THE TIME SKAIFE SWAPPED HOLDEN FOR MAZDA AT BATHURST

Mark Skaife swapped his duties as a Holden-supported touring car driver to race for the factory Mazda squad in the 1994 Bathurst 12 Hour. L-to-R: Garry Waldon, Skaife, Neil Crompton, Gregg Hansford. Pic: an1images.com / Rod Eime

MARK Skaife is best remembered as a Holden man throughout his long career in the Australian Touring Car/Supercars Championship, but did you know that he once swapped his Holden for a Mazda RX-7 at Mount Panorama?

The five-time ATCC/Supercars champion competed on his birthday in the 1994 Bathurst 12 Hour for the factory Mazda team.

“It was a little controversial because it was actually [during] the first time that Holden had won the Touring Car Championship since 1980,” Skaife told the V8 Sleuth Podcast.

“So [in] 1994, I did that with Freddie (Fred Gibson), all the heavies with Holden were rapt and it really got us into the Holden fold in terms of the hierarchy of Holden loving the performances and were very supportive of Fred and I in that era.”

Skaife was dominant in the 1994 ATCC, claiming seven race wins out of the 20 held and only finished off the podium on six occasions, leading the championship from the start to finish 57 points in front of second-placed Glenn Seton.

The opportunity to change cars and run in a Mazda came about due to a phone call from two old friends who coaxed Skaife into the BP Mazda Motorsport program for the 12 Hour.

The factory Mazdas annexed the front row of the grid with Skaife putting the #1 car on pole. Pic: an1images.com / Rod Eime

“Allan Horsley called me from Mazda and my dad knew him very well because he used to run Oran Park,” Skaife said.

“Garry Waldon was also one of dad’s best mates and one of my close friends, so between Garry and Allan Horsley, they coaxed me into going and joining Garry and driving the car.

“The second part of that was that Barry Jones, who was a famous Mazda racer and also a car preparation guru from Sydney would be preparing the car.

“So the hook-up was that Allan Horsley was the boss, the cars were being prepared by Barry Jones and their lead driver was Garry Waldon.

“All paths led to me joining Garry and although it wasn’t really frowned on by Holden, Holden didn’t love it, but I said to Fred, they are going to pay me a reasonable amount of money and I would like to go and have a drive with Garry.”

The #1 Mazda was delayed during the morning by a puncture that forced Skaife to limp back to the pits from the top of the mountain. Pic: an1images.com / Rod Eime

The Skaife and Waldon combination qualified the #1 BP Mazda on pole position for the event and led the race for most of the day until a blown turbo sidelined the RX-7.

The sole remaining BP Mazda of Neil Crompton and Gregg Hansford went on to win the event with the Porsche 968CS of Peter Fitzgerald, Jim Richards and Nicolas Leutwiler in second.

“I actually really enjoyed it, it was fun,” Skaife said.

“Crompo (Neil Crompton) was in the other car so it was a nice atmosphere and the way that we all got on.

“[We were] probably a bit unlucky to not have won that year that we were on pole and led for most of the day.

Driving a turbocharged coupe was not a new challenge having won the ATCC and the Bathurst 1000 aboard a Nissan GT-R.

“It was another foray into turbocharged cars and I was pretty used to turbocharged cars stopping, so it didn’t really surprise me, but that was one of those ones that would have been good to win with Garry.

The #1 Mazda’s race ended with a blown turbo while contending for the lead. Pic: an1images.com / Rod Eime

Skaife partnered Waldon a second time in the 1995 Eastern Creek 12 Hour and finished just off the podium in fourth place, despite an overnight rebuild due to a crash from reserve driver Allan Grice in the final practice session.

Skaife still holds the driving talent of his 12 Hour teammate highly, with the six-time Bathurst winner stating that Waldon could hold his own against the tough competition of that era.

“Garry Waldon was a very underrated driver, he was a really good racing driver and especially good in those series production style cars, he flowed the cars really well and he didn’t over drive them,” Skaife said.

“In that era, remember there was Brad Jones and Peter Fitzgerald were the gurus of production car racing in those days and Garry was very competitive.”

Jordan Treloar is an emerging motorsport reporter who graduated from Charles Sturt University with first class Honours in his Bachelor of Exercise Science (Honours) degree. He has interned at The Western Advocate and joined the V8 Sleuth team for its coverage of the 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000. He continues to report on various categories for V8 Sleuth in 2022.