THE championship debut race for a driver that went on to become a multiple Australian Touring Car Champion, multiple Bathurst 1000 winner and Supercars Hall of Famer began on June 7, 1987.
Mark Skaife made the first of 220 championship round starts at the Sandown Park round of that year’s Australian Touring Car Championship, where he scored a victory … of sorts.
Unlike today, the Australian Touring Car Championship then featured multiple classes competing together within the same race.
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While BMW M3s, Nissan Skylines, Ford Sierras and Holden Commodores fought it out in the outright class, Skaife was one of the leading contenders in the class for cars of up to two litres in engine capacity.
The race also counted as the second round of the Australian Two Litre Touring Car Championship, with their points-paying event running concurrently during the first 13 laps of the 30-lap seventh round of the ATCC.
The class had traditionally been the domain of Toyota Team Australia, whose three-pronged attack featured John Smith and Drew Price in a pair of rear-wheel drive sedans plus John Faulkner in a front-wheel drive hatch.
Competition was even between the 1.6-litre Toyotas and Skaife’s 2.0-litre, Nissan Motorsport-run Gazelle, whose extra engine capacity was balanced by its heavier weight.
The first round of the two-litre championship was a standalone event at Winton where the Toyotas dominated, but Skaife and the Gazelle had enjoyed some testing and development work in the intervening months.
Smith qualified a couple of spots ahead of Skaife – the pair sandwiching a Holden Commodore and a BMW 635CSI! – and the Toyota pilot held the debutant off in the early laps.
However, Skaife shot into the class lead soon after Sierra runner Gregg Hansford’s crash in the infield section – Smith contended that Skaife had passed him under yellow flags, but no action was ever brought on the Nissan pilot.
Skaife cruised on to the two-litre round win and an ATCC class win in 11th outright on what was a pretty good day for the factory Nissan squad.
Team boss Fred Gibson’s Skylines had claimed a one-two finish, George Fury allowing Glenn Seton past on the final tour to take the win in order to boost his championship hopes.
Helping Seton was title rival Jim Richards’ last lap retirement in his JPS BMW M3, which converted the Nissan driver’s 18-point deficit prior to Sandown into an 11-point lead with two rounds to go.
While Seton went on to lose the title in a final-round showdown with Richards at Oran Park, Skaife secured the two-litre title with a pair of wins in the standalone final rounds at Lakeside and Amaroo Park.
Skaife had to wait over 12 months for his next ATCC round start, however, coming in the 1988 season finale at Oran Park ahead of a partial season in 1989, before finally making his full-time series debut at the start of the 1990 season.