CRAIG Lowndes has triumphed at Mount Panorama many times in his career, but Easter Sunday always signals the anniversary of his first victory on the hallowed hill.
Lowndes’ first sedan race at Bathurst delivered his first win at the circuit, six months prior to his breakout performance in the 1994 Bathurst 1000.
Then just 19 years old, Lowndes shared a Nissan Pulsar with John and Phil Morriss in that year’s Bathurst 12 Hour.
While his star turn in the October classic is well remembered, the class victory in what was then a production car enduro was similarly dramatic.
Mazda and Porsche led the battle for outright honours in the exotic Class X for extra high performance cars, while the Pulsars’ chief rival in Class B was the Mazda 626 with its 2.5-litre V6 engine, half a litre more than under the bonnet of the hot ‘SSS’ version of the mid-size Nissan.
The battle for Class B took several twists and turns across the day with all the leading contenders striking some form of drama.
At one point the Morriss/Morriss/Lowndes Pulsar ran four laps off the pace following brake dramas but, as the Motorsport News race report below explains, an “impressive comeback” meant the burgundy and silver Nissan took the chequered flag first.
Coincidentally, the 1994 12 Hour proved remarkably prescient when it came to the top placegetters come October.
Lowndes returned to the dais alongside Brad Jones, who’d finished third outright at Easter behind overall winner Gregg Hansford.
Hansford went on to finish third outright with Larry Perkins in the ‘Great Race’, while Dick Johnson backed up his Class V win with son Steven and Danny Osborne at Easter with his third and final Bathurst 1000 win alongside John Bowe.
Here’s how Motorsport News reported on Lowndes’ maiden victory at Mount Panorama.
TWELVE starters made Class B for medium cars up to 2500cc the largest in the race.
Fastest qualifier was the Mazda 626 of Ken Douglas/Phil Kirkham in 21st spot on the grid, more than two seconds ahead of the first of the seven Nissan Pulsar SSS cars in the class, but the second Mazda 626 was down in 33rd spot on the grid and fifth in class.
The Douglas/Kirkham car appeared to have the class sewn up, leading to the half-way point, but by then it had suffered a flat tyre and a slow lap on the rim, allowing the second Mazda 626 of Danny Bogut/Cameron McConville – which had now disposed of the rest of the class – to close within three seconds of the class lead.
Lapping up to two seconds a lap faster than its rival, the Douglas/Kirkham car then re-established its lead, but then both Mazdas ran into driveshaft vibration problems.
The Douglas/Kirkham car had one changed, then lost its drive out on the circuit just past two-thirds distance.
The Bogut/McConville Mazda was still leading the class with less than an hour to go when McConville came over Skyline ahead of a charging second-placed Peter Fitzgerald in his Porsche.
Fitzgerald went for a gap on the inside of McConville, who didn’t seem to see the car inside him, and moved over on it.
The Porsche was pushed into the wall but continued; the Mazda was spun by the collision and turned hard right to nail the concrete wall almost head-on. End of race at 118 laps.
It was a dramatic class.
Murray Carter had pitted the Nissan Pulsar SSS he shared with Damon Beck/Ed Lamont only 10 minutes into the race with a bolt missing out of the gear linkage. He re-entered two laps down on the class leader, last in the race.
Carter and his co-drivers staged a fantastic comeback to be third in class behind the two Mazdas and 24th outright at the six hour mark.
When the two Mazdas struck trouble, Carter – at the 10 hour mark – found himself miraculously only two minutes behind the Bogut/McConville Mazda for the class lead!
Sadly for the 63-year-old veteran, not long after he re-took the class lead, the wheel studs broke on his right front corner and the Pulsar dumped itself off the track on three wheels. With 225 laps completed and only half an hour to go, he was out of the race.
So victory, finally, went to the Nissan Pulsar SSS of John Morriss/Phil Morriss/Craig Lowndes on 236 laps and in 14th place outright, despite their own problems.
An accident on Friday put the car into the TAFE compound for a day, putting the team a day behind schedule – as a result, they chose a brake pad compound which did not last come the race.
Four laps were lost early in the piece fixing the brakes, but the team came back strongly over the remaining distance, with Lowndes setting excellent times while still keeping the car intact.
By the final hour, they had nudged into the lead and were poised to strike again when Carter retired.
Second in the class was another Nissan Pulsar SSS, driven to 19th on 235 laps by Phil Alexander/Warren Rush/Geoff Forshaw; third another Pulsar SSS 28th on 211 laps, of Martin Walsh/Keith McCulloch/Dennis Rogers.
Fourth, amazingly, and final finisher of the 31 cars still mobile at the end of the race, was the Nissan Pintara TRX of Bevan Purcell/Troy Curling, which had been involved in the crash with the Nissan Pulsar SSS of Chris Kousparis/Paul Barrett/Anthony Wilson (which retired on 99 laps) which all but blocked the track and brought out the pace car just past the five hour mark.
Volvo Australia’s Volvo 850 GLT driven by Kent Youlden/John English/Terry Shiel had suffered a flat tyre early on, then late in the race burst into flames under the engine compartment on Mountain Straight, retiring on 199 laps.
The second Murray Carter entered Nissan Pulsar SSS of Brian Wilshire/Gerard McConkey/Graham Gulson broke a wheel hub at 114 laps; the Dennis Cribben/Ryan McLeod/Geoff Fickling Citroen BX16 rolled out of the race into the Murray’s Corner sand trap at 110 laps – the third year in a row it has crashed out of the race; and Harry Bargwanna/Chris Symons threw a rod through the engine block after 72 laps while running second in the class.