IN October 2003, chassis HRT 043 established itself in Bathurst 1000 history as the ‘Lap of the Gods’ car and a ‘Great Race’ winner.
A couple of months prior it had looked capable of anything but.
In the latest episode of his video series Murph: Back to Bathurst, Greg Murphy chatted with his then-race engineer Erik Pender to reminisce about Kmart Racing’s successful 2003 Bathurst campaign.
In it, Pender explains how they turned around a car that finished lapped and outside the top 10 in its first race in Kmart colours into a car capable of dominating at Mount Panorama.
It’s history that Murphy stormed to the Bathurst 1000 pole with an iconic Top 10 Shootout lap which he and Rick Kelly converted to victory the next day.
We’ve told the full story of HRT 043’s extensive life before and after the 2003 Bathurst 1000 previously here at V8 Sleuth and, while the Mount Panorama enduro was the 27th race appearance for the car, the 2003 ‘Great Race’ was only its third race with Kmart Racing.
Murphy’s first race in the car was at the Oran Park round of the 2003 championship, less than two months prior to its date with destiny at Bathurst.
It was the first Holden Commodore VY campaigned by Kmart Racing and, as mandated by the recently introduced ‘Project Blueprint’, featured a double wishbone front suspension that differed from the traditional MacPherson Strut arrangement in teammate Kelly’s VX-model Commodore.
The team had been unable to test the new car prior to the round due to the continuing fallout from the collapse of Tom Walkinshaw Racing, sales of Holden Racing Team and Kmart Racing, and the latter’s franchise changes.
Murphy nevertheless put the new car on the front row – albeit over six tenths of a second shy of Marcos Ambrose’s Top 10 Shootout pole time – but slid to a hapless and lapped 11th on race day.
“We fried the tyres up,” Pender recalled.
“The car was quick but the degradation was quite high, so we were quite worried.
“And then we tested it at Winton and we found a few little things for the tuning menu; bit of it was rear damping.”
The car put in an improved showing at the Sandown 500, where Murphy and Kelly finished third despite losing a lap after the rear wing was knocked off the car during a pit stop.
Bathurst was next, and Pender said he knew very early in opening practice that the team was in for a good weekend.
“I always knew whether we we’re going to have a good weekend by (Murphy’s) first radio contact,” he explained.
“You’d do a lap and I’d go ‘how’s the car?’ And you’d either go, ‘nah, it’s no good’ and I knew then we were in for a hard weekend (or) you’d go, ‘no, it’s pretty good’ and then we’re good.
“That time you got on and went, ‘I’m a bit uncomfortable across the top.’ You came in and we did that change that we’d tested at Winton.
“You went back out and did one lap, you didn’t say much, and then I looked at the splits and everything and the time … shit, it’s actually pretty good!
“I can’t remember how many laps you did, two or three, and I said, ‘it seems like the car’s alright’ and you said, ‘yeah, it’s really good, I think we need to put Rick in straight away. The car’s really good and really comfortable, and we need Rick to get some miles.’
“From then on it was hardly a change. I think all we did was a rear spring just for qually to give it some point, and then back to normal to look after the tyre for the race.
“We were sitting back (thinking) it was almost too easy.”
Murphy and Pender also share their recollections of the former’s Shootout lap, stressing about having to ask Kelly to speed up during his first race stint only to find he’d been cruising, and how their near-miss at Bathurst in 2002 and “second-string” position within the Holden Motorsport structure galvanised them for their unforgettable 2003 campaign.