DATE CLASH COST AMBROSE HOLDEN BATHURST DEBUT

The start of the 1997 Primus 1000 at Bathurst. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

FOUR years before Marcos Ambrose made his first Bathurst 1000 start with Stone Brothers Racing, the young Tasmanian had a chance to be on the Great Race grid – in a Commodore!

It’s widely known that the would-be Ford hero had his first taste of a V8 Supercar aboard John Alcorn’s Alcair Air Conditioning Commodore in early 1996.

Then Formula Ford racer Ambrose drove the Perkins Engineering-built Holden in a test session at Symmons Plains and during practice at Sandown’s ATCC round the following year.

GALLERY: Larry Perkins exhibit at National Motor Racing Museum

Alcorn though reveals in the recently published book, Perkins Engineering: The Cars, 1988-2008, that he wanted the youngster to race in the 1997 enduros.   

“We did a handshake deal for Marcos to co-drive the car at Sandown and Bathurst that year,” recalled Alcorn.

“It got through into the year (1997) a bit, it was getting close, and I got a phone call from Ross who said he had to apologise.

“Marcos had gotten the chance to race at the British Formula Ford Festival and it clashed with Bathurst, so they had to pull the pin.

“It was disappointing for us but great for Marcos. It was something he had to go and do, which I completely understood.”

Ambrose with his Australian Formula Ford in 1997. Pic: Supplied

Ambrose’s connection to the Alcair squad had come about through family friend and fellow Tasmanian Greg Crick, who was the team’s regular driver.

Crick recalls Ambrose impressing straight away during his initial laps aboard the Commodore, but Ambrose himself admits it was a struggle!

“I’d never driven anything with that kind of horsepower before, it was a real shock,” Ambrose reflected of the initial test in 1996.

“There was no power steering so the hairpin at Symmons Plains was really tough to get around and I thought ‘how do they do this?’.

“I didn’t say anything at the time, I thought I was just not tough enough, but it was probably one of the last cars that didn’t have power steering!

“It was a great experience though. Larry built a beautiful car, and it was very well run and prepared by Bob (Tindall) and his team.”

The Alcair Commodore was shared by Crick and Peter Fitzgerald at Bathurst. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

Ambrose contested the 1997 British Formula Ford Festival and then went on to compete in the British Formula Ford Championship for the following two seasons.

After spending 2000 in French Formula 3, Ambrose returned home at the end of that year and signed with Stone Brothers Racing for the 2001 V8 Supercars Championship.

Perkins Engineering: The Cars, 1986:2008 is sold out in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop, but a limited number of the 2500 printed remain available at the National Motor Racing Museum.

Drop by the museum in Bathurst or call them direct on (02) 6332 1872 to secure your copy.