John Bowe's diary 394: Monaro, Volvo & Ferrari this month

By: John Bowe

Presented by

We get a sneak peek at the hectic life of one of Australia's most successful race drivers

1996-AMAROO-POZ-COLA-FERRARI---Looking -back -car

1996 AMAROO POZ COLA FERRARI: Looking back

There wasn't a lot wrong with 1996 for me. As the reigning Australian Touring Car Champion I was hard at it defending my title in the Dick Johnson Racing Falcon against worthy competition, including the rising star, young Craig Lowndes. But there was more going on than that. Already involved in the GT Production Car Championship driving a Mazda RX-7 for Allan Horsley, I was pretty excited when Ross Palmer offered me a Ferrari drive for '96, in his F355 Challenge. Entering a Ferrari was Ross’s response to the all-conquering Porsche 993 RSCS whose arrival had represented a serious shifting of the category’s goalposts.

It was my first experience of racing a Ferrari, so strapping myself in for the first time was a special moment, considering all the mythology and mystique that comes with the Ferrari brand. It was actually an awesome car, especially the sound and feel of that lovely V8 engine. It could pull 9000rpm which was big revs for a race-V8 at the time. I could never get enough of that exhaust sound at full noise. So stepping up to racing a Ferrari was a memorable milestone for me.

Early on, though, we discovered that the F355 was a bit fragile and somewhat flawed. Moving on from a dropped valve incident and some extensive suspension modifications to get the handling issues sorted, the result was a very competitive machine by the time we got to Amaroo. Being able to mix it convincingly with the Porsches was a quite satisfying achievement. We finished fifth that year with Cameron McConnell taking out the championship in a Porsche.

The following year I took the Ferrari to second place behind Porsche-mounted Peter Fitzgerald in the championship, with Porsches filling the next three places behind me.

It was a really rewarding experience competing in the series in a top car as part of a really professional outfit headed up by the super capable Neal Lowe.

Those interesting times owed a great deal to Ross Palmer. As many readers would know, his contribution to Australian motorsport extended way beyond his sponsorship of Dick Johnson Racing and giving me the Ferrari drive. We have Ross to thank for the Australian GT Production Car Championship itself, the Nations Cup and even V8 ute racing, all events that have added much value to motorsport in this country. I think he should be more widely acknowledged for his contribution.

1996-AMAROO-POZ-COLA-FERRARI---Looking -back -car

COMING UP

Can't wait for the Muscle Car Masters event at Sydney Motorsport Park at the weekend. I’m driving two special cars.

There’s the ex-Bob Jane HQ Chev Monaro that Unique Cars readers know well. Great car, but a bit of a handful. Might knock down a can or two of Popeye spinach before I jump in.

Then there’s Mark Petch’s Gp A 1985 Volvo 240 Turbo. Another top car with lots of history, a history that has quite a few of my fingerprints on its many interesting pages.

Wish me luck.

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