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Tuesday, June 25, 2024


THIS edition of RIP Racers focuses on a car that fell victim to a fiery shunt at Lakeside in 1989 – Terry Finnigan’s Holden Commodore VL.

The privateer Holden met its end in a nasty shunt during qualifying for the Lakeside round of the 1989 Shell Ultra Australian Touring Car Championship, a round which claimed even more cars in the race, including the Ford Sierras of Andrew Miedecke and Glenn Seton.

That year’s Lakeside event was also unique in that it had been postponed for two weeks following heavy rainfall that flooded the circuit – quite the contrast to the fiery accidents that happened when the race meeting finally got underway!

Finnigan was at the wheel of his Commodore during qualifying on the Saturday of the rescheduled meeting when it slipped off the road at the high-speed kink and backed into the earth-filled tyre wall, crushing the rear of the car and rupturing the fuel cell, causing it to burst into flames.

“I guess it was a combination of things,” Finnigan said at the time.

“I was on my fourth lap on new tyres. It moved a fair bit sideways and at the same time I hit the rev limiter, dropped off the edge of the power and couldn’t pull it around.

Although the Channel 7 cameras missed the crash, they caught Finnigan’s lucky escape through the driver’s side window.

“I’m OK except for a headache,” he said. The doors jammed in the prang, the cockpit was alight and I couldn’t get out.

“It wasn’t a nice feeling but I scrambled through the window.”

Watch the qualifying report including the circuit flooding and Finnigan’s crash in this video below.

This car is one of a host of VL Commodores that features in our new book Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport, a 400-page hardcover book paying tribute to the marque’s rich competition history spanning over seven decades.

The book is now in stock – order it now HERE!

The Finnigan VL on debut at the 1987 Oran Park ATCC round, running ahead of Kevin Bartlett’s Mitsubishi Starion. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

Finnigan’s originally built this car as a carburettor VL Commodore during 1987 and debuted with Suttons of Homebush signage in the final round of the Shell Ultra Australian Touring Car Championship at Oran Park.

Fellow privateer Geoff Leeds joined Finnigan for the that year’s James Hardie 1000 (also the eighth round of the inaugural World Touring Car Championship) but didn’t make the field for Sunday’s race after Leeds failed to qualify within the 110 percent of the pole-sitter’s lap time.

The car made a handful of starts in its original carburetted guise in 1988, taking in the opening AMSCAR Series rounds at Amaroo Park plus the venue’s ATCC round, before being upgraded to the new ‘Walkinshaw’ fuel-injected specification for the endurance races.

Resplendent in a new blue livery with backing from Trojan Boats, Finnigan and Ken Mathews qualified 13th for the car’s first race in its upgraded form at the Sandown 500, but mechanical issues meant they were an early retirement.

Finnigan and Mathews with the car that earnt the ‘Best Presented Car’ award on the morning of the 1988 Bathurst 1000. Sadly it didn’t look as pristine by day’s end. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

Bathurst didn’t prove much better; the pair qualified 23rd and the #19 Commodore received the Dulux Best Presented Car Award, but problems on the grid meant the car started the race from pit lane.

A puncture in the opening hours further delayed them, before engine problems left the car stranded at Skyline with just 84 laps in the books.

Adding insult to injury, the parked Commodore was then hit by a spinning BMW 15 laps later!

Finnigan again campaigned the car into 1989 until the Lakeside shunt ended the Commodore’s racing days, with its useful running gear salvaged and used in the build of a new Commodore that debuted later in the year in the Pepsi 300 at Oran Park.

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