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When ‘The Enforcer’ upstaged HRT’s new ‘Supercar’

APRIL 28, 1996 was a significant day for two Supercars icons, one that we’re looking back on in the latest edition of Ryco Rewind.

Despite being held in late April, Calder Park marked the sixth round out of the 10-round 1996 Shell Australian Touring Car Championship, which began in late January and wrapped up mid-June in order to finish well ahead of the Atlanta Olympics for broadcaster Channel Seven.

Title rivals Craig Lowndes and John Bowe both arrived at Calder in replacement cars, following their spectacular crash at the Hayshed during the preceding round at Phillip Island.

But while the reigning champion was aboard the spare Dick Johnson Racing Falcon, Lowndes was in a brand-new Holden Racing Team Commodore.

HRT 033, or ‘Gabrielle’ as she was nicknamed, featured an all new roll cage design, with the most visible element a large bar than ran from behind the driver’s head down into the passenger’s footwell.

The ‘Petty Bar’ was quickly challenged by other teams over its legality – but it took them awhile to get a good look at it.

The cover sits on HRT 033 ahead of its debut. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

HRT rolled the car out with a bespoke cover over the roof and windows to shield the interior from prying eyes, a response to other items on HRT cars coming under heavy scrutiny earlier in the year.

However, for all the attention the car was given, ‘Gabrielle’ didn’t win its debut round, nor did it make the podium.

Instead, the record books show that the day delivered Russell Ingall his very first championship race and round wins.

Lowndes claimed pole position and led all 20 laps on his way to winning the opening race, but was jumped by Ingall at the start of the second sprint and spent the next 16 laps trying to find his way past.

But the battle ended on Lap 17 when the differential failed in the #15 HRT Commodore, leaving Ingall to take his maiden race victory from Bowe and Tony Longhurst.

Glenn Seton edged Ingall to win the finale, having retired from the opener with engine failure and charged from last on the grid to fifth place in the second.

Ingall and round runner-up Bowe celebrate on the podium. To the right of frame is longtime Shell sponsorship manager Ross Brodie. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

However, Ingall’s consistency delivered him the overall round win by 10 points over Bowe, with Seton a further 12 points adrift, nabbing the final podium spot from Larry Perkins courtesy of his Race 3 win.

Lowndes ended the day tied with Tony Longhurst in fifth for the round, having recovered to seventh in Race 3 from a rear-of-grid start.

The results meant the championship lead changed hands for the fourth time during the season, with Bowe edging three points ahead of his rookie rival.

Ingall wasn’t the only winner from the day, with Steven Richards taking Privateer’s honours for the fourth time in what was his rookie Supercars season with Garry Rogers Motorsport.

The second-generation racer was denied in the Privateer’s Dash, though.

The four-lap sprint, for which grid positions were drawn, was won by Mal Rose from speedway star Max Dumesny – who was also in his first year of touring car racing – and Steve Ellery.

The full report on the race meeting featured in Issue 74 of Motorsport News, which can now be read in full online as part of AN1 Media’s work to digitise the publication’s archive.

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.

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