ACROSS the 60 years of Australian Touring Car and Supercars Championship history, ‘Hit Grate’ is definitely one of the stranger DNF reasons recorded in our AN1 Data results database.
The championship’s first and only points-paying race in China in 2005 was nearly Mark Winterbottom’s last race period after a bizarre accident in the opening race of the weekend.
‘Frosty’ struck a dislodged steel grate that covered a drain on the exit of turn 5 of the Shanghai circuit.
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Measuring 24cm by 48cm and weighing 20 kilograms, the grate had been knocked loose by a preceding car and was poking out of the ground by over 20cm when the #20 Falcon ran over it at 130 km/h.
The grate sliced through the front splitter and hit the radiator and sump, before gouging a massive hole in the underside of the car and almost slicing through the driver’s seat.
“It made a huge thud inside the car but I didn’t feel the brunt of the impact as it lifted my car of the ground,” Winterbottom the next morning.
“I knew it had done a fair bit of damage but it wasn’t until we got the car back to the garage that I had a look in the back of the car and saw how much damage was done inside the car.
“It wasn’t until I woke up this morning that it hit me and I realised how lucky I really was to escape uninjured.”
Despite the extensive damage, the car (M-TEK 06) was repaired in time for the next round at Hidden Valley three weeks later!
The car was stripped in China after the event and the chassis returned to Logan Village Smash Repairs who replaced some of the roll bars, part of the cage and the floor.
“It’s buggered all the cooling at the front, the front anti-roll bar,” team owner Mark Larkham told Auto Action at the time.
“It’s demolished the front cross-member, exhaust, rollcage underneath the car, floor, seat mountings, diff housing, all the coolers, rear anti-roll bar, rear Watts link, it’s done a lot of damage.”
Incredibly, the same scenario repeated itself when Formula 1 visited Shanghai later in 2005.
Juan Pablo Montoya’s McLaren struck a loose drain cover 18 laps into the Chinese Grand Prix, causing significant but not race-ending damage to his car.
In Montoya’s case, a failure of the plastic clips that retained the grates was blamed and circuit officials resolved to weld the grates down in the future…