WhichCar
Powered by
  • WheelsWheels
  • MOTORMOTOR
  • 4X4 Australia4X4 Australia
  • Street MachineStreet Machine
  • Trade Unique CarsTrade Unique Cars

Fast-tracked Falcons: Top 10 motorsport moments

By Peter McKay, 23 Nov 2018 Features

Fast-tracked Falcons: Top 10 motorsport moments

For more than half a century, the Falcon has delivered some of this country’s biggest motorsport moments; most positive, a few tragic, but all lodged indelibly in our memories

THIS weekend marks the final competitive outing for a factory-backed, Aussie-made Ford Falcon in the Supercars series. From next year the two-door Mustang is poised to replace it and do battle under the Blue Oval banner against the Holden ZB Commodore.

 

To celebrate the Falcon’s legacy and motorsport heroics, here are ten of the best moments from its local racing history.

This story was first published in Wheels, November 2016, to commemorate the Falcon’s success in motorsport at the end of Ford’s local manufacturing.

10. Lowndes wins Bathurst on tidal wave of emotion

WHO: Lowndes/Whincup
WHAT: Emotion-charged first Bathurst 1000 after Brock's death
WHEN: October 2006
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: Brock's protege takes the win, salutes his racing hero

THE 2006 Bathurst 1000 was set to be a race paying homage to the King of the Mountain. Much-loved Peter Brock had died just two weeks earlier, and emotions and pain on both sides of the fence were still very raw.

Precocious youngster Craig Lowndes had burst on the scene in the mid-1990s and immediately hailed as Brock’s clear successor; gifted with an effortless natural ability, and a cheerful persona outside the car.

Ford Falcon in Motorsport

Brock took Lowndes under his wing. The two were close; the master and his apprentice.

But after winning his first Bathurst 1000 in 1996 and three national championships, Lowndes defected to Ford, lured by a record deal for a local driver.

Motorsport fans flocked to Bathurst to mourn Brock’s passing and pay tribute. Brand allegiances were tossed aside in their grief. It was about remembering Peter. Many hoped that Lowndes, Ford’s poster boy but unsuccessful in the 1000 since that first victory a decade earlier, might overcome the odds and win for his mentor.

He and his driving partner, the developing Jamie Whincup, qualified sixth and were expected to have an uphill struggle against overwhelming favourite and pole man Mark Skaife in an HRT Commodore.
A moving tribute to Brock just before the race left Lowndes in tears. He quickly had to pull himself together and focus on the task ahead. And the race was thrown wide open when Skaife crashed out early.
Lowndes and Whincup combined beautifully, staying away from the usual carnage. Whincup’s mid-race stints were decisive as he grabbed the lead from Todd Kelly off a safety-car restart, before handing over to Lowndes for a grandstand finish.

Lowndes didn’t give Kelly a look, posting the fastest lap of the day on lap 158. He was in tears again as he took an emotional win, his second and Whincup’s first at Bathurst.

Holding aloft the new Peter Brock Trophy, Lowndes dedicated the win to his racing hero and mentor. It was a fairytale finish and his proudest Bathurst moment.

9. Epic, against-the-odds Goss/Bartlett win at Bathurst

WHO: John Goss/Kevin Bartlett
WHAT: Holden should have crushed the three private Falcons. One GT survived. And won.
WHEN: October 1974
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: Drenching rain, a murky sky, a lone surviving Falcon up front with a fast Holden on the hunt...

As darkness descended rapidly and the laps ran out in the rain-saturated 1974 Bathurst race, the leading Falcon GT driven by Kevin Bartlett was in sight of an improbable victory. But catching Bartlett rapidly was the Holden Torana of Bob Forbes.

Setting the scene, Ford had withdrawn from racing before that season began, and so just three privateer optimists – Allan Moffat, Murray Carter and John Goss – turned up with Falcon GTs for the 1974 Bathurst punch-up. They were up against a Holden armada led by the mighty factory Holden Dealer Team.

Goss, a loquacious limelight-loving Tasmanian with lots of talent and self-belief, chose the brave open-wheel star Bartlett to co-drive, even though KB was still recovering from serious leg injuries from a massive Formula 5000 shunt early in the year.

Pole winner Peter Brock had opened an amazing six-lap lead in the new HDT L34 before engine failure ended his race.

Read next: Ford GT, Mustang GT4, Falcon Supercar set for flat-out Bathurst lap ‘battle’

The Moffat and Carter machines were silent by mid-race, leaving the Goss/Bartlett GT as the only surviving Falcon.

Then it started to drizzle. Goss (and others) were scrambling to stay on the track.

Bartlett remembers: “Moffat was out of contention, so with his mind on helping Ford, he offered us a set of Goodyear wets. Proper wets, not the grooved dry Bridgestone rubber like we had.”

It was a crucial, race-winning call.

With rain belting down and cars crashing regularly, the race evolved into a scrap among genuine privateers in the most treacherous conditions. Goss/Bartlett versus Forbes/Wayne Negus.

“It was horrific,” says Bartlett, not an easy man to frighten. “Water was streaming across the track in about 15 places. I was concentrating so hard. The wipers were lifting off the screen on the straights, and a few times I had to loosen the belts to reach forward to wipe the mist off the glass.

“But I had good tyres and I think the long wheelbase of the Falcon was an asset on the slippery track.”

The murky film noir semi-darkness only added to the dramatic finish as Forbes’ Torana closed to within nine seconds before Bartlett/Goss took a brave win in the wettest Bathurst race held until then.

8. Glenn Seton's 1995 Bathurst heartache

WHO: Glenn Seton
WHAT: Heartache on the mountain for one of the good guys
WHEN: October 1995
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: Oh the pathos; so near, and yet…

For many years, Glenn Seton chased after a Bathurst 1000 win with a raw hunger. To do so would be to emulate the deeds of his father Barry, who won the 500-miler on the mountain in 1965. So many fans willed the second-generation good-guy star to take a much-deserved Bathurst win.

When racing for Nissan, Seton was second in the 1987 championship series, and second again later that year in the Bathurst 1000, a virtuoso performance vividly remembered by awestruck TV viewers as he slid his Skyline so perilously and spectacularly.

Seton won the ATCC in 1993 and 1997. But Australia’s greatest race remained elusive.

In 1995 he held a good lead and finally looked on course to break what the media had long categorised as his jinx race.

Then, with just nine laps remaining, the engine failed in his EF Falcon. A shattered, drained Seton slumped in his dead car then had to endure the intrusion of a live cross beamed to millions of TV viewers. “I can’t believe it. It’s heartbreaking to come this close,” he managed.

Back in the pits, Barry Seton, who built the engine in his son’s car, was in tears. Nine piddling laps. Stopped by a broken valve spring. Motorsport can be cruel.

Read next: Aussie turns Ford Falcon into Mustang sedan

The 2016 version of Glenn Seton doesn’t dwell on that awful moment; 21 years on, he’s forgiven the motorsport gods for their brutality. “Yeah, I reckon I’m one of the luckiest blokes around to do what I do at a professional level. I raced in the Bathurst 1000 26 times and I’ve managed what lots haven’t – I’ve stood on the podium four times [three second places and a third].

I’m proud of that.”

Good one, Glenn. The glass is half full.

7. Johnson vs Brock in title thriller at Lakeside

WHO: Dick Johnson
WHAT: The race that landed his first touring car title
WHEN: June 1981
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: Withstood flag-to-flag pressure from Brock

DICK Johnson’s first Australian Touring Car Championship triumph came after an epic duel with defending titleholder Peter Brock (HDT Commodore) in the final round at Brisbane’s roller-coaster Lakeside Raceway. Anyone present – and I was – will never forget the tension hanging in the air that pleasant winter’s afternoon in the north.

There were other drivers and cars in that motor race, but the crowd had eyes just for two fighting it out at Johnson’s home track. Johnson and the Palmer Tube Mills XD Falcon – built with the money donated by supportive fans after his unintended geological foray at Bathurst the previous year – had won four rounds that season; Brock three. This was it. The clincher. No contrived pit stop rules. Full tank, fresh tyres, green light…

The two fought tooth-and-nail every lap to the flag in what is remembered as one of the greatest ATCC races ever.

“After two or three laps I broke the front anti-roll bar,” Johnson told Wheels. “It was hanging under the car and I found out later an official reported it to the clerk of the course and suggested I should be black-flagged.”

He dismissed the call, saying there was no way he was risking a riot.

Lap after lap, Brock looked for a way past. Johnson was flawless on a track he knew intimately, racing to a breathtaking win that secured his first of five championships.

Johnson gave credit to Brock, explaining his rival had every opportunity to help him off the track. Equally, Brock praised the Queenslander’s ability to withstand the unrelenting pressure from behind, even with that broken front anti-roll bar. 

Ford GT race car to make Aussie debut at Bathurst 1000

“That race was something special, on a track I enjoyed as much as Mount Panorama and with the crowd roaring,” Johnson recalls.

The race was also the real beginning of the spectacular Brock-Johnson rivalry, which was defined by fierce yet fair battles and mutual respect.

6. Battlers land title for Courtney in bizarre decider

WHO: James Courtney
WHAT: Cash-strapped DJR Falcon team prevails against the might of factory Holdens and Fords
WHEN: December 2010
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: Disbelief of seeing the title contenders crash in a downpour, and then the tense pit scramble to get the cars repaired

By any measure, James Courtney’s win in the 2010 V8 Supercars Championship was a massive upset, if only because the privateer DJR team was up against the gun works outfits.

And DJR was also stone broke.

Somehow, Courtney and DJR kept punching, going to the decider with a hardly comfortable 53-point lead over Jamie Whincup. Mark Winterbottom was a mathematical chance in third.

Two tough 250km races at Sydney’s ridiculous street circuit in the Olympic precinct would seal the season. Courtney looked more than vulnerable.

“Behind the scenes it was stressful,” Courtney acknowledges. “The guys didn’t know if they’d have jobs after that weekend.”

Sydney’s summer weather turned sour during the Saturday race. Rain belted down on lap 60 of 74 and, with the field still on slicks, there were crazy scenes as leaders Whincup, Courtney and Winterbottom – the three championship contenders – aquaplaned and pin-balled off the wall, with others adding to the carnage.

“I was thinking it wasn’t too bad because Whincup was on the outside of me and I could use him as a bit of a cushion,” Courtney says. “Then Lowndes came along and whacked me hard in the rear, pushing the fuel tank into the diff.”

The badly damaged cars of Courtney and Whincup crawled agonisingly back to the pits, starting a mad scramble by the crews to get the cars out in time to be classified as finishers. The DJR crew patched-up Courtney’s Falcon and got it back on track to claim 15th place, but Triple Eight just fell short in getting Whincup mobile again. 

Worthy Watch: Race-spec Ford GT v Ford Performance range

“The most memorable moment I’ve ever had in motorsport came when I fired up the Falcon and it was pushed out of the garage in time to start the final lap,” Courtney recalls. “The way the guys pulled it all together, grabbing hot discs and stuff like that … amazing. They wanted the championship so badly. It was a real team moment.”

The 60 points Courtney banked on that mad Saturday were enough to see him crowned champion on Sunday. It was an extraordinary weekend, and a stunning triumph for a struggling team.

5. Last to first: Mostert/Morris steal Bathurst

WHO: Chaz Mostert/Paul Morris
WHAT: Miracle work, from dead last to win the Bathurst 1000
WHEN: October 2014
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: Drama as Mostert's Falcon stalks and then passes Whincup's fuel-starved Holden in the final minute

FORD Performance Racing’s Falcon driven by young speedster Chaz Mostert and veteran warrior Paul Morris started the 2014 Bathurst 1000 from dead last, survived a hard thump into the tyre barriers, went a lap down, yet somehow latched onto the rear bumper of Jamie Whincup’s race-leading Commodore on the final lap.

Earlier, battle-hardened Morris, 46 – chosen to act as a calming influence on the firebrand 22-year-old Mostert – had crashed in practice.

Mostert qualified 14th but was excluded for passing under red flags and was relegated to the back. Then, early in the race, Morris crashed again, on a damaged, deteriorating surface at turn two.

Into the business end of the 1000, Tekno’s Shane van Gisbergen/Jono Webb held a healthy lead until their chances were cruelly obliterated when the Holden failed to re-start after a late pit stop.

Ford Falcon: The Last Ride

It set up one of the great nail-biting finishes at Mount Panorama, with puppy-eager Mostert in the punched-up and bandaged Falcon chasing down arguably the fastest and smartest Supercars driver out there, albeit driving a car with a near-empty fuel tank. Three laps from the finish, Whincup’s lead was down to three seconds and shrinking, with his engineer imploring him to conserve fuel. Stress levels in the garage went stratospheric…

The tailgating and fuelled-to-the-end Mostert was hoping Whincup’s engine would ‘cough, you bastard, cough!’, and it did… coming on to Conrod Straight for the last time.

Mostert stormed past the stuttering Red Bull Holden to steal a remarkable victory in just his second Bathurst 1000 start. He led the race for just one kilometre of 1000.

In hindsight, should Whincup, who had started from 23rd after a qualifying crash, have backed off and saved some fuel? “Absolutely not,” insists Whincup. “Best race of my life. As a group we give it everything, and on that day the best was fifth.

“I couldn’t have been prouder of my team coming from last to lead, then going one and three-quarter laps down, and back to lead the race again on the last lap,” says Whincup unequivocally. “Special stuff.”

And an extraordinary day for Mostert and Morris. “From 25th to first… it’s unbelievable,” a beaming Mostert exclaimed. “Everything went our way.”

4. Moffat's solo heroics at Bathurst, twice

WHO: Alan Moffat
WHAT: 500-mile solo drive, smashing the Bathurst race record by 26 minutes
WHEN: October 1971
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: One race, two legends - Moffat and the awesome GT-HO Phase III

IN 1970, Ford darling Allan Moffat won his first Bathurst enduro, avoiding the usual hair-raising moments in a fight with an army of other Falcon GT-HO Phase IIs, and the rival Torana XU-1s and Valiant Pacers.

It was a titanic effort driving the works XW Falcon solo for 500 miles, grappling with the challenges of series production cars – the absolute need for mechanical empathy – over six hours and 46 minutes of flat-out nurturing. This was the era when a missed gearchange or too-early downshift could lead to a terminal over-rev and a blown engine.

The Ford legend remembers that breakthrough October Sunday vividly, yet he doesn’t regard it as his finest solo drive at Mount Panorama.

That came a year later in the brutal factory XY Falcon Phase III in which he took pole by a full three seconds, and proceeded to arrogantly crush the opposition Chargers and Toranas over the 130-lap slog, winning by a lap and beating his race record by an astonishing 26 minutes.

In an outstanding display of brand superiority, Falcons filled five of the first six places. No wonder the Phase III was described as the fastest four-door-sedan in the world.

The only potential problem Moffat encountered on his victory romp was an errant cardboard beer carton that lodged in the car’s grille, putting frowns on the faces of his Howard Marsden-led factory team. From pit lane, the pit board messaged Moffat to stop next lap to have the cardboard plucked off. He defied the instruction and subsequent frantic arm-waving by his crew, staying on track until his next scheduled stop.

“They thought I was throwing away the race,” Moffat recollected to Wheels. “In fact, I was constantly checking the water-temp gauge and the needle wasn’t moving. That car was beautifully prepared.”

And immaculately driven.

3. Bill Brown’s death-defying Bathurst rollover

WHO: Bill Brown
WHAT: A barrel-roll along a safety fence nearly severed his Falcon GT-HO in two
WHEN: October 1971
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: The scariest rollover in Bathurst history, from an era of flimsy protection

Forty-five years after Bill Brown’s spectacular shunt, the grainy black-and-white footage is still a popular YouTube clip, showing those frightening moments of the Falcon GT-HO chopping itself almost in two as it rolled along the timber fence on top of the mountain during the 1971 Bathurst enduro.

Brown, a quietly spoken Sydney newsagent, was the quickest privateer in the race that year and running third at the time of his headlining incident.

In the news: Final Falcon sold to become GT Holy Grail

On lap 43, Brown fired over the rise into McPhillamy Park when a front tyre burst at 170-180km/h, sending the Phase III straight ahead into a dirt bank and then up into the air, rolling violently doorhandle over doorhandle along the wooden fence.

A flaggie ran for his life as the Falcon tumbled towards him, clipping his arm. The wreck finally finished upside down, broken-backed on top of the fence, almost severed across the turret just behind where Brown’s head would have been.

“When it came to rest upside down, people started to push the car back over,” Brown reported. “But I could smell petrol so I told them to stop.”

Brown’s peers knew him as an exceptionally fast driver who was also an original Bathurst driver with the Holden Dealer Team. Yet the ’71 Bathurst shunt is what he is best remembered for, making him instantly famous for the wrong reasons. Asked if this still annoys him, Brown laughs. “Nah, it never worried me. I knew I could drive, and that crash wasn’t my fault.”

The crash also marked him the Houdini of racing as his almost-severed car had the barest of roll hoops. Yet Brown stepped out with just a grazed shin and a bad case of bloodshot eye. “The back of the seat was broken and I was flung flat, luckily for me.”

After a check-up in hospital, where he found himself alongside the hurt flaggie, Brown drove himself home to Sydney that evening. There was pressing business to attend to: “I had to get back to sell papers at the newsagency the next day.”

2. Johnson’s rocky 1980 and fairytale 1981 Bathurst

WHO: Dick Johnson
WHAT: From shattering disaster to euphoric redemption; a tale of two Bathursts
WHEN: October 1980, October 1981
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: A fairytale rebound 12 months after the rock disaster

THIS tale of crushing disappointment with a dream outcome a year later needs to be told as one story in two parts, or three parts if we include the massive crash that curtailed the 1981 race.

Dick Johnson was a relative unknown battler from Queensland, who was leading the 1980 Bathurst 1000 on lap 17 when his self-built XD Falcon struck a hefty rock that had rolled onto the track.

The underdog’s heartbreak moment was pushed hard by telecaster Channel Seven. Appealing to the generosity of its viewers, Seven began an on-air plea to find the money to repair Johnson’s shattered Falcon. Edsel Ford II immediately offered to match the donations, which amounted to $72,000, a handy pile in those days.

Twelve months later, with a new Falcon built with the money raised by the Seven appeal, Johnson reinforced his rise to stardom by winning his first national championship before heading back to Bathurst, seeking vengeance on that wretched Mountain.

 

Into the final quarter of the 1000, Johnson/John French were ahead of Bob Morris/John Fitzpatrick in another Falcon when pandemonium broke out at McPhillamy Park bend on lap 121. The Falcon of Christine Gibson was lapping a Gemini right at the time Morris, hellbent on catching Johnson, charged beneath her. The two Falcons touched and speared into the wall, triggering a multi-car pile-up that brought out the red flags. The race was over.

To find the winner, officials went back to the order on the previous lap. Johnson/French first. Morris/ Fitzpatrick second.

There were suggestions that the Johnson car was ailing and that it wouldn’t have made it to the finish if the race had run its course. Does it matter? Not when the results are in the vault.

The fairytale was complete, and Johnson has the trophy on show at DJR-Team Penske. Along with the rock.

1. Allan Moffat’s 1977 Bathurst XC Falcon One-Two

WHO: Allan Moffatt/Jacky Ickx and Colin Bond/Alan Hamilton
WHAT: Ford's biggest triumph on the mountain
WHEN: October 1977
WHY IT'S UNFORGETTABLE: Utter dominance of our toughest race, never seen before, and rarely matched since

In the history of the Ford Falcon, there is no greater track triumph than the majestic one-two double whammy landed by Allan Moffat’s pair of XC Hardtops in the 1977 Bathurst 1000.

It was such an emphatic victory, more imposing because the single-minded, Bathurst-obsessed Moffat orchestrated the whole two-car assault personally with money stumped up by Ford dealers.

Piloting the #1 Falcon he shared with Formula One star and Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx, owner/driver Moffat controlled much of the race, with the #2 Moffat Ford Dealer Team car of Colin Bond and Alan Hamilton half a lap back. Into the concluding stages, Moffat could almost taste the champagne…

“Then, as I went into Forrest’s Elbow, the brake pedal went to the floor,” Moffat told Wheels. His clear choices were: park it or press on.

“Obviously I had to try to keep it going, but by staying away from the brake pedal. I started to manage the situation in about three laps and then, after a while, it didn’t bother me.

“Colin was closing quickly, and on the last lap, he drew alongside on Conrod Straight to set up our formation finish.”

The TV camera from the Channel Seven helicopter tracking the duo down Conrod also produced some of the most enduring Bathurst imagery of all time.

Bond was tempted to snatch victory but ultimately played the dutiful role of servant. “Colin nosed ahead over the tricky last hump on Conrod but that’s when I sent him a telepathic message reminding him who was signing his pay cheque tomorrow!”

Moffat aimed his under-braked Falcon around the outside of Bond, who eased off to allow his boss to take his fourth Bathurst 1000 win.

It was Ford’s finest day in local racing. Cars numbered one and two finished neatly in that order. Fairytale ‘win on Sunday; sell on Monday’ fodder for Ford.