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Supercars History: Sandown 500

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As the 2018 Enduro season kicks off at Sandown, I’ve looked at the history of one of Australia’s greatest races. Image thanks to News.com.au

It’s that time of year again. The Supercars enduros are absolutely my favourite time of the year and the period I look forward to most. The Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 and Gold Coast 600 are three of the best touring car races on the calendar and the enduros are the first dates I look for when the Supercars calendar is released. Ahead of the 2018 RABBLE.club Sandown 500 I’ve taken a look back into the event’s past and gone back to its beginnings as the Sandown 6-Hour International way back in 1964.

Production Regulations

Somewhat longer than the current-day race would turn out to be, the 1964 Sandown 6 Hour International was the first endurance race held at Sandown for FIA Group 1 compliant saloon cars. Held at the circuit on November 29th, 1964, the 230-lap race was won by Ralph Sachs and Italian Roberto Bussinello driving an Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti Super. Well-known ATCC driver and future Sandown winner, and Bathurst and ATCC champion Allan Moffatt would finish the race in 4th, partnering John Leighton in a Ford Cortina Lotus.

The race returned to Sandown in 1965, where although Sachs and Bussinello would try and defend their title, they failed to finish the race. Instead, the 1965 edition of the race was won by Frank Gardener and Kevin Bartlett in another Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti Super.

After a two-year break, the race returned in 1968 but looked very different. Now just a three-hour race and running under the name, Datsun 3 Hour Trophy it was won by Tony Roberts and Bob Watson in a Holden Monaro HK GTS327 after 116 laps of the circuit. At this stage of its history, the race was still production-focused, with competition cars appearing at what was essentially production specification with a few tweaks.

1969 would see Allan Moffatt take the first of his six Sandown race wins in a Ford Works Team Ford XW Falcon GTHO. Moffatt was partnered by John French in 1969, but when the race returned to Sandown in 1970 Moffatt defended his title alone in the Phase II Ford XW Falcon. 1971 would see Holden register their second win in the race now known as the Sandown 250 in the hands of Colin Bond, before the final production car race held in 1972 would see the win swing back to Ford in the Phase III XW Falcon driven by John Goss.

Group C Regulations

For 1973, CAMS introduced the Group C Touring Car category, which replaced the Group E Series Production cars previously seen at Sandown. The introduction of Group C regulations would coincide with a period of dominance at Sandown which to this day has not been replicated. From 1973 to 1981 Australian motorsport legend Peter Brock dominated the race which evolved from the Sandown 250 into the Hang Ten 400 in 1976. Brock would win eight out of nine races during a nine-year run taking victory in a number of iconic Holdens.

The LH Torana GTR XU-1, LH Torana SL/R 5000 L34, LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback and the VC Commodore all piloted Brock to victory lane during his time as King of Sandown Raceway with the only non-1st place finish coming in 1974 when rival Allan Moffat won the race in a Ford XB Falcon GT Hardtop.

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Moffat in a Ford Falcon GT at the Sandown 250. Image thanks to SnapLap.

Brock’s period of dominance came to an end in 1982 when in the hands of Moffat, in the Mazda RX-7 became the first car other than a Ford or Holden to win the race since 1965. Now called the Castrol 400, the 109-lap race saw 52 starters and 29 finishers with Moffat sharing the podium with Allan Grice and future V8 Supercars team owner Dick Johnson. Moffat’s first victory at Sandown since 1974 came courtesy of a post-race reinstatement of a disqualification.

1983 would see Moffat and the Mazda RX-7 defend their Sandown title before the race changed from a 400km, to a 500km race in 1984.

Following the change of distance, the race became known as the Castrol 500 and it has remained at 500km distance up to this day. Due to the increased length, the 1984 race would mark the return of driver pairings, as the distance meant that no longer could one driver complete the whole race without a break. The year would also mark a return to winning ways for Peter Brock and Holden, who with Larry Perkins also behind the wheel of the Holden Dealer Team Holden VK Commodore took victory in what would be Brock’s final endurance win at Sandown.

Group A Regulations

1985 would see another change of regulations as Group C was replaced by regulations based on the FIA’s Group A Touring Car ones. In the first race of a new era, the 1985 Castrol 500 was won by a new manufacturer and model, the BMW 635 CSi. Driven by Jim Richards and Tony Longhurst, the 1985 race was the first since 1972 not to be won by Brock or Moffat, although Brock did qualify on pole position before retiring during the race.

Another new manufacturer and model won the race in 1986. The Nissan Skyline DR30 RS in the hands of George Fury and Glenn Seaton won in ’86, before Nissan doubled up in 1987 with Terry Sheil partnering Fury on their way to victory.

Allan Moffat won his final Sandown 500 in 1988, partnering Gregg Hansford in the Ford Sierra RS500 in the only year that Enzed would sponsor the race.

Nissan took their third Sandown 500 victory in 1989. Known as the 0.5 500²,  the race was won by Jim Richards and Mark Skaife in a Nissan Skyline HR31 GTS-R before Glenn Seaton and George Fury returned Ford to the top step in 1990.

The pendulum swung back to Nissan for 1991 when the race was won by first-time winners Mark Gibbs and Rohan Onslow in the Nissan Skyline GT-R R32. With just six cars finishing the race, the 1991 Sandown 500 marks the smallest number of cars ever to complete the Sandown endurance race.

The final race of the Group A era was won by Larry Perkins and Steve Harrington in 1992. Driving a Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV, Perkins and Harrington won a race which was shortened from 150 to 136 laps due to extended safety car periods.

Group 3A 5.0 L Regulations

From 1993, Group 3A 5.0l regulations were selected to be run at Sandown. In the first of three years of victories for Ford, Geoff Brabham and David Parsons won the race in a Ford EB Falcon before Dick Johnson and John Bowe would win the race in the same model car in 1994. Johnson and Bowe would successfully defend their Sandown title in 1995, this time in a Ford EF Falcon in a race which would mark the last time a Ford took the top step at Sandown until 2004.

Following three years of Ford victories, it was Holden’s turn to dominate at Sandown from 1996 to 1998. Known as the Tickford 500, Greg Murphy and Craig Lowndes would win the race in 1996 driving a Holden VR Commodore, and would win again in 1997 driving the VS Commodore. Larry Perkins and Russell Ingall won in a VT Commodore in 1998, before the expansion of V8 Supercars in 1999 meant that Sandown was no longer chosen as the location for their 500km race.

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Greg Murphy and Craig Lowndes on their way to victory in 1996. Image thanks to Motorsport Images.

GT/Nations Cup Era

For the first time in 33 years, 1999 passed without a Sandown 500 race, as would 2000. In 2001 the race returned as the Clarion Sandown 500 and featured a more traditional flavour as it returned to its roots as a race for production cars. With regulations similar to those of GT style cars, the 2001 edition of the race was won by John Bowe and Tom Waring in a Ferrari F360 Modena Challenge before Paul Stockell and Anthony Tratt won the 2002 race in a Lamborghini Diablo GTR.

Return of the Supercars

2003 marked a return to the Sandown 500 as we know it today with the race, now a points-paying enduro race in the V8 Supercars calendar returned with Mark Skaife and Todd Kelly taking victory in a Holden VY Commodore. Now known as the Betta Electrical Sandown 500, Ford would taste victory the following year for the first time since 1995 as Marcos Ambrose and Greg Ritter won the race in a Ford BA Falcon.

2005 would mark the only time a Frenchman has won the race, as Craig Lowndes and Yvan Muller won the race for Triple Eight in a Ford BA Falcon. The BA Falcon would go on to win a third time in a row in 2006, this time with Jason Bright and Mark Winterbottom behind the wheel of a Ford Performance Racing-prepared car, before the race victory went to Triple Eight again in 2007, where Lowndes and Jamie Whincup won in a Ford BF Falcon.

There would be no Sandown 500 between 2008 and 2010. Following a change of promoter at Sandown, the 500km V8 Supercars endurance race moved to Philip Island.

Australian Manufacturers Championship

The race returned in 2011 as the Dial Before You Dig AMC 500. Split into two separate legs raced on Saturday and Sunday the race was won by Stuart Kostera and Ian Tulloch in a Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E Evolution X, the first and only time a Mitsubishi has won the race.

Return of the Supercars Mark II

V8 Supercars and the Sandown 500 returned for the 2012 season. Replacing the Phillip Island 500, the Sandown endurance event re-took its usual spot of a pre-Bathurst enduro and the race was won by Lowndes and Warren Luff in a Holden VE Commodore ran by Triple Eight.

With a new title sponsor on board for 2013, the now-named Wilson Security Sandown 500 was won by Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell in another Triple Eight-run car, the VF Commodore, and the pair repeated the feat in 2014 leading home both Holden Racing Team cars.

Ford took their first Sandown win since 2007 in 2015 as Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen won the race, leading home a Prodrive Racing Australia one, two finish in the Ford FG X Falcon. 2016 would see Garth Tander and Warren Luff take victory in what stands as the Holden Racing Team’s final victory in the race. Shortened form 161 laps to 143, the race featured a huge crash for James Golding which resulted in a mid-race repair of tyre barriers. 2016 was also the beginnings of the Sandown 500 as a retro-round, where teams would reproduce famous and popular liveries from the past for the race weekend.

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Tander and Luff won in 2016 despite finish the race with a damaged car. Image thanks to Holden Motorsport.

2017 saw two first-time winners take victory in the final year that Wilson Security had naming rights to the 500. The Prodrive Racing Australia pair of Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway won the race by 0.6s in the Monster Energy Falcon FG X leading home a Ford podium lockout.

At the time of writing ahead of the 2018 RABBLE.club Sandown 500 the race’s future is secure until only the end of 2019. With recent safety upgrades given the go-ahead at the circuit, the Melbourne Racing Group is set to continue operations at Sandown well into the 2020’s and there is hope that a renewed contract will secure the Sandown 500’s position on the Supercars calendar for years to come.

I can’t wait for the 2018 running of the Sandown 500 to get underway this weekend. Stay tuned for my full race preview, I think we’re in for a great race!

 

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