WAYNE Gardner says it was his violent practice crash at the 2002 Bathurst 1000 that helped convinced him to retire from racing for good.
Despite starting his V8 Supercars career in Holdens, racing for the Holden Racing Team and his own Wayne Gardner Racing squad, the motorcycle racing world champion finished it with three seasons at three different Ford teams.
He claimed pole position for the 2000 Bathurst 1000 with Ford Tickford Racing, then drove with Mark Larkham in the 2001 enduros, then joined Stone Brothers Racing for the 2002 season, and you can read the history of all the Falcons that Gardner raced in The Falcon Files, the collectors magazine documenting the history of all V8 Supercar Falcons built from 1992 to 2017 – now on sale in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop!
Gardner’s SBR role saw him take in a handful of solo championship rounds before pairing with David Besnard in the team’s #9 Caltex Falcon at Bathurst.
Besnard arrived at Mount Panorama fresh off his win in the Queensland 500 with Simon Wills – Gardner had a clashing Japanese GT Championship event – and the duo were fifth fastest on the opening day of practice.
Then it all went horribly wrong on only the fifth lap of Friday morning’s final practice session before qualifying.
Listen to the two parts of the podcast below:
Gardner had just hopped into the car when, on his out-lap from the pits, he arrived at Griffins Bend with no brakes.
“When I got into the car my overalls hit the lever at the front of the seat that turned the brake bias off; it’s for bleeding the brakes when they come in to change pads,” Gardner told the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Timken.
“The leg of my suit dragged the lever across (and) turned the brake valve off so I had no brakes.
“I went up Mountain Straight and had no brakes; it went straight to the floor.
“I pumped and pumped but I couldn’t make it, downshifted, nearly made it but hit the wall and it then flicked me off across the other side of the road.”
The crash demolished the chassis – SBR AU5, the car Gardner had raced wearing the #36 earlier in the year – beyond immediate repair, ruling the Besnard/Gardner entry out of the race.
Besnard ended up racing on Sunday with Glenn Seton, deputising for a very sick Owen Kelly, but Gardner never returned to the ‘Great Race’.
He completed the final two rounds of that year’s JGTC rounds, finishing on the podium at Mine just two weeks after the Bathurst crash.
After that he retired from four-wheel racing for good and has since raced only on two wheels at fun events such as the Goodwood Revival and World GP Bike Legends.
“I got offers to come back after that, but to be honest, that scared me a bit, that crash. It scared the f*** out of me,” Gardner says.
“It knocked me out. Luckily I was OK – they’re pretty strong cars – but the amount of impact really shocked me.
“It was my first real crash that I’d had. I’d had little crashes, but certainly not at that high a speed.
“I went ‘well, I’m not sure I really want to do that again…’ I wasn’t enjoying the lifestyle back home in Australia, the shitfight I’d been through, I had a different vision of my life.
“My kids were growing up and they wanted to start racing, so I figured it was time to stop.” Gardner’s episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast focuses on his four-wheel career, touching on his very first drive of a touring car – which came well before his 1987 world championship win – plus his sneaky laps in one of Peter Brock’s HDT Commodores, as well as his drive of a Lotus at the Australian Grand Prix that led to a fully-fledged Formula 1 test.