CANBERRA CHAOS: WHEN SUPERCARS STORMED THE CAPITAL

Brad Jones and Anthony Tratt shared the front-row for the reverse grid Race 2. PIc: an1images.com / Andrew Hall

THIRTY-TWO V8 Supercars, a radical new race format featuring a full reverse grid, and the narrowest concrete-lined canyon in the category’s history.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

News that Canberra is in the frame for a shock return to the Supercars Championship in 2023 has us flashing back to the inaugural V8 event held in the nation’s capital in 2000.

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The Canberra 400 was an audacious plan hatched during V8 Supercars’ boom period and took the Ford versus Holden war to the final Australian state or territory it’d never previously visited.

While the proposed new street event is mooted for the Exhibition Park precinct, the Canberra Street Circuit that hosted V8 Supercars from 2000-2002 was right in Parliamentary Triangle.

Neil Crompton passes Parliament House during the 2000 Canberra 400. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

Designed with input from Mark Skaife, the 3.9km layout took the cars past both the current Parliament House and Old Parliament House, the National Library of Australia and the Treasury Building.

It was incredibly narrow and brutal on the machinery, which made the races a battle of strategy and survival.

The format featured three races; two 25-lap races with a single compulsory pit stop for tyres in each and then a 50-lap finale, with one stop for fuel and one for tyres.

A full reversal of the Race 1 finishing order set the grid for Race 2, and cumulative points from Races 1 and 2 determined the starting order for the final.

The tight Turn 1 meant for plenty of nose-to-tail contact. Pic: an1images.com / Andrew Hall

Greg Murphy won the inaugural Canberra race, held on Saturday June 10, from 14th on the grid for the Gibson Motorsport-run Kmart Racing Holden squad.

Murphy had been among those to pit as soon as the window opened on lap two and then benefit from the deployment of a Safety Car, under which the pit lane was closed.

Almost half the field repeated that trick in the reverse-grid Race 2, but with no Safety Car forthcoming, those who waited a little longer and enjoyed a clear pit lane reaped the rewards.

The result was a maiden V8 Supercars race victory for 20-year-old Todd Kelly, who had started ninth in the Holden Young Lions Commodore.

Todd Kelly speaks with Barry Sheene following his Race 2 victory. Fourth in Race 3 was arguably even more impressive. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The Holden Racing Team’s main entries missed the strategy in both Races 1 and 2 but nailed it in the finale, where Craig Lowndes led home Mark Skaife in a one-two finish.

Third, fourth and fifth in the three races netted Murphy’s Kmart Racing teammate Steven Richards the round victory over Lowndes and Ford Tickford Racing’s Neil Crompton.

“It was just like a Formula 1 race where there wasn’t much passing but lots of tactics in the pit stops,” noted Richards following Race 3, where he’d secured his maiden single-driver V8 Supercars round win.

Skaife was fourth for the round and arguably the biggest winner as title rival Garth Tander had a shocker in his Garry Rogers Motorsport Commodore, on a weekend worth double points.

Steven Richards (left) won the round from Craig Lowndes (centre) and Neil Crompton. Pic: an1images.com / Andrew Hall

After scoring pole in the Top 15 Shootout, Tander brushed a wall and broke his car’s Watt’s linkage in Race 1, clashed with Brad Jones in Race 2 and suffered a differential seal failure in Race 3 to record zero points.

Others in the wars included Craig Baird, who was out for the weekend after a tap from John Bowe while the Kiwi slowed to head to pit lane spun the Pirtek Ford into the end of the pit wall in Race 1.

John Faulkner and Paul Morris had spectacular shunts in Race 2 due to brake failures, while Jason Bargwanna crashed out of Race 3 when his car’s throttle stuck.

A one-off Castrol Magnatec livery on Russell Ingall’s Commodore provided no luck. His miserable weekend included being black-flagged out of Race 2 for re-entering the circuit from a pit stop against a red signal.

Ingall’s car sported a one-off livery, before such things became the norm. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Sections of the circuit were widened ahead of the championship’s return in 2001 but overtaking remained incredibly difficult.

The 2001 round was won by Steven Johnson, which marked his first V8 Supercars round victory, while Mark Skaife cleaned up in 2002 during a dominant run for HRT.

That was the last running of the Canberra 400, which was boned just three years into a five-year deal after a change of government in the ACT.

In truth, the decision to hold the event in the middle of winter largely doomed its popularity and therefore viability from the start.

That mistake will surely not be made again should a new Canberra street race get the green light; a season-ending slot is reportedly the target.