THE rapid evolution of Supercars chassis development between the late 1990s and mid-2000s led teams to come up with increasingly complex roll cage designs in pursuit of better performance.
There was the Holden Racing Team’s ‘Petty bar’ car of 1996, featuring a thick tube travelling from behind the driver’s head, through the passenger’s compartment and down into the left-front footwell.
It secured the 1996 Australian Touring Car Championship with Craig Lowndes and won the Sandown 500/Bathurst 1000 double with he and Greg Murphy, but rule makers banned any future car from being built with a ‘Petty bar’.
A few years later came the ‘Larry bar’, a Larry Perkins creation where a bar ran diagonally from the top of the driver’s side A-pillar down to the bottom of the passenger’s side A-pillar.
First installed in PE-built car in 2000, the bar increased chassis stiffness and also provided added safety for drivers – it was a ‘Larry bar’ that stopped a stray wheel from passing through the windscreen of Craig Lowndes’ car during the 2005 Bathurst 1000.
Which brings us to the focus of this edition of Strange But True: Garry Rogers Motorsport’s ‘X-bar’ car.
Taking the ‘Larry bar’ principle to its obvious conclusion, GRM added an extra diagonal bar to connect the A-pillars when building up chassis GRM VY06 in 2003, effectively putting a big x-shaped bar in the driver’s field of view.
GRM VY06 became Garth Tander’s from the Sandown 500 onwards, sharing it with Nathan Pretty at the Melbourne enduro and with Jamie Whincup at the Bathurst 1000.
Tander shared a fond memory from his time in the car with the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2019 – plus a not-so-fond memory!
“It was hard to see out of because there was a bar in front of you, but you sort of figured it out – but you had to have a tetanus shot every time you drove it because it rusted!” Tander told the V8 Sleuth Podcast.
“They didn’t paint (the interior) because they didn’t want any weight in it. The boys working on it hated it because every time it rained it just rusted.”
The unconventional car proved fast at the Mountain, however.
Tander qualified the car fourth in the Top 10 Shootout and ran second in the early stages, but a crash at Forrest’s Elbow with Whincup at the wheel put them out of contention for the win.
However, Tander illustrated the speed of the chassis by setting a new lap record after it was repaired!
“We were laps behind but the car was going really well – the boys fixed it and were going fast,” he said.
“Garry says ‘come in!’ – the only time Garry spoke to me on the radio – ‘come in and put a new set of tyres on: we’re going to set the lap record.’ And I knew the car felt strong, so I said ‘nah, I’ll just do it now!’ So I just punched a lap and we set the lap record!
Tander stopped the clocks at 2m08.6726s, half a second faster than any other car managed during the race and almost nine tenths of a second faster than the previous mark.
“I should’ve actually come in and grabbed some tyres,” Tander added. “Because the lap would’ve been even faster and may have stood for longer…”
The record – which fell in 2005 – lasted longer than the X-bar itself.
Tander raced the car for the remainder of the 2003 season and throughout 2004 but the second diagonal brace was removed over the ‘03/’04 off-season, leaving just the ‘Larry bar’ in the car for the remainder of its life.
The debut of the Car of the Future in 2013 – featuring a common roll cage – meant the end of innovations like the ‘Larry bar’ and the ‘X-bar’.
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