this year is open to several categories - German touring car championship cars, Belgian pro car, FISA Group A touring cars, and FISA Group N (close to standard).

PORSCHE HOT ROD

The first of Porsche's latest 911 Carrera RS designs - the true sporty variant of the Carrera 2 - is on Australian roads.

The latest Carrera RS, based on the race-modified 911s that participate in the European Carrera Cup series, has a production run of just 2,000.

Six have been ordered by Australian enthusiasts.

In keeping with its heritage, which goes back to 1973, the latest RS comes with the bare essentials. Creature comforts have been abandoned to reduce the Porsche's weight and therefore enhance its performance. Lightweight leather-trimmed racing bucket seats are more functional than aesthetically appealing.

In the tail is a more powerful 191 (260 bhp) 3.6-litre naturally aspirated boxer engine.

Tucked away behind the lightweight 17-inch Carrera Cup-designed magnesium wheels and low-profile tyres are the largest race-proven cross-drilled ABS disc brakes ever fitted to a production Porsche.

It certainly is a no-compromise car. A five-speed close ratio box, sports-tuned suspension and torque-controlled limited-slip differential complete the unadulterated performance package.

Price of the RS is $182,689.

MG COMEBACK

Rover intends reviving the famous old MG marque with the introduction later this year of an all-new V8-engined model called the MGR (for Retro).

MG died as a marque 12 years ago when British Leyland finally put the old MGB down.

The new car, actually an extensively reworked version of the old MGB, will get the 3.9-litre all-alloy V8 from the Range Rover.

It will not be cheap and will be aimed at older affluent males.

Insiders also claim Rover is working on a new-generation Midget and an upmarket roadster.

To chase after territory occupied by the Mazda MX-5 and Honda Beat, the Midget will have a mid-engined layout with a choice of 1.4- or turbo 1.6-litre powerplants. Its launch is scheduled for 1994.

The luxury sports MG, which will target the Jaguar XJS convertible, is projected for 1995.

TOYS IN DEMAND

It's damned hard to find businesses that have defied the recession, but mark down Matchbox Collectibles as one.

Last year, it released a gift set called Flavours of Australia - six identical toy Ford vans each wearing the livery of a different Australian food product.

The entire stock of 15,000 sets was snapped up within four weeks and the few that have come on to the market since have leapt in value from the original $27.95 to more than $40.

This impressive appreciation in value is not uncommon among motor vehicle miniatures.

According to the general manager of Matchbox Collectibles, Robert Hill, no other modelmaker in the world can claim the same sense of tradition which surrounds the names of Matchbox and Dinky.

It is 60 years since the first Dinky models appeared, and 35 years since Matchbox introduced its famous Models of Yesteryear collection.

In the new 1992 "yesteryear" range is the royal coach, released to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Queen's accession.

There is also a Bedford quarry truck, complete with a load of real (albeit tiny) rocks.

Fire engines are a Matchbox staple, and the new release is a 1933 Cadillac

Collectors are no doubt aware that the Leyland Cub fire engine introduced just before Christmas '89 at a price of $34.95, is now valued at $180.

Soon for release, too, are the three nearly identical versions of the Austin baby car produced by Britain, Germany and France, the first"yesteryear" triple set.

A selection of commercials, a Matchbox Collectibles is also adding a range of classic Australian cars to its model line-up. The Trax range embraces the FJ Holden, Falcon GT, XU-1 Torana and other standouts.

You don't have to be a kid to lust after them, either.

FAST TRACK ...

* The third of the seven-round Australian Pro Stock Championship (we're talking drag racing here), will be run tomorrow at Eastern Creek, starting at 9am. Camden's Wayne Missingham, in his 820hp Chevy-engine Pontiac leads the points after wins in the opening two rounds.

* Imports of foreign cars into Japan have increased from 40,000 just a few years ago to 200,000 in 1991. It's still a drop in the Pacific compared with the flow of Japanese vehicles into prime international markets.

* Work is expected to start on a $135 million grand prix circuit at Zuhai in China later this year.

* A move away from the current four-year model cycles in Japan is gathering support after some initial reluctance by the major car makers.

* Slow learners. Perhaps Americans are finally discovering the joys of manual gearboxes. Seventy per cent of 3-series BMWs sold in the USA are self-shifters. By contrast 70 per cent of the old 3-series were autos.

* Out-of-work racing driver Alain Prost is strongly rumoured to be talking with Peugeot about a possible drive in the Le Mans 24 Hour race.

© 1992 Sydney Morning Herald

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