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Friday, September 18, 2020

When Stirling Moss tackled the Bathurst 1000

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The late Moss may not immediately come to mind about the Bathurst heroes. However, the legendary Briton has his own place in the history of the Great Australian Race, thanks to an unlikely appearance alongside Brabham in 1976.

The fact that the two world stars even agreed to participate in the race was something quite remarkable.

Both were retired, Moss having barely turned a wheel since his bad Goodwood accident in 1962. Brabham, on the other hand, had stopped racing at the end of the 1970 Formula 1 season.

But Gabriel Szatmary, then editor of Checkered flag magazine, drew the pair in action for an appearance at Mount Panorama.

The entire process was expertly documented by journalist Peter Robinson in an article in the December issue of wheels magazine.

According to Robinson, Szatmary really wanted to bring an existing F1 driver into the New South Wales campaign. The main focus was James Hunt, but a last minute date change for the Canadian Grand Prix created a shock.

The offer went to Moss, 47, who agreed to team up with Brabham, 50.

According to Robinson, there were skeptics who viewed everything as publicity. Some feared that Moss would “tarnish his reputation”. Others thought the two superstars could win it all.

Anyway, it was the press speech, as noted by Allan Moffat in his autobiography Climb the mountain.

“This year [Peter] Brock and I, modestly local stars of Bathurst, were both gazumped, “wrote Moffat.” The promoters arranged to put Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss together in an L34 Torana.

“Bringing Stirling back to competition, 14 years after his almost fatal accident at Goodwood, was a world coup. Not in their wildest dreams, these two veterans were going to win, but they got every inch of coverage available . “

More classic images of Bathurst 1000 are available at dukevideo.com

Two Toranas were selected for the campaign, and Brabham started preparations two weeks before the race. Moss joined the party six days later, cutting his first rounds at Oran Park near Sydney on Monday September 27.

The hardest thing for Moss, Robinson said at the time, was the tires because he had come from a time of lean rubber but now faced a big set of slicks.

“In slow corners, I have the courage,” he told Robinson. “But my fear threshold is much lower than it was.”

The next stop was Bathurst, where Moss offered his first impressions during training on Friday.

“This is one of the best road circuits I have seen; it reminds me of Targa Florio but with a better surface,” he said. “It’s like a poem, I don’t try to learn everything at the same time, I learn it line by line.

“If I were sensible, I would not do that.”

Despite some mechanical problems requiring overnight assistance from the Holden Dealer Team, Brabham managed to put the car 10th on the qualification grid. His time, a 2m30.0s, was five seconds behind the pole winner Moffat Ford.

But, while it was a frenzied and highly publicized accumulation, the race itself was the ultimate anti-climax. When Brabham saw the one-minute board at the start, he tried to put the car in first gear, but chose two gears instead.

Unable to put the car in neutral, he stalled on the line while the rest of the peloton was running. Most survived unscathed. But not John Dellaca’s Triumph Dolomite Sprint.

The rear impact left the Moss / Brabham campaign in tatters. An emotional moss told Robinson: “I can’t wait another 15 years for the next time. I’m too old. It took me 15 years to do it.”

The hopes of victory were dashed, but the day of Moss and Brabham was not over. A quick repair followed, with Brabham returning at 12:30 p.m. – three hours after the start of the race.

Just under an hour later, Moss completed his first lap at Bathurst 1000. He completed 23 laps, a record 2m32.2s, before the Torana’s V8 engine exploded on Mountain Straight.

“It takes a long time to wait for an anti-climax, doesn’t it,” Moss said on television. “Unfortunately, I think a valve may have dropped, I don’t know. I liked that even though we were three hours late.”

He then offered Robinson a more revealing assessment.

“I had a bullet, boy,” he said. “We all stop too early; I made a mistake, I should never have retired.”

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