Chatting with Australian touring car legend, John Bowe

Maranello Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia (c) Sam Tickell
Maranello Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia (c) Sam Tickell

John Bowe has been around Australian motorsport for more years than most would like to count.  To date, he has started more V8 Supercar races than any other driver, won the title in 1995 and has two Bathurst 1000 wins to his name.

In 2011 he won the historic series, Touring Car Masters and we caught up with him at the 2012 Armor All Bathurst 12 Hours.

Hi John, thanks for joining me, the Armor All Bathurst 12 Hours this weekend – new Ferrari 458 GT3, how do you think it will handle the mountain?

I think it will be good.  I have barely driven it yet – only about 10 laps at Phillip Island.  Allan Simonsen, who is very familiar with it said it was good and so it will be terrific.  At my stage of my racing life, I consider myself very fortunate to race with these guys in this car.

You have had a lot of sports and touring car experience, what do these current generation cars compare to Nations Cup and sportscars of the past?

They are just better.  They have evolved.  The car that I drove in Nations Cup was built by Michelotto – this car is built by the same people.  In the brief time I have driven it, it is the same but faster, with more downforce, more comfort.  It is quite a well thought out race car.  It has good brake pedal feel, it has evolved.  If you let clever engineers play with things, they always make it better.

What is the mindset for a 12 Hour race, compared to something like the Bathurst 1000?

I haven’t done the Bathurst 1000 since 2007 but a race that lasts for 12 hours – you have to me mindful that it lasts for 12 hours.  You aren’t going to get any sort of prizes if you parked in the pits for longer than a minute!  You really need to be cautious.  There will be a big speed differential with some of the production cars.  We have a really good group of guys, a good group of drivers – we’ll play it by ear as it evolves.  We have enough brain power amongst the lot of us to make strategy calls on the fly.  There is no hard and fast rule and I don’t think you can make a plan for a race like this.  You have to have smart people around you to change as you go.

Moving to other areas – you had a long touring car career.  Raced in pre V8 Supercars time, part of the infamous 1992 Bathurst 1000.  Now Nissan are coming back – granted in very different circumstances, what are your thoughts?

I think it is needed.  Truly, honestly think it is needed.  The motor industry has changed, particularly in the last 10 years.  The market share that Ford and Holden enjoyed isn’t there anymore and that is principally due to the reduction of tariffs and imported cars are cheaper.  It is definitely the right thing for the category.  Now I have seen it is Nissan coming back to the category, I definitely think it is the right thing.  I hope it draws others into the category.  It looks like Chrylser will come in and then it could bring others again.  I would like to see BMW and Mercedes and others come into it.  I think it will be beneficial – although the next two years are going to be difficult.  The teams have to race their current cars and build new cars – which will be taxing on the workforce and finances.  Then you have to race them and get them established.  I think it is great for Nissan and Jim McKrennen and the two Kelly boys to talk someone with the stature of Nissan talks of great things for the category.

Do you think they should continue down the road of the Car of the Future and very controlled spec or do you think they should open it up, like it was pre V8 Supercars?

I don’t think you can.  I know that the cars back then were production based cars, although far removed from the production spec, but they were built out of body shells and they had to have the same configuration as the road cars had.  That applied to the Godzilla GTR and the Ford Sierra, they were highly developed road cars.  Now, the way of the world has gone to spec cars.  You look at Indy – they are all the same chassis, other than F1 and sportscar really. I personally like to see variety and I think we are going to get that variety in the engine powerplants.  Nissan are going to run their own engine which will be a four cam, four valve thing.  If others came in like Mercedes, they could use one of their engines.  That could make it interesting.  The intent of the category is to keep the performance levels of the engine similar, which will be very difficult to do.  It is going to take smart people and constant checking.

I do remember the old, old, old days when I was racing open wheelers, I remember that Allan Moffat convinced CAMS that his Mazda RX7 was a touring car and it went very slowly for a long time.  Until they gave him the performance bits.  Then it went like a rocket.

It has to be the hardest job in the world to outsmart a racer and engineer!

Yeah, one of the hardest.  It is a bit like communism – good in theory but it is very hard to achieve.  I think they will manage it to some degree but you will have to get used to some whinging, moaning and politicking going on.

Finally, plans for 2012 post Bathurst 12 Hours – any sportscar on the horizon?

No not really, I am happy to race my Mustang Sally in the Touring Car Masters.  I think if Pete asked me, I’d go race some GT cars.  I do love them.  For the moment though, I’m an old car racer rather than a new car racer and I’m really happy to be doing it at all.

Thanks John, best of luck for the weekend.


Interview by Sam Tickell, February 2012

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