SATURDAY SLEUTHING: THE ‘MISSING’ HRT COMMODORE

Tomas Mezera hops out and Win Percy gets ready to depart the pits during Bathurst 1993. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

THIS week’s edition of Saturday Sleuthing looks at a Holden Racing Team Commodore that played a central role in a mystery surrounding one of the team’s cars once thought to be missing.

It’s a car that was raced by six different Bathurst 1000 winners, ran as four different models of Commodore – and had two different identities during its time at HRT, which is where the confusion over its whereabouts began.

Built as HRT 028, it was the last VN-model Commodore constructed by the team in 1991 and made its race debut at Bathurst, where Win Percy and Allan Grice raced it to second place.

In fact, a picture of this car on its way to that podium finish is among the hundreds in our upcoming book Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport, a 400-page hardcover book paying tribute to the marque’s rich competition history spanning over seven decades.

It’s currently on track to arrive in time for Father’s Day – pre-order it now HERE!

HRT 028 takes second place in its very first race meeting, Bathurst 1991. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

The 1992 season saw HRT focus on perfecting its new ‘winged’ package for the new touring car rules set to take effect the following season, and HRT 028 spent the year testing tyres and aero packages.

While the team’s two older VN chassis were upgraded to the new VP Commodore specification for the 1992 Sandown 500, this car sat off to the side in the HRT workshop for the next few months.

The confusion over the ‘missing’ HRT car began in the middle of 1993.

Mezera’s regular car, HRT 026, was badly damaged in a multi-car shunt at Winton, and the following ATCC round at Eastern Creek saw him campaigning what period news reports described as a “new” car.

Mezera aboard his “new” car at Eastern Creek in 1993. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

He continued to race the “new” car for the remainder of the 1993 season, including taking pole for the Sandown 500 and crashing out at Bathurst when the throttle stuck open with co-driver Percy behind the wheel.

The damage sustained at Mount Panorama put this “new” car out of commission for the rest of the year – and then it was never heard of again.

Mezera reverted to HRT 026 for the 1994 season while new recruit Peter Brock drove the resurrected HRT 028.

The mystery lingered as the V8 Sleuth team began putting together the award-winning book Holden Racing Team – The Cars: 1989-2016.

Part of the research included looking through original period documents from the team which solved the mystery: the “new” car was actually HRT 028!

When it was pressed back into service for Mezera at Eastern Creek in 1993, its identification underwent a change and it became HRT 027 for the remainder of its life.

Previous VN models that had been updated to VP spec with the Chevrolet engine were issued new log books by CAMS, but this car – which had never raced as a VP up to this point – assumed the ID number of a chassis destroyed in a testing crash earlier in the year and therefore cut down on the amount of pre-race paperwork for the team.

A year on from HRT 028’s re-emergence Brock piloted the car to pole position and both victories at Eastern Creek, giving the Holden Racing Team its maiden championship round win.

Lowndes made his Bathurst debut aboard HRT 028 in 1994 – and what a debut it was! Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

With Brock receiving a new car in the form of ‘Beth’ for the endurance races, his ATCC car became HRT’s #015 car for Sandown and Bathurst for Brad Jones and then-rookie Craig Lowndes.

It’s history now that the duo put the car into the battle for the win at Mount Panorama, a strong double-stint from Jones followed up by Lowndes’ audacious pass for the lead on John Bowe late in the race at Griffin’s Bend – admittedly only after missing his braking marker! – before settling for second place.

How’s the attitude! Mezera gets HRT 028 up on the back wheel in its final appearance with HRT, Lakeside 1995. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The car was converted to the new VR Commodore specification for the 1995 season and served as Mezera’s car for the first half of the ATCC, marking the end of its competition life with HRT.

1987 Bathurst 1000 winner Peter McLeod purchased HRT 028 as a rolling shell mid-year and built it back into a race car in time for he and son Ryan McLeod to race in the 1995 Bathurst 1000.

The McLeods endured a luckless Bathurst 1000 aboard HRT 028 in 1995. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

The pair endured a fraught weekend, capped off by breaking a tailshaft as the lights went green to start the race.

The McLeods continued to campaign the car in Enzed colours through 1996 before the car was sold to racing newcomer Simon Emerzidis in 1997, its new owner upgrading the car to VS Commodore specification during the 1998 season.

Garry Willmington aboard HRT 028 in its final ATCC/V8SC start, Phillip Island in 1999. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

HRT 028 made its final period race appearance in 1999 before spending time as a ride car and passing through the hands of several private owners.

However, after laying idle for over a decade, the car is now on the road to being restored to its former glory.

Current custodian Gavin Strongman has embarked on a ground-up rebuild that will see HRT 028 returned to the livery and specification it ran in 1994 when Brock claimed the team’s maiden ATCC race wins.

Strongman has set up a Facebook page documenting the car’s rebuilt – you can follow it here: HRT 28 Restoration.

Will Dale is V8 Sleuth's Head of Content - Digital. He began his media career as a breakfast radio newsreader before joining SPEED TV Australia and FOX SPORTS Australia in 2012 as its Digital Editorial Lead - Motorsport, covering all forms of motorsport both in Australia and internationally. He became part of the V8 Sleuth team in 2018.