THE HRT VN COMMODORE THAT CHASED 320KM/H

Win Percy between runs at Lang Lang. All pics: an1images.com

THE 300km/h barrier has long been a magic and somewhat mythical marker in Australian touring car racing.

The combination of engine power, aerodynamics, gearing and tyre size means V8 Supercars have typically topped out just under the elusive 300km/h on Bathurst’s famed Conrod Straight.

Occasionally there have been claims of the modern V8s recording 300km/h, but they have been rare and often met with scepticism, either from rivals or the team involved.

That includes Glenn Seton’s oft referenced 302km/h speed promoted by the TV broadcast in 1996, which Seton himself casts doubt on in his book, Seto: The official racing history of Glenn Seton.

Before the modern V8 Supercar era began, Holden’s legendary PR man Tim ‘Plastic’ Pemberton devised a plan to cash-in on the public’s thirst for top speed numbers.

Pemberton wanted to add extra spice to a HSV drive-day organised for Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground in rural Victoria in 1991 and set up a top speed run using the HRT’s VN Group A race car.

The car used was HRT 026; the first VN built by the team that had just completed the opening two rounds of the Australian Touring Car Championship at Sandown and Symmons Plains.

Without the big wings or the 7,500rpm rev limit of their VP successors, the leading Group A VNs were good for around 280km/h on Conrod.

You can read more on the VN Commodore in our book, ‘Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport’, available in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.

The target for the run on Lang Lang’s high-speed bowl? A lofty 320km/h, or 200mph in the old money, with reigning Bathurst winner Win Percy given the driving duties.

Wally Storey was team manager at HRT at the time and recounted the test to Australian Muscle Car Magazine in 2009.

“We didn’t know how fast it would go around there, so we just put the hardest tyres on that we had and pumped them up rock hard and bolted in the tallest diff we had, which I think was 2.7:1 or something, which actually turned out being a bit too tall for it with the gusty winds and all,” he said.

Pemberton had organised for the local highway patrol officers to record the speed with their radar equipment to ensure the legitimacy of the test.

The car topped out at 299km/h (186mph) which, while short of the target, was still a record for the Lang Lang bowl.

Storey recalled that the main objective – to entertain the guests on the day – was well and truly achieved.

“You could hear this thing coming from miles away, because we’d taken the mufflers it. It sounded so trick, like a Formula 5000 or a NASCAR at full noise,” he said.

“It had a bit of attitude on it at that speed, too, let me tell ya; she was having a bit of a slide! All of a sudden the dealers were rushing over to the edge of the track with their cameras clicking away.”

Then Holden Motorsport boss John Lindell added: “That bit of fun cost us an engine that day.

“I think it broke a primary exhaust header and leaned off and broke a piston. I can remember (engine builder) Rob Benson whinging about the cost of the engine!”

HRT 026 went on to have a long racing life, which included becoming the first HRT car to be driven by Craig Lowndes during 1994 following an upgrade to VP specifications.

The car was sold by HRT early in 1996 and raced on in privateer hands until the early 2000s as a VS.

It has subsequently been restored to the VP-spec with which Lowndes raced it in Adelaide in 1994.