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Racing the Lion: The Holden Legacy in V8 Racing

Holden cars have been fan favourites in Australian motorsport for the last 50 years as V8 racing became the main game with Touring Cars and Supercars generating a massive fan base. James Alexander Holden established the Holden brand with his saddlery in Adelaide way back in 1856 and around 1908 his family business successors focused their expertise on vehicle body production and assembly for US auto giants General Motors and Ford in the 1920s.

By 1948, the GM Holden operations were building vehicles from scratch and the Holden brand became entrenched in the hearts and minds of Australian drivers and families. Who remembers the advertising jingle… “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars”? Famous for building Australian cars for Australian conditions, their sporty Torana and then Commodore family sedan, in the hands of talented racing teams and drivers, became unbeatable on the race track. Powered by V8 engines and performance modified, Holden established itself as the most successful racing marquee in the country and its head-to-head rivalry with Ford became the stuff of legends.

vintage holden car from general motors

With the Holden name leaving the top Supercars category in 2023, we’re taking this moment to celebrate the success and summarise the legacy of Holden cars in Australian motorsport. In short, Holden ‘retires’ from the top game after a 50 year battle with Ford. Who was the winner? It depends on when you define the years, but from 1970, when Holden Dealer Team hit the scene, it’s been neck and neck; the Manufacturer’s Championships going to Holden 22 times, just edging out Ford’s 21.

To celebrate the history and success of Holden, we reference and acknowledge the Racing the Lion book, a 400 page collection of rare and entertaining Holden racing images and stories, assembled by Aaron Noonan, Will Dale and the V8 Sleuth team.

Holden Track Records

National V8 Driver Championships

Holden’s first win came in the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) in 1969, with Norm Beechey in a Holden HK Monaro GTS327 taking out the coveted event. Since then, Holden drivers have gone on to win another 21 championships.

Norm Beechey in a Holden HK Monaro GTS327

In addition to its ATCC wins, Holden has also taken out the Shell Championship Series on all three occasions, with Mark Skaife winning back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001 and Garth Tander winning the title in 1999.

Holden has won several more times in the next series: V8 Supercar Championship, International V8 Supercar Championship and Supercars Championship, with leading driver’s Jamie Whincup and Mark Skaife racking up 12 Championships between the two of them.

By having more teams and some dominant ones like the Holden Racing team and Triple Eight Engineering, as of 9 October 2022, Holden has 614 race wins, almost 200 more than Ford’s 415, and the rest are not even visible in the rear view mirror.

National V8 Manufacturers’ Championships

Before 2000, the success of long-standing Ford teams like Dick Johnson Racing, kept Ford very competitive. However, in the new millennium Holden has won a total of 15 championships, almost twice as many as Ford’s eight. There was a golden run from 2010-16 with 7 in a row, before DJR led a fightback that has kept it close ever since.

Bathurst 1000

There’s one race, ‘The Great Race’ on the Mount Panorama Racing Circuit at Bathurst that means more to Australian racing fans than any other. Holden has an impressive record at the Bathurst 1000, with 36 wins to its name. The company’s first win came in 1968, then called Hardie-Ferodo 500, with Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland piloting the Holden HK Monaro GTS327 to victory.

Since then, Holden has gone on to take out the event a further 35 times, with the most recent being the 2022 Repco Bathurst 1000, when Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander claimed victory in the Holden ZB Commodore.

holden car winning at the bathurst 1000

Pole Positions

Six of the top ten drivers with the most pole positions are Holden drivers. Sure, some of them drove a Ford and other brands, but the large majority were in a Holden. According to Fox Sports, 166 poles have come driving a Holden; 129 in Ford.

Podium Positions

Holden drivers have claimed a total of 497 podium finishes over the years, 105 more than Ford’s 392.

The first came in 1970, with Norm Beechey finishing first in the ATCC. Since then, Holden drivers have gone on to claim a further 496 podium finishes, with the most recent being in the recently concluded Gold Coast 500, when Shane van Gisbergen finished first place.

 

Holden’s Winning Models

Jamie Whincup’s ‘Kate’ Vodafone Commodore VE/VE II

“Kate” was a dominant force in the Supercars Championship, winning a total of 28 races. The first came in the opening round of the 2010 season at the Yas V8 400 on Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. And the last was in the 2012 Winton Motor Raceway V8 Supercar event.

In between those wins, “Kate” also claimed victories at the 2010 Desert 400, the 2011 Clipsal 500, the 2011 Sucrogen Townsville 400 and the 2012 Bathurst 1000.

“Kate” is one of the most successful cars in Supercars history, and her 28 wins make her the most successful Holden Commodore in the category.

Jamie Whincup’s car ‘Kate’ Vodafone Commodore VE/VE II

Jamie Whincup’s 2013 & 2014 Red Bull Commodore VF

The fact that the car had only two years and won 22 races is a testament to why it made the list. The VF was introduced at Sandown 500 in 2013 and was an instant hit with fans and drivers alike. It quickly became the dominant force in Supercars, winning both the 2013 and 2014 championships.

Mark Skaife’s ‘Golden Child’ HRT Commodore VX/VY

Since its inception in 2001, the “Golden Child’ quickly became the car to beat in Australian touring car racing, winning a total of 20 races in just three years.

The brainchild of the Tom Walkinshaw-owned outfit in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton, the car was designed to take on Ford’s all-conquering Falcon in the top-level Supercars category.

And boy, did it ever!

It’s one of the only two cars to win the Bathurst 1000 twice.

Mark Skaife’s HRT/Kmart Commodore VT/VX

This Commodore has had an impressive string of wins under its belt across two teams and three seasons, cementing its place in the annals of motorsport.

It debuted in 1999 at Oran Park with Skaife behind the wheel. The car went on to take out a further 15 races over the years.

Greg Murphy’s ‘Lap of the Gods’ Kmart Commodore VY

In 2003, Greg Murphy took on the Mountain circuit at Bathurst in his Kmart Commodore VY. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous.

Murphy obliterated John Bowe’s 2:07.956 lap record, already considered “damn fast”, setting a time of 2:06.859.

The lap came to be known as the ‘Lap of the Gods’ and is widely considered one of the greatest laps in motorsport history.

Until 2021, Murphy’s VY Commodore held the record for the fastest-ever lap around Bathurst in a V8.

Greg Murphy’s car Lap of the Gods Kmart Commodore VY

Holden’s Best Drivers

Peter Brock

Peter Brock is one of the most legendary figures in Australian motorsport. He began his career racing Holdens and quickly made a name for himself as one of the country’s top drivers. He holds an incredible record for most Bathurst 1000 race wins, with nine titles under his belt. He also won the last Bathurst 24-hour race in 2003.

Brock’s incredible record at the Bathurst 1000 race earned him the nickname “King of the Mountain.” He was a master of the circuit, able to tame the 6.213-kilometre course like no other.

Brock’s ability to win at Bathurst was so great that they named the high speed section at the summit of the Mount Panorama Racing Circuit, the Brock Skyline. The current Bathurst 1000 race winner’s trophy is also named after the popular driver they called “Peter Perfect”.

While Brock had ‘only ’48 wins and 3 Championship titles, and arguably is not Australia’s most accomplished driver, he was a fan favourite, and loved the big stage with nine Bathurst 1000s and nine Sandown 500s.

Mark Skaife

Mark Skaife is one of the most successful drivers in the history of Australian motorsport. He is a 6-time Bathurst 1000 winner and a 5-time Australian Touring Car Champion/V8 Supercar Champion.

He has raced 479 times and came 1st in 90 of those races; an incredible win rate. He started in the pole-sitting position only 41 times, but his racing ability out him on the podium 203 times. He’s also a two-time milestone race winner at 400th and 500th races.

‘Skaifey’ celebrated on the podium so often, they should have named a Champagne after him!

best holden race car drivers mark skaife

Craig Lowndes

Who would forget the overtaking move Lowndes pulled off at the 1994 Bathurst? The 20 year old rookie drove his Holden Commodore VP to pass then-leader John Bowe around the outside of Griffins Bend–one of the most difficult and dangerous corners on the Mountain circuit.

The pass made him a household name and earned him the nickname “The Kid.”

Lowndes is a 7-time Bathurst 1000 winner, making him second only to Peter Brock. He is also a 3-time V8 Supercar Champion and has won the Bathurst 12 Hour race three times. While he drove other cars and got titles from them, most of his wins were in Holdens.

Larry Perkins

Six-time Bathurst 1000 winner Larry Perkins, like Dick Johnson, is not only a racing legend but also an accomplished automotive engineer. He was involved in building race cars for himself and his team.

In 2008, he was inducted into the V8 Supercars Hall of Fame and now has an award named after him–the Larry Perkins Trophy. It’s given to the driver who accumulates the most points across the four races at the Beaurepaires Melbourne 400. He was also appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2021 Australia Day Honours for his contribution to motorsport.

Perkins is a popular and well-liked figure in the Australian motorsport community. He is known for his down-to-earth personality and his willingness to help up-and-coming drivers.

Garth Tander

One look at Tander’s career results, and you’ll know he bleeds red and is a great ambassador for the sport. The five-time Bathurst 1000 winner and one-time V8 Supercar Champion has been driving Holdens for most of his impressive career. His co-drive with Van Gisbergen to win the 2022 Bathurst 1000 was flawless, demonstrating that he’s still a very talented driver in semi-retirement.

Out of the 641 races he’s competed in, Tander has won 57 times, was a pole sitter 31 times and a podium finisher 154 times.

Shane van Gisgergen and Garth Tander celebrate their Bathurst win

Holdens Most Successful Teams

Holden Dealer Team

In the world of Australian V8 racing, the Holden Dealer Team (HDT) was one of the most iconic and successful teams. Founded in 1969 by Holden, the HDT raced Holdens in various categories, including the ATCC, Bathurst 1000 and other endurance races. The team enjoyed considerable success over the years, winning the ATCC three times, the Bathurst 1000 nine times and the Sandown endurance seven times.

holden dealer team drivers

Triple Eight Race Engineering

So far, Triple Eight Race Engineering is the most accomplished team in the Supercars Championship. The team has ten title wins, nine drivers’ championships and eight Bathurst wins and is currently extending it’s trophy cabinet, as there’s no signs of slowing down as they enter the Gen 3 era. It also has 218 race wins, 148 pole positions and 104 round wins to its name. It had a stranglehold on the Championship over the last decade with the only serious threat of late being the resurgent legendary Dick Johnson Racing team.

Holden Racing Team

The Holden Racing Team (HRT) debuted in 1990 and won the teams’ championship five times, the drivers’ championship six times and Bathurst 1000 eight times. Controversially, in 2017 Triple Eight Engineering obtained ‘rights’ from Holden for Holden Racing Team and then called the team Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

 

Holden’s Top Moments

Some of Holden’s most memorable moments in motorsport have come at the Bathurst 1000. The race is the pinnacle of Australian motorsport, and the Holden Army have had plenty of reasons to wave their red flags across Mount Panorama.

1979 Bathurst

One of the most famous moments in Holden’s history at Bathurst came in 1979 when Peter Brock and Jim Richards set a record for winning the race by six laps. The pair drove a Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback, and their dominant performance is still considered one of the greatest in Bathurst’s history.

Peter Brock and Jim Richards bathurst win Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback

2012 Bathurst

The second-best race time is also one of the most unforgettable. Jaime Whincup and Ford’s David Reynolds were battling each other ferociously for the lead in the final laps of the 2012 Bathurst 1000. Whincup behind the wheel of a Holden VE Commodore, and Reynolds piloting a Ford Falcon FG.

The cars roared around the track, the drivers fighting for position with fuel becoming a critical factor. While Reynolds had plenty in the tank, Whincup needed to drive more cautiously so as not to deplete his minuscule fuel level. It soon became clear later that Reynolds was fastest on Conrod Straight, but he couldn’t maintain speed at Hell Corner and overtake on Mountain Straight.

Knowing this, Whincup drove aggressively through The Dipper to earn a lead down Conrod Straight, then defended his position by driving slowly and carefully through Murray’s and Hell Corner defending up Mountain Straight and blocking throughout the accent and race across the top.

As the laps went on, Whincup’s pit wall instructed him to drive more conservatively, while Reynolds’ engineers told him to go for it at every opportunity.

In the end, Whincup drove impeccably to come out on top by just three-tenths of a second, denying Reynolds with his master class performance.

1995 Bathurst

Perkins was feeling confident as he lined up on the grid for the race. He had qualified third and was looking to make a move on the leaders at the start.

But as the cars began to move, Perkins banged fenders with pole-sitter Lowndes, and this caused Perkins’s tyre to tear open, resulting in a very slow first lap. By the time he made it to pit lane, he had slipped all the way down to last place.

Luckily for Perkins, his opponents also had trouble with their cars, and he was able to work his way back up to first place by the end of the race. Last to first is a feat rarely achieved in any race. A super feat at the height of his driving and engineering prowess.

perkins 1995 bathurst race

1976 Bathurst

It was all going so perfectly. Bob Morris’ Brit co-driver John Fitzpatrick’s Torana was leading, but with four laps remaining, the car suddenly slowed down and thick smoke started billowing from it.

Fitzpatrick kept driving his limping Torana and barely managed to win the race. Into the final lap, Fitzpatrick had to use all his experience to keep the crippled car moving until it reached home base for their victory, holding off Colin Bond in 2nd and the Brock brothers 3rd for a Torana Trifecta.

Holden’s 50 year legacy in Australian motorsport

1970 was the first time that an Australian car had won the national title, and it was a huge moment for Holden. The company had only been making cars for 22 years, and winning the championship was a big deal.  It marked the beginning of an iconic rivalry between Holden and Ford. The two companies have been battling it out since, and it has often been a close contest delivering so many unforgettable highlights.

The rivalry between these two companies is one of the reasons why motorsport in Australia is so popular, and it will surely be missed now that we’ll only see current and not new Lions racing for the chequered flag.

More ways to celebrate

Commemorate Holden’s legacy by booking or gifting a driving experience with us.

As our tribute to Holden, we’re offering you the ‘Racing the Lion’ book as a bonus for Fastrack Experience purchases between November 10-20, 2022.

book about holden legacy racing the lion
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