Lakeside in the A9X, JPS BMW and RS 500 Sierra.
19 August 2010
Lakeside is one of the greatest race tracks in Australia, with its huge history, fantastic layout and laid back atmosphere, it is always something special to be able to run a few of our cars there. For this year’s Classic Speedfest event we had 5 cars on track, being driven by two racing Legends; Jim Richards and Kevin Bartlett. Having these guys drive, then give their opinions on the cars, before getting in them ourselves really helped give a great insight to just how amazing these 3 vastly different cars are to drive on the track.
Peter Brock/ Jim Richards/ John Harvey 1978/79 HDT A9X - The Ultimate Aussie Muscle Car.
Let me put this out there, I am a “Ford guy” when it comes to cars, but tend to not to let that upset my opinion when it comes deciding on what makes a great car. To me the HDT A9X is the pinnacle of Aussie muscle that raced at Bathurst in the 70’s. I have been in awe of this car since the first time I got to drive it many moons ago. Light, balanced and a healthy amount of power makes for a great driving experience.
This A9X was the one that brought Brock back to Holden when John Sheppard took over running the HDT operation. The team did a stellar job that year, winning the 1978 ATCC, AMC and of course when teamed with Jim Richards, Brock won the big one on the mountain that year too. In 1979 it was piloted by the talented John Harvey coming 3rd in the ATCC. From there it went through a few owners before ending up in our shed some 12 or so years ago. Since getting it, we have kept it mostly the same, only bringing it back to form mechanically as she was showing the wear and tear of being a well used racer.
We had three days at the track with the Speedfest event, so on the Friday KB took it out for a session, reporting back that it was “very well behaved”. I had the first drive on Saturday Morning and was quite excited to get back in one of my favourite cars in the collection. It has a beautiful driving position and quite purposeful with the binnacle mounted gauges behind the wheel covering all the road car instruments. Flick the key and she fires to life, with a beautiful V8 burble. For running around Lakeside the clutch is a bit heavy and the steering needs some real effort but show me a muscle race car that is not like this and I will argue it is not a real one!
On track the A9X is just gorgeous, turns wherever you wish to point it, with a slight bit of oversteer if you ever become a little bit adventurous, meaning you need to steer it out with a little bit of correction through most of the corners. We had a soft compound, grooved tyre fitted from Goodwood 2008, which after about 4 laps did become a bit warm and make for some extra fun driving, but the cars balance is that good it never feels like it is ever going to do anything evil, telegraphing it’s movements back to you beautifully. The brakes and gear change is pretty good, with the currently fitted lower gear set being ideal for Lakeside. The engine is not at all a real powerhouse like some of our cars, but it is not needed thanks to the nice torque curve, pulling quite strongly in the mid range to up high. Coming down the straight it sounds and feels pretty damn good and makes you fall in love all over again with the bellowing Holden V8.
My first run on the Saturday ended a few laps prematurely, with it giving a cough through hungry corner before coming to a complete stop on the exit of carousel… out of fuel!! It seems my brother Chris and KB had too much fun with her the previous day and did a few more laps that we allowed for in the tank, I cannot blame them really as it is such a real pleasure to drive this old girl.
On the Sunday we were able to give some lucky punters rides, after they won them from buying our car care products on the day. I think it was fair to say it was the ride of their lives... for the reasons of it being such a historic bit of steel and them holding on with grim death to the roll cage due to my not so smooth (as Brock), driving style! I had fun in her tho... this 1978 car is pretty damn good but there is still one car from this era that is a little bit better... the immortal 1979 Brock A9X.
Jim Richards/ Tony Longhurst 1986 JPS 635 BMW - Once you go black…
Frank Gardner is one of my all time heroes, his exploits throughout Europe and all other parts of the globe are pretty amazing, especially when you look at the variety of iconic machinery he successfully piloted over the years. In 1984, his years of skill went into making the very attractive liveried JPS 635 BMW from Germany to be the fastest of its type in the world. He built and set-up the 635’s for the super fast kiwi Jim Richards, who had great success in winning the 1985 Australian Touring Car Championship.
Our car was the last one built and raced by Jim and a young Tony Longhurst in 1986, with Jim commenting it was the very best one they ever made. It later sold it to Ray Gulson, who campaigned it over the next 9 years, including 8 successive Bathurst finishes, something I am pretty sure would be a record for the most of any car in Australia! Ray sold it to BMW Australia, who restored it, then later sold it to Dad. It was a pretty high class resto for a race car, which is why for so many years we never used the car. Plus the fact we always wanted Jim to drive it and tell us if it was all ok... a bit difficult when said driver had no interest in slowing down his racing commitments! It was not until the Gold Coast event last year that we finally got to run the car for the first time and get Jim behind the wheel. His feedback was really as good as it gets, he just loved the car and said it was just like they were back in 1985/86. For us, to hear and see Jim piloting it around the Surfers track was very impressive, from which came a deep desire for both myself and my brother Chris to get a drive in it ASAP!
Our chance came this fine Qld winters weekend, Chris had a run on the Friday and rang me with a glowing report on just how good it was.. I was finally to get the chance of a drive in it on the Saturday afternoon, after getting bumped from the seat by Jim, as he wanted a midday run (would you say no to him?).. His feedback had me even more excited “the car is absolutely perfect, nothing needs to be changed”.. So, when I got in this “perfect” (by the Jim Richards standards) car, I was really unsure what to expect…
Again, like the A9X it has a great driving position, but feels a little bit more serious with the better pedal set-up for heel and toe, not to mention the total stripped interior and one race seat, a big leap forward from the days of group C regulations. Everything in the car is very light and precise, quite different to the A9X. One thing especially takes a lot to get used to is with the small race clutch and little torque, trying to balanced the revs to get her under way can be quite a mission. This really pops its head up when you drive out of the pits, the cam in the car is huge, meaning that you have now power down low and you feel like you have fouled a plug till it finally gets over the cam and starts to run right over 4500rpm… If it is ever under 4500, it is a total hund (dog), but once above, it all comes alive!
Jim told me how the car was always like this as the engine design was ideal with rolling starts used in the European races, pity they were never used here! He always had a bit of drama with getting off the line, but came to develop his own method for taking off, which if you watch some of the old races, worked quite effectively.
Not being as good as Jim in any way or form, I did my best, initially stalling it on the take-off, before restarting it in the pit exit, before finally getting it moving with a weird clutch in, throttle, clutch, throttle, clutch method to try and build the revs before the engine finally came on song, propelling me away to learn all about this ebony beauty. Everything is this car is amazingly precise, the shift is quick, short and initially very easy to get wrong with the small gate (I did it a couple of times, Chris the same and our in car footage shows even Jim did it just once). From here it was testing the brakes, which were insanely good in comparison to the A9X again, especially when they began to get some warmth in them.
But the single most amazing thing I found out about this car was its handling. The run over eastern loop, somewhere I have always had to be easy on with the different cars as it loves to make most cars quite tail happy and a delicate balance to keep them in check. Not this beauty…In fact it staggered me just how much quicker it was across the top, let alone around every other corner on the circuit. The way it did it so easily was just remarkable giving you a huge amount of confidence in your driving ability!
After a couple of laps I was hooked, the engine sound, steering and perfect handling, regardless of how bad your lines are.. in fact I found you could put the car in some terrible places on the road, like off line trying to pass my vastly slower brother (who was trying his hardest to keep me behind) in the sliding A9X, made it something that could not keep the grin from my face. Nothing I could do would upset it, to be able to drive it at the level Jim does must be an amazing experience. For me, it was the best car I have ever driven, full stop. Still weeks later I am buzzing on how good it is, which I see as a total credit to the JPS team and Frank Gardner, who together achieved this level of automotive excellence.
Tony Longhurst 1990 B&H Sierra- The yellow beast.
A lot of people may not realise but Tony Longhurst has been a good friend of our family since the mid eighties, before he even set forth in a race car. I still remember when we went along to support him in his first ever Gemini race at Surfers Paradise, which ended when he put the car on its roof! Thankfully, things got a lot better and Tony progressed through the ranks of driving ending up in the capable hands of Frank Gardner as his team boss. They went through a variety of BMW’s, till Tony decided to have his own team. Under Gardner’s management they progressed into the RS 500 Sierra’s.
The car we own is the very last one they built, back in 1990. It was constructed by Jim Stone especially for the endurance championship rounds, with Bathurst being the main goal, that year it got a nice qualifying time of 2mins13seconds… however, for all its speed it did not finish the race, sadly retiring on lap 53. Tony raced it only a handful of times, before retiring it for the M3 BMW’s the following year. It continued as a privateer car for a couple more races before we purchased it. Again this is a car we had never used or even run. We finally got our finger out this year and thought about getting it prepared to do a few events. First time out Chris found how it could light the tyres up in all 5 gears… and that was when it was not running right!!
Friday and Saturday at Lakeside was spent sorting the car till KB’s run on Sunday against the two GTR Godzilla’s of Jim Richards and Mark Gibbs. He certainly showed how quick these things actually are in capable hands. KB came back grinning like a wild man saying that “the car is perfect” which I have never heard KB say about a car ever! This should have been some sort of warning indicator to me but no... all I knew is that I needed to have a drive and see for myself how these potent little turbo weapons are first hand... and oh boy, did I find out!
Sunday afternoon I had the pleasure being on track with Jim Richards when he was back again in the black BMW for the final run of the day. Before I got in the Sierra that afternoon, KB came up and told me again, “this car is perfect”, which was almost alarming as he obviously had thoughts of me doing something drastically silly to affect the car in some way. Inside I thought... “thanks for the vote of confidence” as I strapped myself in and prepared for the ride of my life.
This car is totally purpose built for racing. It has all the different adjustable settings for the Zytec computer, boost, brake bias, nicely positioned at hands reach but I was thankful I would not have to touch anything, as KB had sorted it all out in the last couple of runs. The driving position, pedals, shifter and comfort level is exceptional, just what you want for a long distance racer. Surprising is how simple the car is to drive around the pits; it is just like any road car, nothing grumpy or race car like at all.
My first lap was warming up the tyres and brakes and slowly applying the throttle to work out where the turbo comes in, everything seemed great and easy. By Lap 3 I began getting adventurous, the car showed it’s beautifully balance, brakes were akin to the hands of god whenever I applied them and whittling through the gears I was getting the hang of how it would come on boost with the big surges of power that just pushed you back in the seat, making for a most joyous sensation! However, the huge grin I had on my face was to get wiped off really soon! My lesson in “talent” was after coming down the main straight, pumping it through the gears, just loving the absurd amount of power it had, which is all too addictive for any car fiend. So, on the exit of carousal, I was thinking it was now time to get her really moving up and over the rise so I hopped on the throttle early, applying full throttle in third... BIG MISTAKE. the turbo came on boost and all 650+ BHP lit the rear tyres up to project me sideways down the road….eeeeek!! By some miracle I had just enough time to grab enough lock as she tried to spin down the road. The cars great balance really came forward to save me from doing anything more dramatic than this major moment but it certainly put the wind up me big time!!
The big lesson was to never, ever floor it unless it was pointed in a straight line!. I tested this out in a few more corners and found in any gear but top, it had the potential to be lethal when really getting into it. By the time my 6 laps were over, I came in just totally blown away, I hopped out of the Sierra and had the hand shakes from the amount of adrenaline flowing through me. Just totally in awe of this mighty beast and the brave and talented drivers who piloted them around all those years ago. Freaks me to think we have three of these monsters lurking in our sheds!
Our next stage with this turbo beast will be getting Tony back for a steer in her, maybe something we can all look forward to seeing this coming October…something I am sure he will be delighted in doing!
Overall the whole weekend was a great event, one of the best for us in years. Thanks to all those who came along, it was great to meet and see you all. We will be looking forward in anticipation for next year’s Classic Speedfest. Another big thanks to Mark Pryor for all the images here.
Love your car,