STRANGE BUT TRUE: THE GOLD STAR NIGHT RACE THAT WASN’T

Jason Bright aboard the Birrana Racing Reynard 91D. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

THE S5000 category is set for its first ever night race this Saturday, to be held under the permanent flood lights at Sydney Motorsport Park.

As the class is the current custodian of the Australian Drivers Championship, it’s being billed as the first night race for the Gold Star since Calder Park in 1997.

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On that occasion though there was a pretty significant hitch; concern about poor lighting levels meant organisers elected to strip the race of its championship status!

By our reckoning that will make this Saturday night’s encounter in Sydney the first Australian Drivers Championship race ever held under lights, spanning the title’s full history dating back to 1957.

The Reynard 94D of Steve Cramp with wing angle set for minimum drag down Calder’s long straights. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The day-night event 25 years ago at Calder was the Australian Touring Car Championship opener on Saturday March 15, won by Wayne Gardner in his Coca-Cola Commodore.

Formula Holden, then contesting the Gold Star, was among the support categories with Race 1 scheduled to run at 6pm (around 90 minutes before sunset) and Race 2 at 9:40pm.

A 24-year-old Jason Bright dominated Race 1 from pole position, winning ahead of fellow future V8 drivers Darren Pate and Jason Bargwanna, who were among those not to front for Race 2.

Bright leads the Williams-inspired Pate Reynard. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Kynsmith

While the patchy lighting was just good enough for the V8 Supercars to do their thing, it was another matter for the low-slung and headlight-less open-wheelers.

As Motorsport News reported at the time: “While the cars looked good under the lights on Saturday night, the move into the darkness prompted CAMS to withdraw the championship status of Race 2.

“As a result, several drivers decided that, with no points on offer, it was a wiser decision to miss the race.

“One competitor in particular pointed out that ‘some of the slower drivers have trouble enough seeing us in the daytime…’”

Bruce Williams charged hard in the night race. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Kynsmith

Calder took place a week after a non-championship appearance for the category at Albert Park, where Race 1 polesitter Bright’s car faltered on the start and was collected by multiple tailenders.

The incentive for competitors to start the non-points Race 2 at Calder was further reduced by Network Ten’s decision not to televise it during what was the channel’s maiden ATCC broadcast.

Without Pate and Bargwanna the stage appeared set for Bright domination, but the Birrana Racing driver stalled on the grid and lost so much time that he could only recover to fifth by the finish.

Noske pictured leading Bargwanna during Race 1. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Mark Noske, who like Bargwanna was part of the then recently announced Holden Young Lions program, took full advantage and scored victory.

Noske’s car had required repairs in order to take the Race 2 grid following an accident while running third in the opener.

Kevin Weeks was runner-up in the non-points night race ahead of Bruce Williams, who charged from the rear of the grid to second before losing time with an off-track excursion at Turn 1.

Williams recovered to beat home perhaps the most notable performer of the event, 16-year-old Kiwi Scott Dixon, who made his Gold Star debut at Calder following an appearance at Albert Park.

Scott Dixon debuted in the ADC at Calder Park. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The 1997 Australian Drivers Championship turned into a thrilling battle between Bright and Bargwanna, won by the former by just five points.

Dixon finished third and returned to win the title in 1998 before heading to America and ultimately becoming one of IndyCar racing’s all-time greats.