Bathurst farewell 1000 strangers from Holden

In just over 12 months, Bathurst 1000 history will be made when, for the first time in the great long haul of the race, not a single Holden will be on the grid.

Well, technically one of the late ’90s Super Touring Bathurst 1000s was a Holden-less, but the brand was still well represented in the five-liter Bathurst Classic.

In short, Holden has been a staple at Bathurst since the opening race of 1963 and won the race 35 times. Commodore painting has deep roots in Mount Panorama as well. The four-door sedan fueled Holden’s factory program from 1980 onwards. Twenty-eight of these Bathurst 1000 were won at the Commodores.

This weekend, that trip ends. This is the last Bathurst 1000 game before the names of Holden and Commodore disappeared from the Supercars forever.

Looking at the history, you’ll be forgiven for thinking Holden’s final Bathurst 1000 buildup was a bit disappointing. The reason is that we’re actually in the third year of Holden’s exit. In late 2019, General Motors Holden announced for the first time that it was retiring from the Commodore board. Then in early 2020, right before the outbreak of the worldwide pandemic, General Motors announced the complete cancellation of the Holden brand.

That means the 2020 Bathurst 1000 was the final race for the Factory Holden team. It felt so significant at the time, especially when Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander won the Factory-backed Triple Eight Commodore. When van Gisbergen stopped on the Conrod Straight during the cooldown to snatch a Holden flag from a trackside fan, it was a poignant moment. People were mourning the loss of a great Australian brand.

The Holden Commodore has been racing in Bathurst since the early 1980s

The Holden Commodore has been racing in Bathurst since the early 1980s

Two years later, the mourning is largely over. We were really supposed to be in the Gen3 era of Supercars by now, so that’s a bonus for Bathurst to the Commodore, in a sense.

“It’s sad, the fact that when we roll out next year there will be no Holden nameplate on the grid. This is the last time in Bathurst,” says Tander. “But to use the Australian, it’s a bit like John Farnam’s tour of retirement – it’s been going on for a while. I think it meant more in 2020 when Holden’s closure was announced. It was raw, it was fresh. I feel like we really grieved the loss.”

Tander knows a thing or two about Holden. Aside from a couple of auditions at Ford Supercars as a young man, he was a professional Holden driver. He was inducted into the Holden Drivers’ Pool when he joined Garry Rogers Motorsport in 1998 and won his first Bathurst 1000 with GRM in 2000. Seven years later he won the Supercars title for the factory satellite team, the HSV Dealership Team, before being transferred to the popular Holden Racing team which Walkinshaw will direct the following season.

Two more Bathurst 1000 crowns added as a full-pulse HRT driver in 2009 and 2011 before winning that fourth big race for the Factory Team Triple Eight-run in 2020.

Garth Tander and Nick Burkat took the last victory in Bathurst for the famous Holden Racing team in 2011.

Garth Tander and Nick Burkat took the last victory in Bathurst for the famous Holden Racing team in 2011.

These two wins for HRT came at a time when Holden’s participation in Supercars was still complete. These gains were celebrated as a success for GM Holden, not just HRT. The Peter Brook Cup was proudly displayed around the factories in Adelaide and Melbourne. Everyone who worked at Holden felt they played their part in winning.

“Winning Bathurst as an HRT driver was huge,” says Tander. “I didn’t appreciate the difference between being a Holden driver, and being a factory Holden driver, as a Bathurst 1000 winner until it happened. It’s important, very important.

“Victories in 2009 and 2011, when Holden was still very active, the activities we did with the staff, taking the trophy to the factory in Elizabeth, taking the trophy around the engine plant in Port Melbourne, seeing people’s faces and what that meant to them, it was a win. They felt a part of it, and I didn’t appreciate that until the 2009 win.

“It was a great honor. I still feel very privileged to have been able to experience it.”

Tander’s win in 2011 was the last victory for the real HRT team. In the years that followed, Holden’s support waned and HRT went through what was, for a strong team, a meager patch. Eventually the remainder of Holden’s support was transferred to the more successful Triple Eight costume. Triple Eight became the Factory Team. I competed under the Red Bull Holden Racing Team banner, but the harsh truth is that it was never embraced as Team Holden Racing.

Tander admits he felt when he scored his fourth victory in the Bathurst 1000 with the T8/RBHRT in 2020. It should have been a momentous occasion, as the factory team won their last ever race. But … did not live up to the 2009/2011 victories.

Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander said goodbye to the Holden factory engagement in style at Bathurst in 2020.

Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander said goodbye to the Holden factory engagement in style at Bathurst in 2020.

“For me it was different because he was sharing the win with Triple Eight, Red Bull and all the other partners they had,” he explains. “When I won in 2009 and 2011, HRT was a very prominent brand for Holden. Holden was the main sponsor. But even if you look at the HRT I drove for in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Holden was well on its way to becoming the sponsor. Secondary This was the same in 2020 with Shane.

“But I’m still very aware of the significance of this victory as Holden’s last factory entry.”

Mark Winterbottom may race a Holden this weekend, but he’s far from being a professional Holden driver. When Tander was drafted into the Holden system outside of Formula Ford, Winterbottom was drafted into the Ford system. He started his career at Larkham Motor Sport before signing with the factory Ford Performance Racing team in 2006. He led FPR/Prodrive Racing Australia/Tickford Racing to Bathurst 1000 glory in 2013 and the Supercars title in 2015 before moving to the red side in 2019 when he signed for Team Holden-shod 18.

As one of the few drivers closely associated with one brand and then after switching to the other, he has a rare perspective on Holden’s rivalry against Ford at Bathurst.

“I remember driving that [2013] The race on the last lap, I crossed the line and there was a crowd of people running to the podium,” he says. “And they were all blue. When you stood on the platform, you could see all the Holdens lining up to get out of the gate. All Ford personnel remained.

“On the flip side, I stood on the podium second in 2015 when Craig Lownds won and it was the other way around – all the red guys booing us on the podium and all the blue flags went.

“It’s huge. That’s what makes a race. The track is elite, one of the best we’ve been to. It’s a great six-hour race. But it’s the fans, the history and the meaning behind it that makes the big guys cry.

“It’s the passion that accompanies it. I saw a guy on the lap of the show in 2018 sticking his finger in my face and in 2019 hanging his thumb up. He was clearly a red pro.”

Colin Bond and Tony Roberts won the 1966 Bathurst 1000 in the Monaro GTS350.

Colin Bond and Tony Roberts won the 1966 Bathurst 1000 in the Monaro GTS350.

With that in mind, Winterbottom is confident there will be a sense of occasion this weekend for Holden’s latest Bathurst 1000, even if the brand’s exit is old news.

“It’s the end of a chapter, an era,” he says. “Holden Commodore has been very creative in Bathurst. It will be an emotional moment for people who have a connection to this model and that brand. It is an important event.”

Tander agrees that while it may not get as deep as 2020, the relevance won’t be completely lost, particularly in the fan base.

“The beauty of Bathurst is that she stands on her own two feet,” he adds. “And then you add layers on top of that, with him being the last Commodore in Bathurst, and the last Holden in Bathurst – there are a lot of storylines attached to him.

“I am fully aware of how much the fans have invested with Holden and Commodore, and this is their chance to say goodbye to them. To be able to win would be fantastic.”

Class test now is dye retention in Holden woolen fans. GM is pinning its hopes on Chevrolet’s racing program that will see the Camaro take over from the Commodore in the third-generation era. The question is, will Holden fans embrace the Camaro?

“I hope so,” Tander says. “It would definitely be different, but Holden has been a part of GM since day one.

“There is a lot going on with Gen3 so there will be a lot of interest and intrigue in the championship next year. I hope Holden fans will stay with Chevrolet.”

The famous 05 Torana A9X in Bathurst in 1979.

The famous 05 Torana A9X in Bathurst in 1979.

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