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Ryco Rewind: The Group A era kicks off at Winton

AUSTRALIAN touring car racing has seen a range of different eras and today – February 10 – marks 39 years to the day since the Group A era of the Australian Touring Car Championship kicked off at Winton near Benalla in 1985.

This story is the latest in our series of Ryco Rewind stories as we take a look back through Australian motorsport history and explore the great races, drivers and cars from the past on the relevant anniversary.

In 1985 the opening round of the championship saw it visit the northern Victorian circuit for the very first time, and the race on Sunday February 10 also marked the start of Channel 7’s relationship as full-time broadcaster in a stretch that ran through the following decade.

In fact, the Winton 1985 round is available for you to add to your collection now on ‘Group A Touring Car Classics Volume 2’ available here from the V8 Sleuth Superstore.

The field for the season-opener and the switch from Group C rules to Group A saw a relatively small field appear – 15 cars in total – with seven different brands represented in BMW, Mitsubishi, Alfa Romeo, Ford, Toyota, Volvo and Jaguar via Garry Willmington’s privateer XJ-S.

But for all the cars and teams that were in attendance, it was more so who wasn’t that had historical significance.

For the first time in the history of the ATCC to that point there was not a Holden that attempted to qualify or race in this round, the first of 10 in that year’s championship.

Crichton, left, and Richards, middle, chat post-race at Winton in 1985 with Channel 7’s Garry Wilkinson. Photo: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers.

Peter Brock and his new Mobil Holden Dealer Team elected to stay away and made a winning debut in Round 2 at Sandown and no other privateer Commodore runners were there to fill the void.

Jim Richards was very much present for this round and Frank Gardner’s JPS Team BMW squad’s work in late 1984 on preparing for the new Group A era paid dividends as he led home Kiwi teammate Neville Crichton in a 1-2 finish.

‘Gentleman Jim’ opens up further on the Group A BMW era in his book, of which only very limited copies remain and is available here via the V8 Sleuth Superstore.

It looked close on the track in the finishing photo; however, Richards actually finished a whole lap in front of the other black and gold 635 CSi in the 50 lap race that ran for just under an hour.

Kevin Bartlett’s Mitsubishi Station gave him third place (his first ATCC podium finish since Adelaide International Raceway in 1982), while Dick Johnson’s Mustang suffered overheating and was forced to stop so many times it didn’t complete enough laps to be classified as a finisher.

Alan Jones’ Alfa Romeo GTV6 finished fourth of the 10 finishers in a race that may not have been a total classic, but still holds extreme historical significance in the history of Aussie tin-top racing.

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