1980 Race of Champions - John Bowe Diary 406

By: John Bowe

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JB looks back at the the all HDT VC Commodore event at Calder Park, the 1980 Race of Champions

With the current issue of Unique Cars celebrating all things Holden while marking the demise of the Australian-built Commodore it seemed like a good idea to revisit a career moment that connects me with the ‘General’ – the 1980 Race of Champions, an all HDT VC Commodore event. For those readers who understandably link me more with Ford than Holden, I should say that I actually see myself more as a ‘Car Guy’ than either a ‘Ford Guy’ or ‘Holden Guy’. Ford and GMH have both produced some stunning cars over the years as well some less impressive models.

Fronting up for the Race of Champions, I was only in my second year of racing on the ‘mainland’, as young fellas from Tassie called it. While my career to that point was all about my first love, open-wheelers, I could see that then, as now, the motor racing action in Australia, and the opportunities, had a touring car focus. Although I was entered for the meeting in the Ansett Elfin MR8 Formula 5000, I had got wind of the fact that two Race of Champions heats were on the program as support events. It looked like an opportunity to me. So I started harassing Graham Sellars, who managed Calder Park for Bob Jane, about getting a Commodore drive. I was on his back about it for weeks. When he finally relented and signed me up it was a red-letter day for me. My persistence had paid off – I had scored my first Touring Car drive. Even better it was going to be at a high-exposure, prestige event, an Australian Grand Prix meeting organised by Bob Jane. He put in a huge effort to attract internationals to the meeting including reigning Formula 1 champion Alan Jones, along with his Williams F1 car. It was a seriously big deal.

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The racing was a real eye-opener for a young open-wheeler guy, a new experience to see how much Commodore panel-rubbing went on (open-wheeler drivers avoid contact at all costs). Local stars like Kevin Bartlett and Jim Richards were right in the thick of it, and internationals like Sir Jack Brabham and Didier Pironi didn’t hold back either.

Although I didn’t win either race, I was the overall winner on aggregate points ahead of Kevin Bartlett and Peter Brock.

I will always treasure the memory of being presented with the ‘Big M’ trophy by Jackie Stewart.– a nice contrast with being black-flagged out of the main open-wheeler race when the MR8 sprung an oil leak.

Incidentally my cunning plan to display my tin-top driving ability was a fizzer. It was another five years before I finally scored a Touring Car drive.

 

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