It was one race but it was THE race of 1000 years – aptly named to bring in the new millennium. Held on 31 December 2000 on the Adelaide street circuit, this race was enormously well attended, very popular and despite having a 10 year contract, the only ALMS race to be held in Australia.
Personally this race holds something special. No I never attended it as I was too young but it brought sportscar racing to Australian TV screens and started my love affair with sportscar racing. In the past, Australia held rounds of the World Sportscar Championship at Sandown Park and was a precursor to the Bathurst 24 Hours which ran for just two years in the early 2000s. Fortunately now we have the Bathurst 12 Hours which is a mega sportscar race.
The Race of 1000 Years was by no mean a classic with the Crocodile Audi dominating the event. Their competitors from (the other) Audi, Panoz, Cadillac and the Rafanelli all fell by the way. The race in GT was controversial and exciting as there was the GT Championship battle on the cards with the Dick Barbour Racing cars. They were told they could race but not crash into each other, as the team would then hold the car at fault in the pits to give the other car the Championship. It didn’t go to plan for the legendary Bob Wolleck and he made his feelings – his very emotional reaction known on the TV. Sadly it would be his last race as he was killed in a tragic road accident when training for the 2001 Sebring 12 Hours – he was riding his pushbike when he was hit by a car.
As for the GTS honours in the race, it was the Oreca squad who would take an outright podium, behind the leading Audi and the Konrad Motorsport Lola.
As for the politics, there was a 10 year contract and a lot of excitement. Year one brought 25 entries, near on 150 000 spectators – with 80 000 on race day and a clear plan to integrate this race with the V8 Clipsal 500 race. It was all to nothing and the right to race was reminded by February 2001. In a press conference, Don Panoz and the IMSA team outlined how they thought they were treated and if true, was disgraceful to say the least. There would be a lawsuit brought against the then Premier, John Olson. As far as I can remember it was settled out of court, with the original request of $18million. I may be wrong as I can’t really decipher the legal document and most of the 2005 news (of when it was heard) has disappeared from the internet. In anycase, Panoz was told in February and Olson was gone by October in an unhappy manner after dealings with another company.
The official reason for the race not returning was the South Australian Government wanted to fund nursing but rumours always circulated about V8 Supercar involvement and that they didn’t want to compete and forced the hand of the South Australian Government and relevant sponsors. All rumours of course and there hasn’t been anything to suggest any truth.
Either way, Australia lost a great race.
More recently, Audi would regain Australian dominance. In 2000 it was with the LMP Audi R8 dressed as a crocodile. In 2012, it was a kangaroo and a red-back spider that succeeded down under, in a GT Audi R8.
The TV broadcast of the race
By Sam Tickell, September 2013
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