THE ‘S***FIGHT’ THAT TRIGGERED GARDNER’S HRT SPLIT

Wayne Gardner drove for the Holden Racing Team for just a single season. Pic: an1images.com / Andrew Hall

WAYNE Gardner’s first year racing for the Holden Racing Team in 1993 proved to also be his last, ending in acrimony that also saw him benched from that year’s Sandown 500.

Freshly retired from motorcycle racing, Gardner was high profile recruit for the factory Holden squad as the Australian Touring Car Championship entered a new Ford vs Holden era.

HRT looked to have all the right pieces in place, having spent the previous year focused on developing its new winged VP Commodore for the new regulations and recruited former Dick Johnson Racing chief Neal Lowe over the off-season.

However, Lowe was gone by mid-season, and by year’s end so too was Gardner, who ended up setting up Wayne Gardner Racing after clashes with HRT bosses Tom Walkinshaw and John Crennan.

Speaking on the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Timken, Gardner tells his side of the story – including how, had things played out differently, it could have become the Coca-Cola Holden Racing Team with the 1987 500cc Motorcycle World Champion in charge.

Listen to the two parts of the podcast below:

“I signed up with HRT (for 1993) on the provision that I’d get a lot of testing, but I didn’t. That’s where the frustration built in during the year,” Gardner told the V8 Sleuth Podcast.

“I was disappointed with the way the team was funded and structured, and with the effort they were giving me. I didn’t want to be just a face in there, a publicity stunt; I wanted to be a serious competitor and winning.

“I was begging them to give me testing time but they wouldn’t because they didn’t have any money.

“One of the bosses at Holden – I forget his name – called me and asked me how it was going. (I told him) I’m not happy, and he said to keep in touch.

“The next minute, Holden came back and said they were looking for sponsorship, they weren’t happy with Walkinshaw … if I could find some sponsorship, I could take over the team: ‘We’ll go with you instead of Walkinshaw.’

“I sold it to Coca-Cola (then one of Gardner’s personal sponsors) that they could have the naming rights all over the HRT.

“That’s when all the big shitfight happened.”

History shows that Gardner was benched from the team for the Sandown 500 over the situation, before returning for Bathurst and the Australian Grand Prix support races, finishing third with Brad Jones at Mount Panorama before taking his first race win on the Sunday in Adelaide.

“Tom Walkinshaw turned up and I sat in a room with he and Crenno said that I was (committing a) mutiny, that I was trying to steal their team,” Gardner said.

“At the end of the day, he gave me the ultimatum: send him the (Coca-Cola) money – which was a couple of million dollars – and he’d give me a seat in the car.”

Wayne Gardner Racing ran for several seasons with Coca-Cola backing, Gardner and Crompton finishing on the podium in the 1995 Bathurst 1000. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

Instead, HRT recruited Peter Brock and his Mobil backing for 1994, while Gardner elected put the Coca-Cola money towards his own team, buying out Bob Forbes’ squad and turning it into two-car team for he and Neil Crompton.

“It wasn’t my ego building a race team,” Gardner said.

“I didn’t want a racing team, but I was put in that position by Tom Walkinshaw, John Crennan and Holden.

“And Holden then, at the end of it, came in and gave me quite a bit of money to put their name down the side of the car!”

The episode focuses on Gardner’s 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.

Will Dale began his media career as a breakfast radio newsreader before joining SPEED TV Australia and FOX SPORTS Australia in 2012 as its Digital Editorial Lead - Motorsport for the next six years, covering all forms of motorsport both in Australia and internationally. He became part of the V8 Sleuth team in 2018.