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How the wrong Andretti sealed GRM perennial backer

THERE is a memorable story behind how Garry Rogers Motorsport’s enduring partnership with sponsor Valvoline began.

To this day, the oil company continues to have a major presence on GRM’s race cars, taking naming rights on the Trans Am Mustangs of James Moffat and Edan Thornburrow as well as the TCR Peugeots of Aaron Cameron and Ryan Casha.

The relationship spans all the way back to the 1988 Bathurst 1000, in which Garry Rogers shared a Holden VL Commodore with John Andretti.

Only, it was meant to be a different Andretti in the car, as Garry’s son Barry revealed in the most recent V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Castrol.

“We were at the car dealership, so I would have been 19, it was when I was at uni but working there part-time,” he recalled.

“The Valvoline managing director walked up the driveway. We didn’t know who he was, but he was out on the hunt trying to sign people up for oil. I think we had BP back at the time (for the dealership).

“Garry ended up doing a deal with Valvoline for the dealership oil.

“In the weeks following after meeting Michael Porter, the fellow’s name was, he followed him back up and said, ‘I want to put something to you. Would you be interested in sponsoring my car at Bathurst this year?’ They went ‘maybe, maybe not’.

“They loved the US of course, Valvoline, a big US company, and Garry said ‘look, I’ll get Mario Andretti in the car’.

“That got his attention. So all of a sudden he has got Valvoline on.

Michael Caruso won in Valvoline colours at the 2009 Darwin Triple Crown. Pic: an1images.com / Justin Deeley

“Mario returned the letter back in the day, obviously it was before emails so Garry wrote a letter to him, and he wrote back and said ‘I can’t make it but my nephew John will come and do it’.

“So Garry’s like, ‘any Andretti is better than no Andretti’.

“He arrived at the airport to pick John Andretti up when he has arrived in Australia and he is on crutches; he’d broken his leg the previous week or two weeks before.

“It turned a bit pear-shaped from there, John obviously crashed the car at Bathurst that year, but that’s how Valvoline started (with us). It all came from back then in 1988 and they have been with us ever since.”

While not quite boasting Mario’s remarkable resume, John Andretti was a race winner in both the NASCAR Cup Series and Champ Car (it was in the latter that he became the inaugural winner of the Gold Coast Indy race).

Part 2 of the Barry Rogers episode is due to be released on Wednesday.

James Moffat’s Trans Am at Phillip Island earlier this month. Pic: Supplied / Speed Shots Photography
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