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Tander’s road from Ford to Holden

GARTH Tander’s unbroken run of Supercars starts aboard Holdens will come to an end in 2023 amid his move to Grove Racing, but did you know that his first V8 drives came aboard Fords?

He made his V8 racing debut at the fourth round of the 1998 Australian Touring Car Championship aboard a #134 Holden Commodore run by Garry Rogers Motorsport.

All up, Tander has started a total of 642 Supercars Championship races since that Phillip Island debut, all of which have been aboard Holdens.

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However, his very first Supercars drives came in two different Ford Falcons, one year prior to his GRM call-up.

“John Bowe, through some Shell sponsorship that I had in Formula Ford, organised for me to get a test in the Dick Johnson Racing car on the Monday after the Mallala round,” Tander told the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2019.

“Back then the Wanneroo round and the Mallala round were back to back, so the teams raced in Perth on Sunday then loaded up and went straight to Adelaide to race on the following weekend.

“There were no promises, I didn’t have to pay, I could just come and have a drive. I was leading the Formula Ford championship at that stage so it was a good Ford story too.

“I was like, ‘OK, this is really cool!’ and obviously I needed to look at what the next step was after Formula Ford.

“So in the lead-up to the DJR test, there was a team in Perth owned by Claude Giorgi, who used to buy ex-Glenn Seton Falcons.

“The guy that was driving for Claude was a guy named Allan McCarthy, who was ironically my very first ever sponsor in go-karts. He gave me 50 bucks – I’ve still got the cheque!

“He had a panel shop and he was a gun steerer in WA. As a young kid growing up, you were like ‘Allan McCarthy, he’s awesome!’

“Macca organised that I could do 20 laps in Claude’s ex-Glenn Seton car on the Monday after the Wanneroo round.

McCarthy stunned the V8 frontrunners by finishing fifth in the opening race of the 1997 ATCC round at Wanneroo, making the most of a wet/dry race. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

“They had all the roll bars disconnected because it was wet that weekend in Perth, and it was horrible. I thought: ‘this is terrible! If this is what these things are like, I’m not that interested!’

“I drove 10 laps and they could see that I was half-alright, so they connected the roll bars up and I was like ‘oh, it goes alright now – these things are OK!’

“So I did 20 laps in that, did the Formula Ford race at Mallala the following weekend, and then jumped in the DJR car.”

Rain meant Tander’s DJR drive was cut short after only 10 or so laps, but the test was nonetheless a special moment for Garth’s father Dirk, who sadly passed away last month.

“We were a Ford family growing up and my old man was a big Dick Johnson fan,” Tander explained.

“So my old man was running around like a full tourist with his camera and all the rest of it.

“Looking back at it now, that would’ve been a big deal for my old man: his boy driving his idol’s car, effectively. So that was pretty cool for him to be there for that.”

Nothing further came of the opportunity at DJR, who already had Steven Johnson waiting in the wings for a full-time opportunity.

Tander, meanwhile, secured the Formula Ford championship at the Oran Park ATCC finale.

It was a victory that, ironically, set up his first drive of a Holden.

Tander hops behind the wheel of the #97 Holden Young Lions Commodore. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

“As part of winning the Formula Ford championship, I got a test in a Formula Holden, then whoever won the FHolden championship got a test in the Holden Young Lions Supercar,” Tander said.

“So I’m fanging around in the Formula Holden, getting my head around that, and then (Holden Racing Team boss) Jeff Grech came down and said: ‘Do you want to have a skid in this thing?’, which was the Holden Young Lions Commodore.”

Tander’s turn came after Formula Holden champion Jason Bright and future IndyCar star Scott Dixon, who’d finished third in that year’s Formula Holden standings behind Bright and HYL pilot Jason Bargwanna.

“I got 15-20 laps around Calder in it,” Tander recalled.

“But it didn’t have power steering, so I was like: ‘Oh geez, I like the Falcons better, they’ve got power steering!’”

The 2023 season will see him return to the cockpit of a Ford Supercar with a move to Grove Racing on a multi-year endurance co-driver deal.

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