THE trend towards younger drivers in Supercars means it is unusual for the record for the oldest driver to win the Bathurst 1000 to be at risk.
This year’s event, however, does present a chance for one driver to reset the mark.
At 57 years old, Russell Ingall would become the oldest driver to win the ‘Great Race’ should he and Broc Feeney triumph aboard Triple Eight’s wildcard entry.
But who currently holds the record for being the oldest driver to win the Bathurst 1000? Unsurprisingly, this is a top five that is packed with legendary names…
No.5 – ALLAN GRICE
47 years, 344 days at the 1990 Tooheys 1000
Although history shows Grice was entering the twilight of his career behind the wheel – he’d been without a full-time touring car drive since his European Nissan deal in 1988 – his 1990 Bathurst drive illustrated that he was still a force to be reckoned with.
Win Percy talked HRT owner Tom Walkinshaw into letting him hire Grice as a co-driver, and it was Grice who’d do the bulk of the driving throughout race week as the Englishman nursed a shoulder injury sustained at Sandown.
The duo brought home a famous underdog triumph for the Holden Racing Team against faster turbocharged opposition – and Grice backed it up by winning the inaugural Bathurst 12 Hour a few months later.
No.4 – DICK JOHNSON
49 years, 159 days at the 1994 Tooheys 1000
John Bowe was in the hot seat for the decisive final-stint battle against upstart rookie Craig Lowndes, but Queensland’s favourite son had turned in one of his finest Bathurst drives to have the #17 Falcon at the pointy end.
Johnson did the first 2-minute 11-second touring car lap at Mount Panorama in the warm-up for the Top 10 Shootout, only to clout the wall on his one-lap flyer to end up 10th on the grid.
He more than made up for his misstep on race day; his penultimate stint against Brad Jones was electric, turning laps at a pace that would almost have qualified him for the Shootout and setting up his third ‘Great Race’ triumph.
No.3 – HARRY FIRTH
49 years, 166 days at the 1967 Gallaher 500
By 1967, ‘the Fox’ was starting to wind down his decorated driving career and his final ‘Great Race’ triumph was a glimpse into the future.
Not only did Firth prepare the first V8-engined car to conquer the event, but his mentoring of a rising young talent in Gibson foreshadowed his time shaping a young Peter Brock at the Holden Dealer Team.
No.2 – JOHN FRENCH
50 years, 310 days at the 1981 James Hardie 1000
As the 1980s dawned, ‘Father’ French was a living legend of the touring car scene: his career dated back to the early days of hot-rodding 48-215 Holdens and spanned the rapid evolution of the sport through the Series Production V8 arms race and into the Group C era.
For 1981, he was the safe pair of hands that was the perfect foil to Johnson’s band-of-mates effort to claim touring car racing’s biggest prize.
It was French’s job to lap quickly, stay out of trouble and hand the car back in immaculate condition to Johnson for the final stint. He ticked every box but the last: the race ended prematurely prior to the car’s final pit stop with French still at the wheel when the red flags came out.
No.1 – JIM RICHARDS
55 years, 41 days at the 2002 Bob Jane T-Marts 1000
Technically, Richards holds the top two spots on this list.
He was 51 years, 32 days old when he won the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000 with Rickard Rydell in a Volvo S40, but it’s his final ‘Great Race’ triumph alongside old mate Mark Skaife in 2002 that gives him the record.
Richards himself doesn’t rank it among his best drives in the event – in fact, he ranks 2003 when he qualified third in the Top 10 Shootout and finished fifth at age 56 ahead of it! – but he did the job he was hired to do and did it well.
His final stint was in slick, greasy conditions; while others took risks and speared off, Richards drove steadily to keep both the car and Skaife’s championship hopes intact.