LARRY Perkins and Triple Eight both have phenomenal Bathurst records, boasting a combined 14 victories in Australia’s ‘Great Race’.
Perkins’ final appearance in the event as a driver came in 2003, which coincidentally was the first for Triple Eight’s then new V8 Supercar effort.
But six years beforehand, the straight-talking ‘Cowangie Kid’ and the British engineering powerhouse very nearly teamed up for a Bathurst assault.
PRE-ORDER: Perkins Engineering: The Cars, 1986-2008
Triple Eight’s first trip to Mount Panorama came in 1997 when its British Touring Car team fielded two Vauxhall Vectras in October’s two-litre Super Touring race.
Peter Brock was the squad’s high-profile recruit, sharing one entry with team co-owner Derek Warwick, while John Cleland paired with Brit James Kaye in the second entry.
Kaye’s seat though was offered to Perkins in late August as part of a concerted effort by Australian Super Touring organisers TOCA Australia and its co-owner Peter Adderton to attract V8 stars.
Perkins and Adderton had been among those earlier in 1997 trying to negotiate a peace deal between the relevant parties to run a single, two-class Bathurst race rather than separate events.
But when Brock broke ranks and became the first V8 star – and its biggest drawcard ahead of his already-announced retirement – to sign up for the Super Touring event, it virtually guaranteed two races.
That appeared to open the floodgates for other V8 Supercar drivers to explore Super Touring options.
Talks between TOCA and Perkins – which included signage on the car for his long-time sponsor Castrol – became well advanced and it was reported in the media at the time as a ‘done deal’.
“I remember hearing and seeing others from our show (V8 Supercars) signing up for the two-litre race at Bathurst,” Perkins recalled to V8 Sleuth.
“I was very anti them grabbing our date, so when people called me about driving, I started entertaining it. I was sussing out what it was all worth, it gave me some inside knowledge!”
Perkins says negotiations to drive the Vectra were “well advanced” before politics intervened.
“TEGA or indeed Tony Cochrane suggested it wouldn’t be a good idea, given the bigger picture with V8s just starting, along with Channel 10 and so on,” he added.
“I also recall an offer from New Zealand to run with the BMW team [in a third car], but this option to run with John Cleland was more real or more likely given the Holden and Castrol link.”
After it was knocked back by Perkins, Russell Ingall was also courted for the Vauxhall seat but ultimately Brock and Alan Jones, who joined Williams Renault, were the only two V8 stars who ran in the two-litre event.
Perkins and Ingall teamed up to win the 1997 Primus 1000, held for V8 Supercars two weeks after the Super Touring race.
Ingall eventually drove for Triple Eight in the 1998 Super Touring Bathurst 1000, sharing a Vectra with Greg Murphy, and will rejoin the team for this year’s Repco Bathurst 1000 in a recently announced wildcard.