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The Calder season-opener that started a new era

THERE’S plenty of discussion in recent times as to just where Supercars should host the opening round of the championship for 2025, but on today’s Ryco Rewind we go back to this very day in 1997 – March 15 – when Calder Park in Melbourne hosted the season-opener.

The 2.2-kilometre road course on the outskirts of Melbourne had been a championship venue through the 1960s and 1970s and into the late 1980s before it fell off the calendar in the wake of Bob Jane’s Quit sponsorship that barred cigarette advertising at his circuits.

It took until 1996, the first year after tobacco advertising was banned in Australian sport, for the Australian Touring Car Championship to return to Calder and in 1997 it became the new season opener.

That night in 1997 was the beginning of a completely new era of V8 Supercars, the brand created late in 1996 that would form the category’s name for the best part of the following two decades.

That Calder round also marked the debut of Network 10 as host broadcaster of the championship in an arrangement that ran through to the end of 2006.

On track, Greg Murphy dominated the early part of the round, taking pole position on Friday and winning the Saturday afternoon opening race of the championship in the #15 Mobil Holden Racing Team Commodore.

The Kiwi had taken the wheel in the wake of Craig Lowndes’ departure to International Formula 3000 racing but found himself shuffled back in the pack in the following two races that were won respectively by Wayne Gardner’s Coke Commodore and Glenn Seton’s Ford Credit Falcon.

You can read the full report from Calder in 1997 in Issue 97 of Motorsport News magazine here, among a huge quantity of back issues of the popular magazine.

Gardner’s Commodore won the round overall, an off-season swap to Yokohama tyres paying benefits immediately given the Calder win marked his first ATCC round win.

Eventual champion Seton finished second for the round with the podium completed by Russell Ingall with Murphy and Alan Jones completing the top five on points.

The round has stuck in the minds of plenty of fans for the flame-spitting action, including the vision of Mark Skaife’s Gibson Motorsport Commodore with its red-hot glowing brakes on clear display as it fired off the end of the main straight in the evening race.

A total of 28 cars competed in the opening round at Calder, with a range of professional and privateer teams making up the field, 20 Commodores taking on eight Falcons.

This story is the latest in our series of Ryco Rewind stories as we take a look back through Australian motorsport history and explore the great races, drivers and cars from the past on the relevant anniversary.

Wayne Gardner on the podium at Calder in 1997. It marked his first and only ATCC/V8 Supercar Championship round win. Photo: an1images.com / Andrew Hall
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