MIDWAY through the 2004 V8 Supercars Championship, Jason Bright and PWR Racing were on top of the Australian touring car world.
Having contended for the title during his first year with the team in 2003 aboard an outdated VX model Commodore, Bright returned for the new season aboard a VY.
Bright won Round 3 at Pukekohe and Round 5 at Barbagallo and led the championship heading to Oran Park’s Round 8.
There his weekend began with an engine failure that the team believed was due to sabotage.
It’s a mystery that’s never been totally solved, and one well worth revisiting via the Motorsport News archive. Below is Mark Glendenning’s period report from Oran Park.
Know more about this curious case? Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org
PWR team principal Kees Weel has sent a jolt through the V8 Supercar paddock by claiming that his team may have been the victim of sabotage at Oran Park last weekend.
Weel claimed that foul play is the only possible explanation for the engine failure that sidelined Jason Bright at the start of practice on Friday.
Bright was just a few corners into his out lap when the throttle jammed open and pitched the car off the circuit.
“The motor was locked solid,” Weel explained.
“They brought the car in and had a look, and took the airbox off, and they found a small plastic bag wrapped around the butterfly through the trumpet.
“That was OK, they got that out. Then they went to turn the engine over and it still wouldn’t go. They changed the engine to try to get Brighty back out, which didn’t happen.
“Later that afternoon the engine guy stuck the bore scope down the plug hole and there were a number of bolts and nuts and washers sitting on top of the piston that had jammed the engine.
“None of those bolts are used inside the engine bay, or on the engine or airbox. So there’s only one way that stuff can get into a trumpet, and that is to be put in there by someone.
“Unless it was the Fairy Godmother who has come along and grabbed the plastic bag and put half a dozen bolts in – out of a tray – that had nothing to do with the engine, there’s no other way it could have happened. I’m absolutely bewildered.”
“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Bright.
“To lose a session because of engine failure is one thing, but to see the stuff that got pulled out of that engine … you do a lot of thinking about how the bolts can get on that side of the trumpet. The bag is still on the outside – there’s just no other way that it can add up.
“If the bolts were left in the engine when it was assembled, how did the bag end up on the outside?
“When the engine comes across from the engine shop they’ve got tape across the trumpets, and when you pulled the tape off you’d soon see if anything was there.
“There was nowhere else that they could have come from.
“I think the guys have learned a lesson from it. They normally put the car away or put a padlock on the bonnet; this time they didn’t and we got bitten.”
According to Weel, Bright’s engine was not the only item in the garage to have been tampered with.
“There were a few other things that happened in that pit bay that were abnormal, which I really don’t want to go into,” he said.
Weel admitted that he could not think of any likely motive or perpetrator, but said that he was not going to make any accusations.
“We hope that we are working amongst honest people up and down pitlane,” he said.
“The only reason we are saying this is because we’d hate to see it happen to anybody else.
“From now on we will certainly be pushing the cars back into the truck at the end of every day, or else have a 24 hour security guy there.
“Which is sad, but whoever did it knew what they were doing, and it makes you sick.”
Weel said that the team seriously considered contacting the police, but elected not to in an effort to prevent any further distractions from the race weekend.
AVESCO launched an investigation into the incident on Friday and found no impropriety on the behalf of rival teams.
“The moment this was brought to our attention, AVESCO technical director Paul Taylor commenced an investigation into the circumstances and found absolutely nothing to suggest that this was a case of another team tampering with the PWR car,” said AVESCO
Chief Executive Wayne Cattach.
“It is not clear who the perpetrator is, but I can say with absolute confidence that our teams would never compromise the safety of any person, certainly not in this fashion.”
AVESCO has called for an immediate upgrade to security for both teams and circuits.