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Strange But True: Mustang’s lost Bathurst podium

SCOTT McLaughlin and Alexandre Premat’s victory in the 2019 Bathurst 1000 marked the first time a Ford Mustang had finished on the podium in the ‘Great Race’.

However, it wasn’t the first time a Mustang’s driving crew stood on the podium after a Bathurst 1000!

The 2019 race was only the fourth running of the ‘Great Race’ to feature Mustangs on the grid.

The first generation of the ‘pony car’ was ineligible to compete under the ‘Series Production’ rules of the early Mount Panorama enduros, so the Mustang’s Bathurst 1000 debut didn’t come until the 1980s and the adoption of international Group A touring car rules.

SATURDAY SLEUTHING: Johnson helping restore his Group A Bathurst Mustang

Even then, the ‘Fox body’ generation of Mustang only appeared in three Bathurst 1000s between 1984 and 1986, and the official results credit the model with a best finish of Dick Johnson and Gregg Hansford’s fourth place in the 1986 race.

Or was it third?

Johnson and Hansford certainly thought so – as you can see in the DVD containing the full race broadcast of the 1986 race available to buy in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop, they walked out onto the podium as the third-placegetters!

James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst, 1986. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

A fully electronic timing and scoring system – where a transponder in the car trips timing beams around the circuit – was still several years away, and most of the top teams kept their own manual lap and timing charts in addition to the system used by race organisers.

Jill Johnson did that job at DJR for many years; come the end of the 1986 race, her usually unimpeachable lap chart had the #17 Mustang in third place with 163 laps completed.

However, the official Australian Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) timing and scoring had the green car one lap off the pace in fourth place.

Nevertheless, Johnson and Hansford made their way up to the podium and walked out to receive the accolades for third place, followed immediately after by the Nissan crew of Gary Scott and Terry Shiel – the entry the ARDC regarded as the third-place finishers.

The official results reflected that: history records the #15 Nissan as the third-place finisher on 163 laps, with the #17 Ford in fourth place on 162 laps.

“Whilst our system is not infallible, it is excellent,” the race’s chief timekeeper Gerry Halpin told Racing Car News at the time.

“No official from my group told Johnson that he came anywhere but fourth.”

Johnson was a little more blunt in his synopsis of the lost podium.

“We were robbed of third place by an archaic lap scoring system,” he said in a 1989 biography.

“A lot of lap charts had us third, and we knew damn well we were third, but unfortunately there was some stuff-up in the official system, which is obviously the one they take notice of.”

LIMITED STOCK: Order your copy here now of the official 2020 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 Program. 

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