September 19th, 2016 by Luke | No Comments | Filed in Uncategorized |

9609_SD500_GT-1082 smallerAMC spotlights the 1996 Bathurst 1000 – when Aussie touring car racing changed forever. Craig Lowndes and Greg Murphy were elevated to superstar status, ushering in a new generation of driver. Issue #90 tracks the life story of the car they drove, HRT 033, and its place in racing history.

To say that one single car made a driver’s career or its creation can be pinpointed as the key pillar upon which a team’s ascension to the throne as ‘V8 Kings’ was built is most certainly a big call. But when Lowndes and Murphy both agree that the Holden Racing Team’s ‘Supercar’ VR Commodore built in 1996 fits the bill for both of those assertions, it’s bloody difficult to argue the point.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the duo claiming the endurance double at Sandown and Bathurst. It’s also the 20th anniversary of a breakthrough blue ribbon season for HRT where it also claimed the Australian Touring Car Championship for the first time, with Lowndes, as well as the end-of-year Mobil Series in New Zealand with Murphy.

At the core of it all was HRT’s Chassis 033, commonly known as ‘Gabrielle’; a car that gave the previously troubled Melbourne-based team its mojo.

It created headlines, pushed the envelopes of technology of the time and won its fair share of races – not bad for a VR Commodore body shell that began its life on the Holden production line at Port Elizabeth in South Australia.

It may not be a Torana XU-1, Falcon Phase III, or even a Group C Commodore or Ford – the types of cars that live firmly in the hearts and minds of Bathurst tragics as absolute pieces of classic muscle car history – but there’s no doubt this Bathurst conqueror is a piece of modern Australian motorsport, and indeed, modern muscle car, history.

“That car is definitely the car that made me and it made the Holden Racing Team,” Lowndes tells AMC. “I’m really blessed to have been a part of that era. It carved a path for the team and me.

“If I could have any of my old cars in my garage, that car is definitely one of them.”

His partner in crime from ’96 fully concurs.

“I think that car really made HRT,” says Kiwi Murphy, who made his last Bathurst 1000 start as recently as 2014.

“Effectively before that they (HRT) were on the ropes at the end of 1995. After Bathurst I remember there being a fair bit of angst and concern over the whole continuation of the operation and money from Holden. It was a terrible result with both cars not finishing either enduro; it wasn’t good.

“1996 was key. The fact Craig was so strong and won the championship and then we went and did the Sandown and Bathurst double, you could almost feel the relief with it all and it cemented HRT into being the powerhouse that we all knew it was for so long.”

Nicknamed ‘Gabrielle’ by HRT new car build chief of the time Tony Frederiksen, the ‘033’ chassis only ever made one trip to Bathurst in its racing career. But it can lay claim to a 100 percent Bathurst winning record, the sort of stuff other race cars can only dream about.

It provided a couple of young guns with the opportunity of a lifetime and they grasped with both hands. Pairing two young bucks together today is nothing out of the ordinary, but 20 years ago many pundits believed the factory Holden outfit was crazy for doing so. The gambled not only paid off, it changed the face of local touring car racing forever as other teams soon adopted a youth policy as the owner/driver era wound down.

HRT’s stellar 1996 season also laid the foundation for the team’s domination of the rebranded V8 Supercar series, winning six titles in seven years and six Bathurst 1000s between 1996 and 2011.

Beyond AMC #90’s cover story, what better way to mark October 7’s passing of Ford’s Aussie manufacturing than to highlight some great servants and unsung heroes of Ford’s recent history.

Meantime, it’s 30 years since the most-capped combination in Bathurst history appeared on the touring car scene. AMC catches up with Trevor Ashby and Steve Reed.

Our other big feature focuses on the many obstacles Wayne Draper faced in bringing his automotive dreams to reality and how a small band of enthusiasts are ensuring his muscle car legacy lives on.



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