Bathurst 1000 ringers: the 10 best 'wildcard' Supercars drivers from overseas
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It was confirmed last week that Walkinshaw Andretti United would be fielding a 'wildcard' Holden Commodore at this year's Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 for NTT IndyCar Series stars Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe. The idea of inserting two drivers with very little competitive experience in these kinds of cars (at a track not known for its forgiving nature) seems very risky by today's standards. But, wind back the clock a few decades and it used to be the norm.
Drivers would get plucked from the European and American motorsport landscape quite regularly in the '70s and '80s when Australian touring car regulations often overlapped with the rest of the world. But the practice eventually lost its lustre when team owners realised how specialised and challenging the high-power/low-grip Supercars were to drive.
But, there's still something distinctly mythical about watching a professional race driver have to adapt to a very different car and track. Here's our list of the 10 best in Bathurst 1000 history (not including Kiwis).
10. Allan Simonsen
Prior to his untimely and tragic death at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2013, Simonsen had earned himself the reputation of being one of the quickest European drivers to circulate Bathurst.
This wasn't just because of an impressive back-catalogue of past results, but also because of his scintillating, mesmerising 2:04.9560 lap-time set at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour the previous year with a Michelotto Ferrari 458 GT3 — the quickest tin-top lap-time at Mount Panorama up to that point. He set the quickest laps in qualifying in 2012 and 2013, although luck deserted his team during the races.
The Great Dane treated Australia like a second home, and was a regular Bathurst 1000 fixture between 2003 and 2012. Back-to-back races co-driving with Greg Murphy yielded a sixth and a third in 2010 and 2011, but he was arguably at his best when he drove with Triple Eight.
For most of his early Bathurst 1000 career, Simonsen was effectively the 'lead' driver in the second-string car of various teams. Here he proved solid, dependable, and fast — best underlined by a 10th for Garry Rogers Motorsport with Nathan Pretty in 2004, and a fifth for Vodafone Triple Eight at the crazy, wet 2007 event.
9. Mattias Ekstrom
While Simonsen was a Bathurst 1000 regular, the same can't be said for DTM star Mattias Ekstrom.
The Swedish driver has tried his hand at all sorts of different forms of motorsport, from DTM (where he's a two-time champion), to super touring, to the World Rally Championship, to FIA World Rallycross. But he has only attempted the Bathurst 1000 once.
Still, it was a heck of an attempt.
In conjunction with Xbox and Forza Motorsport 5, Triple Eight fielded a third Holden VF Commodore for the event driven by Ekstrom and English driver Andy Priaulx. While Priaulx was predictably solid behind the wheel, both Ekstrom and race engineer Ludo Lacroix were stars of the race.
Ludo wound up being an integral reason behind how Triple Eight engineered its cars to be so quick over following years, before getting snapped up by DJR Team Penske to engineer some Kiwi kid named Scott McLaughlin. Ekstrom meanwhile, despite being less experienced than co-driver Priaulx, was quick enough to qualify the Xbox Commodore in 18th and then push it into a position where it was in contention for a podium late in the race.
A late mistake from Priaulx ended up costing them, but they still finished 10th.
8. Matt Neal
Here's an interesting one.
Matt Neal, one of the most successful (and divisive) drivers of the British Touring Car Championship, has visited Bathurst on four occasions (with a Queensland 500 visit thrown in for good measure).
His two Bathurst drives in the 'main' V8 Supercars event weren't flash, with his performance in 2000 in particular coming under scrutiny — triggered namely by an incident he caused late in the race with the race leaders while three laps down. A great advert for BTCC drivers, it clearly was not.
But, his 1998 drive in the 2.0-litre super touring AMP Bathurst 1000 event was an absolute humdinger. Partnered with expat Kiwi Steven Richards in a familiar Team Dynamics Nissan Primera, the pairing waged war for 161 laps with Volvo's Jim Richards and Rickard Rydell (the former being Steven's Dad, and the latter being one of Neal's BTCC rivals).
While these days the idea of a Bathurst race finishing with a tiny margin between first and second is pretty common, it wasn't so common in the '90s. Throughout the 1000km shootout the Nissan and Volvo swapped the lead numerous times, rarely losing sight of each other on-track. In the end, Rydell led Neal over the line by just two seconds — still one of the smallest competitive margins of victory ever recorded at The Great Race.
7. Rauno Aaltonen
Finland's Rauno Aaltonen is a European and Finnish rally champion from the '60s, eventually becoming a WRC regular. Most notably he finished second at the Safari Rally (one of the world's most feared and picturesque motorsport events) a total of six times.
Among other things, Aaltonen helped break the mould for Finnish drivers in motorsport (of which there are now plenty), and he also helped pioneer left-foot braking. And, at the height of his powers, he won the 1966 Bathurst 500.
A big part of this of course hinged on Aaltonen being at the wheel of a Morris Cooper S — the hot car to be driving at the time. But you can't just say that he won because of his equipment. He and co-driver Bob Holden lead home eight other Coopers, many of which had more fancied drivers. Among hem were Fred Gibson, Harry Firth, John French, Barry Seton, and the combination of Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland — who went on to win The Great Race two years later for Holden.
Aaltonen clearly never forgot his Bathurst glory, given that almost three decades later he returned to compete in a Class 3 Toyota Corolla (reuniting with Bob Holden in the process, plus third driver Dennis Rogers). They finished fourth in class, while Geoff Full and some guy called Paul Morris won.
6. John Fitzpatrick
John Fitzpatrick might be one of the world's most underrated touring-car and GT race drivers, and one of the most forgotten Bathurst 1000 champions.
He partnered with Bob Morris in 1976 to win in a Holden Torana SLR5000, in what was one of the most dramatic finishes at Bathurst to date. Fitzpatrick was forced to limp home in a clearly ailing car on the final lap, with a badly slipping clutch found to be the culprit. It was a rare win for a smaller team, during a decade that was dominated by the Holden Dealer Team and Ford's factory opposition.
Fitzpatrick drove with Morris several times, and also joined Allan Moffat a couple of times in 1979 and 1980. He returned to the Morris fold in 1981, claiming a second place to Dick Johnson and John French.
Beyond Bathurst, Fitzpatrick was a RAC British Saloon Car Championship winner and European GT Championship winner. He's also a four-time class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a 24 Hours of Daytona winner, and a 12 Hours of Sebring winner.
5. Jacky Ickx
Short of the ill-fated decision for Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss to come out of retirement to race at Bathurst, Jacky Ickx would well be the most famous racer to appear as a Bathurst wildcard.
For a five-year period between 1968 and 1972, Ickx was a highly regarded front-runner in Formula 1. Over the period he claimed eight Grand Prix wins, and he finished second overall in '69 and '70.
He's just as well known for his exploits at Le Mans. Over three different decades Ickx won with three different manufacturers (Ford, Mirage, and Porsche), accumulating a total of six wins at the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe.
One of the other big records he held was being one of the few drivers to win at Bathurst on debut. Of course, that stat played second fiddle on the day to the fact that the result was an emphatic 1–2 on the day for Ford; Ickx and Allan Moffat leading Colin Bond and Alan Hamilton over the line in a memorable formation finish.
The formation finish was supposedly, in part, a necessity for Moffat. His XC Falcon was suffering late brake dramas (reportedly caused by Ickx' hard driving). If it were a rival team in second place, there's every chance that a last-lap change for the lead would've taken place.
4. John Cleland
Oh yes, the characterful Scotsman had to appear on the list somewhere.
While he never won at Bathurst, Cleland — a former British Touring Car Champion — was undoubtedly one of the internationals that gelled best with the unique circuit and unique cars.
His passion for Mount Panorama is without question, especially given that he raced in the 1000 a total of 12 times. His last drive in 2005 came a whopping six years after he had retired from BTCC competition.
Cleland's debut was arguably his most high-profile appearance. He raced with Peter Brock in a Mobil-backed Holden VP Commodore. It wasn't an HRT entry, but Brock was nonetheless a chance at victory. That was until is broke a tailshaft on Conrod Straight, which ate into the car's floorpan and sent debris throughout the cabin to the surprise of Cleland — who promptly issued a raft of four-letter words in the presence of the in-car cameras.
Cleland put down some memorable drives with privateer teams (sixth with Tony Scott and Pinnacle Motorsport being a major highlight), but he's best remembered at Bathurst for his five-year run with Brad Jones Racing.
Second place in 2001 was the best and most nail-biting result. At the time, BJR was still very much a minnow single-car team. But Cleland and Jones were among the fastest drivers on track all day. Having started 22nd, Jones spent the last laps slowly eating away the margin to race leader Mark Skaife — ultimately losing by a mere 2.28 seconds.
3. Rickard Rydell
While Cleland and Neal were two of the best performing BTCC hot-shots to visit Bathurst, undoubtedly the best from the era had to be Rickard Rydell.
The Swedish driver and his Swedish cars were front-runners during both of the 2-litre super touring Bathurst 1000 events in 1997 and 1998. Fourth place in 1997 was followed by a stunning win in 1998; Rydell and Jim Richards having fended off Neal and Steven Richards following a day-long scrap.
Almost just as memorable as the result itself was Rydell's lightning-quick lap in the Top 10 Shootout. His 2:14.9265 was on par with the race pace of the V8 Supercars of the time, and 1.5-seconds quicker than the next best car. Not bad at all for a naturally aspirated, 'wrong-wheel drive' Volvo with a 2.0-litre under the bonnet.
Rydell returned to Bathurst years later when Triple Eight took over Briggs Motorsport in late 2003. He partnered former BTCC sparring partner Paul Radisich to claim a seventh-place finish.
2. Win Percy
Likeable Englishman Win Percy's early relationship with Bathurst was largely business. Having driven for Tom Walkinshaw's teams in Europe, it only made sense to appear in Walkinshaw's teams in Australia.
But Percy's love for Bathurst was a bit deeper than just obeying his bosses commands. He raced in the 1000 numerous times for other teams, including Wayne Gardner's Coca-Cola Racing squad and multiple privateer teams.
All up, Percy visited the outright podium three times, following a third with Jaguar in 1985, a second with HRT in 1991, and a giant-killing victory in 1990 with Allan 'Akubra Al' Grice. What made the win particularly memorable was that Percy and Grice were driving an old-school Walkinshaw Commodore — beating the slew of more fancied turbocharged Ford Sierras, as well as the debutant Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R of Jim Richards and Mark Skaife.
Apart from his podiums, the remainder of Percy's Bathurst results are a picture of consistency. There's two DNFs and a 15th in 1988, but there was also a seventh in 1989 with Neil Crompton and three fifth-place finishes in a row between 1994 and 1997.
The last of those was potentially the most impressive, having been earned with plucky Kiwi John Faulkner in his privateer Betta Electrical Holden VS Commodore.
1. Allan Moffat
This feels like a cheap, cheat selection for number one. But, I don't make the rules.
The majority of Allan Moffat's career was spent racing in Australia through the '60s and '70s, where he became a household name as Peter Brock's blue-oval nemesis. He had done some motorsport in the US prior to moving across, including a few World Sportscar Championship events for Carroll Shelby.
But in Australia, he went from being a competent racer to being a motorsport God. Or villain, depending on what side of the fence you sat.
He claimed six Sandown 500 wins and four ATCC titles, including one at the wheel of a screaming Mazda RX-7 in 1983. And his Bathurst results were similarly eye-catching. A fourth on debut was followed by back-to-back solo wins in 1970 and 1971. These results helped build the Bathurst legend, injecting factory and personal rivalry into a race that (up to that point) had dodged a lot of the professionalism of other large international race meetings.
Moffat also won in 1973 and in 1977 with Ickx as previously mentioned. One wonders how many more victories he'd have, had he not come up against the talented and incredibly well funded might of the Holden Dealer Team through this period.