Alan Jones is one of only two Australians to win the Formula 1 world drivers' championship and the first driver to do it for the now famous Williams team. His efforts brought Formula 1 to Australian television screens.
He finished his racing career in touring cars in Australia in which scored a podium finish at the Bathurst 1000 in 1988 and a runners-up finish in the championship with Glenn Seton Racing in 1993.
AJ: How Alan Jones Climbed to the Top of Formula One tell those stories and has been co-authored by V8X Supercar Magazine's own Andrew Clarke.
The book is available now from the V8X Supercar Magazine online store for delivery within Australia at $35 retail price plus $15 for postage.
CLICK HERE to purchase AJ: How Alan Jones Climbed to the Top of Formula.
The following is the chapter on Jones' racing career after Formula 1:
I wanted to keep earning money after Formula One – I quite like the stuff. I lined up some TV work with the Nine Network doing special comments for its Formula One coverage, and I went racing in Japan.
Not long after I landed back in Australia I got a phone call from John Wickham. I knew John from my days fooling around with March and then from around the paddock with other Formula One teams in which he was involved. In 1987 he had taken up a position with TOM'S GB in the UK, which was like a division of Toyota that built the serious race cars.
Strangely, it was this arm of Toyota that was to run sportscars in the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, and he wanted me to race for them. The thing that turned me on a bit there was that it's only a seven-hour flight from the Gold Coast or Brisbane and there's only a one-hour time difference, so there's no jet lag. There was plenty of yen involved too.
So I went up and did a deal with them to race the Toyota 87C, and for a couple of races in the TOM'S Toyota Supra in touring cars. The thing that I both love and hate about the Japanese is that they are always looking for something new and a way to innovate. But not all new ideas are good ideas . . .
I turned up for my first race with the team at Fuji and I was partnering Geoff Lees. I don't like sharing, but I do like yen. I looked at the car for the first time and the rear wing was down and forward, and I asked Geoff why the wing was there. 'Isn't it the same regs as Europe?' He said, 'Oh, AJ, don't go there. If you can get them to shift that wing, you're a better man than me.'
I went out and did some laps in the car and came in to chat with the engineer. 'Why is the wing there?'
'Designer,' was the one word response. 'Yeah, but why is it there?' 'Designer.'
'Hmm, okay.' I said, 'Can we try it up and back?'
Then, after much sucking through teeth and carrying on, which they're given to do, I said, 'I'll tell you what. I'll pay for the bracket.' Of course, that was it, as soon as you might be seen to lose face they would burst into action. 'Put the wing at the furthest point back that we're allowed and the highest point up that we're allowed. If it's no quicker, or I don't like it, you'll never hear me utter a word about the rear wing again.'
Anyway, TOM'S made an aluminium wing stay and we were instantly quicker by some margin, and about nine times more comfortable to drive. The wing stayed in that position, for the domestic championship.
I finished third with Geoff at that first round, but we knew we had some work to do if we were going to beat the Porsches, even if they weren't Brothers Kremer cars. We were a minute behind second after 500 kilometres, so that wasn't too bad for a first race in a new car. A few weeks later we blitzed the field at Fuji and won a 1000-kilometre race by five laps from a Porsche spearheaded by Vern Schuppan. I still had Geoff with me for that race, but we also had Masanori Sekiya with us, which was good because it meant less work for me.
We also went to Le Mans for me to do what I said I would never do again – funny how money can make me do silly things. I started the car and before the first pitstop it ran out of fuel on the track and that was it . . . shower, change and out of there. We were more than 12 seconds off the top qualifying pace there, and quali- fied 14th, so we knew we had some work to do if we were going to match the best in the world when it came to hitting 420km/h. We didn't.
Back in Japan we had trouble at the next Fuji race, which strangely was a 500-mile affair, and didn't do enough laps to be classified. I missed the next race and the final race of the domestic series, but ran the World Sports Prototype Championship round at Fuji in October. I was given the heads-up before I arrived: 'We have a special lightweight car for this.' I gave them all the right words of encouragement because they knew as well as I did that we were racing against Jaguars and Porsches that made us look silly at Le Mans, but then we also knew Fuji was a different story.
So I front up to Fuji and look at my lightweight racer and guess where the rear wing was? Down and forward. I said, 'Why?' 'Lightweight car.' I know this sounds incredible to believe. I used to come back and tell stories and people would say, 'Oh, Alan, that's impossible. These are the people that make Sony and every- thing.' But it was true.
I said, 'Now hang on, it's a lightweight car, but the aerodynamics . . .' I mean, I couldn't believe it. I'm not all that clever in any of this, but I just know that if the regulations allow you to take advantage of something, you do it. 'Can you put the brackets on, please, and put it back where we had it before.' 'Hmm.' Sucking through teeth, looking at each other. 'The bracket's back in Tokyo.' I said, 'Right. Well you'd better get somebody to go and get it, because I'm not driving, unless it's on.' I'm sure most of the guys in that team hated me, but I wasn't going to make a fool of myself for them.
TOM'S duly went and got the brackets, and we led that race for a while after qualifying second, in front of all the works Porsches and Jaguars. Just before half distance we had electrical issues from something in the wiring loom. Carrying on the conversation from the start of the weekend, I told them they would need another gaijin for the next season, because I wasn't going to do it. I put up with Surtees and his shit because it was Formula One, and I even walked away from that. This didn't really matter that much to me and I didn't need the aggravation.
But you don't give them the arse, they give you the arse. Loss of face. They said, 'You want more money.' I said, 'No, I don't. I'd have to give half to a psychiatrist anyway.' 'You want a psychiatrist?' I said, 'No. See, this is what I mean? This is why I want to leave.'
Anyway, guess what? Next morning I turn up, there's a sport psychiatrist there. I went, 'Geez, this is ridiculous.' I did the race, and at the end of that stint, I just said, 'No. I'm out of here.' I couldn't stand it. You'd go to a debrief. There'd be 130 of them in a garage, all smoking. It was freezing cold outside, so they'd all have parkas on. Then you'd get the report from one of the 130 and it would take 10 minutes to say how he's going to get down on his left knee and use his index finger and thumb to undo the valve cap. Like, who gives a fuck? You just wasted 10 minutes on explaining how he's going to do the valve cap. Please, just say, 'Matsu, you're going to do the valve cap.' That's it.
In the end it was driving me nuts, I had to say, 'I'll be wherever, hopefully a warm motorhome, if you want my input or you want to just come and get me.' That sort of ended my career with TOM'S.
What a nightmare. There were so many little things that I thought were holding them back. The lightweight car had a gull-wing door. I lifted up the gull-wing door to stand on the sill to hop in, as you do, and my foot's gone straight through the sill. Light fucking weight? It was tissue paper. It's gone straight through. 'Oh, very big problem.'
We used to take the piss out of them, literally. You'd go to Fuji and you'd go to Suzuka and everything would be different. Go to Fuji, you'd have to stand on your right foot, with your left foot bent up with both hands over your eyes for five seconds before you got in the car, because that was what you did at Fuji. Then you had to do a urine test to check everything was OK, and then you had to grip something to prove to them that you've got power in your hands. That was just basically showing, I suppose, you could hang on to the steering wheel.
Then you go to Suzuka, and it'd be the left foot. We used to say, 'Ah, Fuji, left foot circuit.' For our urine test, we used to go into the toilet and all the gaijins, Geoff Lees and all the boys, we'd swap our piss and see if they worked it out.
Vern had a T-shirt made. They have these things on the back of their cars, particularly the touring cars. 'We are friends joining hands over the bridge of freedom,' or stuff along those lines. So Vern had this white T-shirt made with a red circle and all these teeth, saying 'We are friends . . . We are across the water to be on the boat with you.' We read it and would say, 'Fuck, what is that?' They were rapt though, they wanted to buy them.
You talk to anyone that raced there or for the Japanese you get the same stories. They're excellent at building things, but no good for instant decisions: they'll go to a board room with a hundred people and take four days to make a decision. The old gaijins will make a snap decision, say, 'Right, that's it, boys. Let's get on with it. Let's do it.' It didn't suit me and the way I liked to operate.
That said, the Supra was actually quite a nice car and because it was a touring car there were enough restrictions to not have the same issues as the sports prototype. I co-drove with Eje Elgh at Sugo and Geoff was running in another car with Kauro Hoshino. Sugo is a lovely circuit, on the northern island of Japan, nice big sweeping corners that suited me. We started on the front row and won the race from a BMW.
The internal politics were interesting. There was TRD and TOM'S, and while both cars were entered under the TOM'S banner, Eje and I actually raced the TRD-prepared car. When we beat the TOM'S car, which didn't even finish, you'd reckon a Nissan had won by the level of drama. Anyway, we won and that was it.
We ran the next round of the Japanese touring cars at Suzuka, the Super Final as they called it. We finished sixth there and just couldn't repeat the speed we had at Sugo. There was one final outing for me in that car, which was at Macau, and that was a very different story to the tracks in Japan. The Supra had such a long wheelbase I thought I was going to have to do a three-point turn at Melco.
Because the race was just a week after the final round of the World Touring Car Championship in Japan, all the big guns from Schnitzer BMW and the like were there, and that is a track that was great for those little M3s. The old Supra wasn't the best car for that track, but I had fun until the turbo let go.
With Toyota done, I still wanted to keep my bum in a car. I still wanted to be waiting for the light or the flag to drop and racing. Then being able to come home on Monday. Whatever I did also had to work with the TV commentary I was doing with Nine, which meant my only real option was touring car racing in Australia.
Now touring cars are pretty much the exact opposite of Formula One or sports prototypes. Those have been built specifically to do a job while the touring car has been altered to do a similar job. One is a thoroughbred race horse and the other is a draft horse. You can still ride them, but it's just a little different.
The sensations are different and to me not as enjoyable, but when you are racing you almost forget the compromises in the machinery because it is all about the bloke next to you. You're waiting for the lights to change, whizzing off the grid and you're racing. You've got people around you and you're racing them and when you win it's very satisfying, no matter what car you're in.
Or even what sort of vehicle, in fact. I won a celebrity lawn-mower race in the Czech Republic when we went there with the A1s. It was a big slalom course on a tarmac and I won a bloody big ride-on lawn mower, which I donated to charity. Anyway, I still enjoyed riding it and I was over the moon because I'd won.
I didn't have much lined up for 1988, but I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to race touring cars if I wanted to keep racing. It was the only thing in Australia where there was any money, and I was done with the international thing.
I drove a Ford Sierra with Colin Bond in the Asia-Pacific Touring Car Championship late in the year where we finished second overall, even though we didn't run at Fuji along with most of the rest of the Australian teams. The other three rounds were Bathurst, Wellington and Pukekohe.
When we talk about compromised race cars being modified for a task, the Sierra was a perfect example. It was under-tyred and over-powered, which is fine in itself, because everyone else in a Sierra was in the same boat and that was the car to have. Strangely it proved OK on some tight tracks, I got pole at Amaroo in 1990 with one, so while you could keep the tyres going it was fine everywhere.
The tracks we did race on that year were an interesting mix . . . Bathurst is long and fast and the bit over the top is quite challenging – you needed power and Colin's Sierra had plenty of that. Wellington was a street race, so it had all those close walls and the like, and the weather was just something else. I remember being bloody cold in Wellington, and having my overalls on while lying down inside a sleeping bag in a caravan just to warm up.
This was at the circuit and I was just freezing and thinking how can anyone live here?
The last race for us was at Pukekohe, a challenging and fast track. There was a bump in the first corner, which was interesting in one of those things. I don't mind bumps actually, it gives tracks a bit of character and leaves a bit more to the driver. There was also a good bump at turn 1 at Lakeside, a terrible bump right through it that you had to be wary of when you went through there in a touring car. I won a round there with Dick Johnson right up my backside, and that bump would unsettle that car every time and if you were going flat out you only just had enough time to settle it for the right-hander straight after it. When you are being pushed, you had to be especially careful.
We also did Sandown for the 500 which was a traditional lead-in to Bathurst, but this wasn't part of any Championship. I was meant to drive there with Colin, but we split a bore in the engine during the warm-up and we retired that car before the start. To get laps in, I was then moved into the team's other car, but it didn't last long enough for me to get a steer.
At Bathurst we had good speed, but then Tom Walkinshaw protested all the Australian-built Sierras, ours included, and we had to pull the car and engine to bits for the protest. After pulling apart the good engine, we were forced to run the spare and that was noticeably down on power, Bondy reckoned at the time it was 50 horsepower less than the engine we wanted to race. The others cars were similarly hampered, so Tom got his way in a very distasteful manner. Tony Longhurst went on to win the race and we finished in third. We were disqualified a month later and then reinstated a month further down the track.
We backed up that podium with a fourth at Wellington and then we had a retirement at Pukekohe after qualifying in third. The points system in use was what they called a Double Can-Am, which meant you got points for where you finished in your class as well as the race, and that meant we ended up losing the Championship to a class car.
The next year I joined the Benson & Hedges Racing team for the endurance races and then turned that into a full-time drive for 1990. At Sandown and Bathurst I was to drive the team's second car with Denny Hulme, but at Bathurst Tony Longhurst joined us after his car expired early in the race. In those days with cross- entering, you could actually race in two cars during the same race. Brock got two of his wins there that way.
The team was really Tony's even though Frank Gardner was there and running it. I'll tell you this for nothing, and I know Frank is dead now, but there are few people in this world that are as fantastic self-promoters as Frank was. He was great for the one-liners and the jokes and all that sort of stuff, and he was quite a cunning businessman.
He always made sure he was at the right place at the right time. He knew where his bread was buttered. If you had, for instance, a Tony Longhurst alongside you with a wallet the size of his father's, or Paul Morris with Terry beside him, you knew who was going to get looked after the best. Frank knew that is where his future lay more than Alan Jones who was just there collecting money.
It was a well-structured team and it had, I believe, pretty good sponsorship from Benson & Hedges. Frank was very good at getting on with the right people, a bit like Graham Hill. He had a great relationship with Ron Meatchem at BMW, which saw Ron in our pits on a regular basis even though we were running Fords, but Frank had a plan there.
Tony was good fun. I quite enjoyed his company and enjoyed driving in the team with him. As a teammate, he was bloody quick: I knew if I was outpacing him I was doing well. He was probably a little mad too. In my Formula One days I didn't have much to do with my teammates, I was there to do a job and that was it. Touring car racing was a little different for me; it mattered, but not to the same degree. I'd go out to dinner with Tony; I don't remember doing that with Carlos or Clay except when I had to.
I started out my Australian Touring Car Championship career with a pole at the most unlikely of venues for that car, Amaroo Park Raceway, which was little more than a go-kart track. My old Azusa kart would have been better suited to that track. I didn't really enjoy it – it was all stop, start, and a goat track with a little hill, built among rocks out the back of Dural in the north of Sydney. It is a luxury housing estate now.
I got eighth overall in my first outing and was steady for the next few rounds. I got my first podium in the series at Winton, another track that wasn't much fun. Our cars had plenty of power, perhaps more than anyone else, so we generally qualified well before struggling to keep the rear tyres alive during the races.
I missed Lakeside and then had two retirements in the final three rounds, which reminded me of the Beatrice days. Although I didn't go into a race wondering which lap it would break, there was a chance we'd do the distance, but we did go in knowing the tyres would go off.
I think in many ways the endurance races of 1990 were a write- off because it was already decided we were racing BMWs in 1991, which I was quite looking forward to. Both the team cars failed to finish at Bathurst, which is what happens when you stop stocking the shelves with the latest bits. I did get my first run in the Top 10 Shootout, which is a single qualifying lap for each of the drivers who qualified in the Top 10. I didn't mind the Shootout. I liked the build-up and the fact that you couldn't make a mistake. If you gamble a bit and lock a wheel or put a wheel on the dirt and lose one or two-tenths you might be buggered, but if it comes off you could be on pole. You've got to try for the perfect lap, of which there's no such thing . . . so you are really just trying to get as close to that as possible.
I was pretty sure my car was the one getting the lesser equip- ment. It wasn't as fast as Tony's but that was OK, he was putting up the money and I knew where we were headed and I felt that was going to be a much more enjoyable place for me. I would enjoy my money a lot more if I was enjoying the racing too, not that I was getting that much really, but it was OK.
The compromises bothered me though. With the Sierra, you could melt your rear tyres in a lap or two if you weren't gentle enough with the throttle, so a lot of the time you were not racing at all, rather you were just hanging in to finish, after racing for just a few laps at the start. The BMW M3 promised a very different experience; while we were not going to have the power of the Sierras, we were going to have a car that handled really well, had great brakes and wasn't going to melt rubber every time you powered out of a corner. I was very much looking forward to 1991.
I was quite comfortable in the team despite the presence of Frank, and that was good for me at that stage of my career and life. In some ways that was more important than the equipment I was getting. I wanted to be comfortable in my surrounds and friendly with the people I was with. I took that very much into account.
The BMWs were ex-Schnitzer and were left with us after the Wellington street race in New Zealand. They were upgraded to the latest spec with slightly bigger engines and revised aero. It was a lot more forgiving and a bit like the GTV Alfa. You could go to somewhere like Lakeside that really required handling and just wait for their tyres to start going off a little bit on the Sierras. Then the little BM would start chewing at them.
But things were changing in Group A: the Sierra was no longer the car to have, the weapon of choice was now the Nissan GT-R – or Godzilla as it was dubbed by local journalist Mike Jacobson. This car was built to the very edge of the rules: turbo, four-wheel-drive . . . everything you wanted or needed to dominate . . . and they did. I didn't have a clue how it even worked, but I appreciated the fact that the Nissan had a major advantage over everybody else. That's the car you wanted to be in, particularly in the wet, but I think we had the next best thing.
As the season went on, it was clear they were going to win and for the rest it was a different battle. We won the non-Nissan battle. The format for the season didn't suit us as much as one longer race, so we had I think three races a weekend where points were collected and they were added up to determine a winner.
Gentleman Jim Richards won four of the first five rounds from his teammate Mark Skaife, who won the other one. 'Gentleman Jim' – what a load of shit that is. He's far from a bloody gentleman, let me tell you. He's certainly not a gentleman on the track. Tony was the first guy to beat them all season in round 6 at the Amaroo Park goat track, and then he won again at Lakeside. He was the only round winner for the year that wasn't Richards or Skaife. He also finished as the first of the non-Nissans three times.
I did that in the final round, with a satisfying second at Oran Park. Skaife won that day and Richards had a DNF, which he knew he could afford and still win the title with a silly drop- your-worst-round point system. Skaife actually got more points than Richards over the season but finished second when the points were adjusted. Tony was third in the series and I was fourth, although when I dropped my worst score I was on the same points as Glenn Seton.
The Sandown 500 had a slimmed-down field and I finished second there with Peter Fitzgerald, again to a Nissan GT-R, but not Skaife or Richards, just to prove how good the car was. The main team didn't even front up, so Mark Gibbs and Rohan Onslow were there to win by six laps. 'Who?' I hear you ask. And that is my point: it was a great race car.
At Bathurst it was decided to pair Tony and me – and our car broke. The car was terrific across the top and down through the chase, but on the big long straights we were just eaten alive, and we needed everything to go our way to have a chance. We were running as high as third in the early stages and we were on target for a really good result when I got a puncture going up Mountain Straight. I had to limp around almost an entire lap with the tyre shredding itself, which caused a bit of damage to the body- work and the suspension. We lost ground, fought our way back to fourth – then the car shut down on me and that was it with 25 laps to run. The team's other car came home fourth and maybe we could have finished second, but that's motor racing.
We did the New Zealand races again and Tony was leading at half distance in the car I was sharing with him at the Wellington 500 when he got clipped by John Sax, who he was lapping. The car hit two walls and the second hit was so hard Tony cracked his helmet on the concrete wall. It was a pretty scary incident, and Tony was theoretically OK, but many think he was never the same driver after that.
The next season, 1992, I switched camps after the champion- ship and drove for Glenn Seton Racing in the endurance races, which was more about looking into the 1993 season given Group A was getting the boot and a new formula for V8 Holdens and Fords was coming in. Aside from the fact that Paul Morris was now nosing into the BMW team with pocket loads of cash, I felt Seton was better prepared for the new era and that all made sense. The 1992 championship itself was not that much fun. CAMS had lumped both our cars and the Nissans with extra weight to slow us down, and it killed us. The Nissans dominated the series again, but the Sierras and Commodores were closer. Lakeside was again our best weekend with Tony first and me third, and aside from another podium for me at Oran Park, that was pretty much it for season highlights.
During Easter they ran the second ever Bathurst 12-Hour race for production cars. BMW entered an M5 for Tony, Neville Crichton and me and we came home second behind a Mazda RX-7. The M5 was such an easy car to drive there, I think I turned the radio on at one stage. It felt even better because I was no longer enjoying the other part of my racing.
Joining Glenn's team was such a good move for me. Both his dad, Bo, and he were terrific to work with. The whole team was really nice and even Ken Potter and Kerrie Godfrey from Philip Morris, who was sponsoring the team with the Peter Jackson brand, were great. They all put on a really professional show.
Mike Raymond, who was a little more than just a commentator at Seven, helped me get that drive. I think he suggested to them that I would be a good bloke to come and join them. I was talking to him on a plane on the way back from Perth and I think I'd probably had enough of Frank at that stage and let it be known. Getting right back to the start of this book, it's called working the paddock, only this time I was working the plane. Then we teed up a meeting and I ended up with Glenn.
All the bloody fans were horrified that I was switching cars, especially mid-season. But I was attuned to Europe, where it didn't matter at all. Many of the race fans were really not that bright when it came to this sort of thing. I didn't care what they thought – as I have made clear, I went racing for myself. Fortune was planned; fame was a side effect.
Glenn's team was a good set-up. For Glenn's sake, there is no doubt it would have been easier to have it run by someone other than himself, but it wasn't and it made no difference to me. I was given a good car and a great place to go racing from. He is genuinely a nice man, Glenn. How he got on with me I don't know.
For my first race with the new team we ran the 1993 Spec Falcon rather than the Sierra, which we could also have run, but Glenn was keen to get as many laps in the car as possible before the next season began. We were allowed to run these cars – which a few years later were rebranded as V8 Supercars – in the endurance races. So we raced the Falcon at Sandown and Bathurst. Looking to the future was what attracted me there in the first place, so I thought this was good.
We had retirements in both races, but the potential was clear. At Bathurst Glenn was the fastest qualifier in a 93 car and there were a few running them. We made it just past half distance of the full-length race, but this is the 92 Bathurst where the big storm hit and most of the field, including the eventual winners, Jim Richards and Mark Skaife, ended up crashed into a wall or buried in a sand trap. The crowd was incensed that a crashed Nissan could win, and they gave it to Jim, who lashed back with the famous 'you're all a pack of arseholes' line.
The 1993 season was structured in an interesting way. After qualifying there was a thing called the Peter Jackson Dash, where we pulled our starting positions out of a hat and then raced to decide the first three rows of the grid. Then we had the 2-litre cars race, then the 5-litre cars and then a big race for all of us, and the way the points worked was so complex I didn't bother trying to work it out. I just went racing.
Amaroo Park was the season-opener, and Tony was still allowed to run his M3s during the season so I thought they had the box seat. I was wrong. The new cars dominated, and by that I mean both Falcons and Commodores. Glenn had a good weekend and mine was OK. At Symmons Plains my car was really good and I won both my heat and the final and had enough points to be the overall winner for the weekend.
I won't say it was like winning my first grand prix, because it wasn't, but it was very satisfying to finally win in a touring car in Australia. Again, the Holdens were up the front of the field and the first six spots for the weekend were evenly spread. Glenn won the next round at Phillip Island and I didn't even make the Dash, but the Falcons were pretty good here and I raced into second place in the final race and had third overall, so this was the first time Glenn and I were on the podium together.
After Phillip Island I went back to Bathurst for the 12-Hour race, this time in a works Mazda RX-7 with Garry Waldon. Allan Horsley at Mazda had put together the team as he did the previous year. He also worked on the homologation for the car and made sure it was a potential winner. He did an excellent job running them. The bloody race started at four or five in the morning and by the end of the twelve hours I had my first Bathurst win. Unfortunately it isn't the one the race fans in Australia covet, but it was a win. Charlie O'Brien was in the team's other car with Gregg Hansford, and they finished second with a couple of laps less than us.
Back into touring cars and Lakeside was all mine, and I won the Dash (I drew pole out of the envelope and made my famous comment, 'I'd rather be lucky than good,' which hung around with me for a while) and the Final to get the win for the round. I could have won the heat as well, but I got out of shape over the bump leading into the second turn and that let Dick Johnson through. Then Glenn started his winning streak, I got a couple of podiums during that run of Glenn's but the Holdens were still there and Tony was back in the game after he reduced the weight of the M3.
So with Glenn winning the third, fifth, sixth and seventh round of the series and me winning at Symmons Plains and Lakeside in the second and fourth rounds, we won six rounds in a row. Now comes the politics. I had not really paid much attention, but there were little lobby groups and whingers all over the place.
The Holden teams had started complaining about our Falcons, saying we had some sort of advantage. They were better at this game than Glenn and Dick Johnson, who was leading the other competitive Falcon team. So what happened was if you spent enough time complaining instead of working on your car, you could get the rule-makers to help you out. They killed our car mid-season. We lost some of the front undertray and the Holdens were given some other little tricks to boost them.
The effect for us was immediate, we lost speed and we lost front downforce, which meant we started to work the front tyres too hard. The Holden teams eventually got on top of their changes and the pendulum swung the other way. Glenn put on just enough points to win the title and I was second, but no-one was listening to us about what they'd done to our cars. After Glenn's win at Mallala, no Falcon saw the podium again in the championship. That tells a story in itself.
Glenn did win the Sandown 500 after switching out of the car he was sharing with me, which broke early in the race, but that is not an aero track and we struggled overall for speed. Bathurst was different altogether, the first two rows of the grid were Holdens and we started from the third row alongside Dick. The only other Falcon in the top 10 was Paul Radisich in Dick's second car – other- wise it was all Holden and that is the way the race was run too.
Our car died on top of the mountain in the closing stages when we were running fifth, which was as good as we could have expected after what they did to us. Glenn was a great driver, but he wasn't a politician and he had been totally outmanoeuvred.
For the next season, 1994, both brands of car had new aero packages, and we were still a little off the pace but it was nowhere near as bad. We had these little vanes on the front splitter, and that had the Holden teams complaining again, but they had the better packages and dominated early.
I had a puncture at Amaroo to open the season and Sandown was OK but no-one in a Ford could touch the Holdens there. I was mid-field in Tasmania when I developed a misfire in the heat and that left me down the order for the main race.
The next race was the non-championship support race for the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Gold Coast. I was having a really good weekend, finishing second in the main race on the Saturday, and was then leading the Sunday sprint race until the closing laps. I clipped a wall with two laps left I think, and drove over the top of one of those stupid tyre bundles, where it got stuck and that was it. Darrel Eastlake was commentating that race, and as the cameras showed me walking back to the pits he said, 'That will be a terrible place to be when he gets back, let me tell you, he gets cranky.' He was right, but only because it was my fault.
We did OK in the wet at Phillip Island – I won the Dash after starting last, so I felt good for the race. The rain made it all a gamble. The first race was good, but then I slipped off the track in the second. This was kind of how this season was going for me, we struggled and then when we had a track that suited us, something went wrong.
I got caught up in a tangle between a few other drivers in the first race at Lakeside and then slipped off on some oil in the second. I led at Winton, Australia's Monaco, before I spun and handed the race and the round win to Glenn, but I was happy because we had found our speed. Eastern Creek wiped the smile from my face, as I just had no speed. Mallala we were no match for the Holdens, and that took us to Barbagallo Raceway in Perth.
I had a run-in with a bloke on the gate at Barbagallo, and maybe that revved me up enough to have a good weekend. I was running late on Saturday and this bloke wouldn't let me in the gate, I couldn't find my pass and that was it for him. Now I'm not shitcanning the volunteers at the track – most of them do a wonderful job, but you do get the odd weekend warrior who says to himself, 'Right, this is my moment of power . . . I don't give a damn who you are.' Or, even worse, 'I know who you are, and I know you've got to go racing, but you can't come in because you haven't got a pass.'
Who knows, maybe this bloke was a Holden fan. Anyway, the argument grew and because I'm an idiot, one thing led to another and I biffed him. I had to go before the stewards and I copped a whack for that, but I did end up winning the meeting, so maybe it was good for me to get fired up. That would be my last round-win ever.
In the final of the season, I had a retirement in the first race and then charged into third in the final. That was a great race, I really enjoyed that. It was enough for me to finish fifth in the champion- ship, which I thought was a pretty amazing result. Glenn and I were the only two Fords in there.
I was pretty philosophical about my racing at that time. It was always nice to win, but I wasn't going to go home and slash my wrists if something went wrong. I really just wanted to get paid and enjoy myself and take the good with the bad. In that sense Big Daz was wrong, but he was also right. I didn't like it when I made a mistake, and maybe Beatrice softened me up to retirements, but they didn't hurt the same.
Which was just as well because Sandown and Bathurst were both retirements for me. Sandown was with Glenn, and I think they were hedging their bets at Bathurst and split us over the two cars, and I drove with David Parsons. Both cars failed.
The next year, 1995, started OK when I won the Eastern Creek Triple Challenge in January with an old EB Falcon, but then a rough year started when the championship began with no points at Sandown in the updated EF Falcon. Out of the 10 rounds, I had two races with no points and only two third places to my name – the rest were somewhere in-between. Glenn had a good run in the other car and nearly won the championship, but there were issues starting to grow inside the team.
Glenn and his father Bo were arguing and it was affecting the team, and particularly my car. As things were bubbling away, the guys at Philip Morris were getting pissed off. At Sandown I ran to a retirement with Parsons, and then for Bathurst I was paired with Allan Grice.
My relationship with the Philip Morris people was really good, and the guys there offered me a bonus if I finished on the podium. Glenn had that race in his control and then the engine died with nine laps to go, and that gave us the famous footage of him and the talk he gave to the TV while sitting in the car, I really felt for him that day. We saw a lot about the character of Glenn Seton that day – the failure was ripping his heart but he still sat there in the car doing a TV interview. Bo was in tears in the pits.
I was a little bit pissed off at the team because I was actually leading at one stage and my brakes were starting to go. I was changing down early and probably, if anything, slightly over- revving it, going into the corners, using the engine as a brake. I didn't realise that, of all people, Larry Perkins was catching me at a great rate of knots. They weren't giving me that information. Before I knew what was going on in that final stint, he was right up my arse, out-braked me and went on to win. If they had told me what was going on I would have pushed a bit harder. I was a bit disappointed in that. I think they'd just forgotten they had a second car out there while Glenn was leading.
So I was in the car at the end and I was a second or two behind Larry when Glenn's car stopped. I couldn't catch him, even though I'd have dearly loved to remind him of the Formula Three race way back when by taking that race off him, I couldn't. Second was a great result, and I got my bonus.
After that weekend things began to change fast. The relation- ship issues between Glenn and Bo were having a big impact on the team and Philip Morris was looking at exiting the team. They approached me to see if I would be interested in running a team. I made it very clear that yes, I would be, but I didn't want to be seen to be pulling the rug from under Glenn. I would only do it if they were definitely not going to sponsor Glenn. They guaranteed me that was the case and we formed Pack Leader Racing.
I think Glenn knew what the deal was, so we didn't really have any issues. Since I was in charge of getting as much money as possible for the team, I went to talk with the CEO of Ford Australia, who offered me sweet FA, probably because of the way the media were portraying the set-up of the new team as shafting Glenn.
Everyone in Australia thinks I'm a Ford man – I'm not. It's just purely coincidental that every single team, with the exception of the BMWs, was either a Ford Sierra or a Ford Falcon. I always wanted to race a Holden, because I thought they were a better race car. They had a smaller frontal area and they always seemed to handle a bit better than the Falcon. So I was pretty pissed off with Ford for what I saw as a token amount. I was so pissed off that I went onto the grid at Bathurst wearing a Holden cap just to show them what I thought.
Regardless of Ford's effort, Philip Morris supplied enough money to set up a workshop and get all the equipment, trans- porter, engines, dyno . . . the whole deal. I then contacted Ross Stone, who always prepared a good car, and got him and his brother Jimmy on board to look after it all. I knew Jimmy because he was working as a fabricator at Norwell when I was with the BMWs. Notice I use that word, fabricator, because he was not an engineer.
I knew I wasn't mechanically minded enough to run the cars and I didn't want to worry about the small things, I just wanted to race. The Stone brothers looked to be the perfect solution. I offered them a percentage of the team if they were to come across as an incentive in addition to wages. Which they agreed to and we were off and running. We also got Campbell Little to build our engines and he was, and still is, a really good operator.
Jimmy came across and was trying to be an engineer, which he's not. The proof of the pudding is that not long after they established Stone Brothers Racing, Jimmy ceased to be the engineer. They got engineers in, I mean proper engineers. I was always having trouble with the rear grip and Jimmy was no help at all.
We ended up with sponsorship issues when the government blocked cigarette sponsorship on cars – bloody Jones' Law, here was a good sponsor and the relationship was already terminal. That is when we switched to Pack Leader with a colour scheme that evoked the Peter Jackson brand.
The government cracked it with us – but they did say we could take the sponsorship money but not market products. Eventually we weren't allowed to take their money, even if we were driving a plain white car with no stickers, which I just find extraordinary. What do they think, that some kid doing a project was going to find out on Google that a car is sponsored by Marlboro and then immediately go out and buy a packet of fags?
Anyway, the relationship lasted a couple of years until they closed that door on us. At that point I was in a bit of trouble. We had the team and all the equipment. I had a factory up and running and I had my office at the front and the Stone brothers were operating the workshop at the back. Because I was having trouble getting sponsorship for 1998, I sold them the team. They didn't have all the money they needed at the time, so they agreed to pay extra rent to make up the difference of the purchase of the team. I thought I was pretty generous, but I'm sure they think differently.
So I was running the business side and they were supposed to be running the motorsport side. I was involved with them as far as the major decisions in regards to the financial situation and what we spent money on, but in terms of what engine went on what dyno and when we went testing, it was up to the Stones. I didn't really want to get involved in the day-to-day things. If people came around to the factory, I would take them through as a tour. Paul Romano joined the team as a second driver and he brought some cash, and in the endurance races we had Allan Grice and Andrew Miedecke, who was very thick with the Stone brothers. The first half of the season was tough, Jimmy just wasn't able to help me get the car sorted and it took until the middle of the season to get any results and any sort of flow. I finished second in two of the final four rounds and felt we were getting somewhere.
Paul and Andrew got 10th at Sandown, where I got a retire- ment with Allan. At Bathurst we were fast. I qualified third with a really good run in the Top 10 Shootout, where I was nearly a second quicker than I was in qualifying. That was very satisfying when most dropped time. On the 15th lap of that race I passed Peter Brock in the wet to take the lead and I was pulling away from him and opening a gap at more than a second a lap when the car caught fire going through turn 2 going up the mountain.
In the wet the car was fantastic. Going across the top there's little rivers that run across the track and you've really got to be prepared for them. You need to make sure your steering angle is straight when you hit them. I loved the challenge of that sort of thing, and to race like that and open a gap was very rewarding. I enjoyed the small amount of time I had in the car that day. And there was only another 140 laps to go, so it was anyone's race at that stage. If I didn't own the team I would have been most of the way home by the time the race finished, but I hung around to see our second car finish in 11th.
To round out the year we ran the two races in New Zealand and I had Paul Radisich in the other car. At Pukekohe we both retired in the final, and in Wellington I missed the final two races of the weekend. I was in the box calling the final race with Darrell Eastlake, which I enjoyed through gritted teeth.
Can I say the 1997 championship was just 10 rounds of frustration? While in 1996 we were a consistent top 10 car, this season we were not. The thing handled like a bloody blancmange most of the time. It wouldn't put its power down. I would dearly have loved to have gotten a decent engineer into that team. I was pulling in one direction and the Stone brothers were headed in another.
I battled my way through the season for just one race win at Oran Park. There were too many retirements, especially in the first race of the weekend, which makes it hard.
When the car was good I really enjoyed myself. Barbagallo Raceway in Perth and Oran Park in the last round were two of those. Perth was great, I fought my way through the pack, picking them off after our tyres hung in well – I'd like to think it was my clever driving, but I was never that patient – and we were able to make ground late in the dry races there.
At Oran Park I wanted the round win after winning the second race, and the car was really good. I got a good start in the final race only to have Greg Murphy pass me like I was standing still. After a couple of laps I was on his tail and constantly looking for a way past. I put the pressure on pretty hard but he held steady. Lap after lap I stuck my nose down the inside at the end of the main straight and then coming onto the straight, which were two great overtaking spots. With only five laps to go I pulled right inside Murphy at the last turn, he squeezed me, as was his right, and I went onto the kerb and ended up clipping him. I took the lead but then went off at the next corner. I damaged the front suspension and that was it.
So with the sprint races done, we could think about how to salvage the season with good runs at Sandown and Bathurst.
Sandown with Jason Bright was pretty good, the first Falcon home, in third. Mark Larkham – Larko – in the other car had speed too and he qualified second while I was fourth. In terms of this season, we couldn't have gone to Bathurst with any more confidence, which was actually my second run in a Bathurst 1000 in 1997 after running a Renault in the Super Tourer a couple of weeks prior.
For that race I kind of reunited with Williams to run a Renault with Graham Moore. Graham put the deal together and while I was over in England I went and had a sit in it and got it all under control. Very nice team and the Renault was a front-wheel drive Laguna – I hated it. We ran two cars, one for me and Graham and the other for Alain Menu who was the British Touring Car Champion that year, and Jason Plato, both good blokes.
I came through The Cutting about 40 laps into the race and there was some oil there and being front-wheel drive, the bloody tyres have hit that and they've just spun. I've gone straight into the wall and that was it.
It was good to be back with Williams, even if it wasn't the real team – people like Frank Williams and Patrick Head had nothing to do with it. But it was a European team and they had all the right computers. Everything had a place and there was a place for everything. It was a well-oiled machine, which made me think a little more about my team.
For the V8 Supercar race, Conrad Casino put some money into the team for us to use Scott Pruett, who'd been out for the Indy at the Gold Coast. They had some sort of relationship with him and they wanted him to do Bathurst, so they put up some money and I banked it for the Stone brothers to spend. Being American, he struggled with the right-hand drive and changing gears with his left, and it didn't help when we started the weekend with a really poor car. We got the car OK and I made the Shootout, but it wasn't an easy car to drive, which wasn't good with 1000 kilometres in front of us.
We were there or thereabouts for most of the day, running in the top three or four for the first half of the race and settling into second for the run home. Then things started to go wrong and a series of pitstops cost us eight laps and we finished 11th. Larko brought his car home in third.
I was up and down like a yo-yo with everything that happened in 1997, and when Ross and Jimmy came to me with a deal I didn't have to think too long. I sold it to them with probably too much haste and joined with my old mate Tony Longhurst for 1998, while the Stone brothers went on to win Bathurst, since they made the changes they should have made when working with me.
Racing for Tony was a way of using his spare parts, which wasn't the best, given I had brought sponsorship from Komatsu with me. If the gearbox had a few too many kays, put it in AJ's car. I missed the first two rounds and then did the remainder of the series, which was actually a bit of a waste of time. I don't remember being competitive anywhere, so we'll just move on. Finishing 16th in the Australian Touring Car Championship was not a career highlight for me.
I was going through the motions. It was pointless getting bothered by it. Just grin and bear it, or as my wife would say, smile and wave.
I've never worried about my reputation, so that didn't bug me. All I really cared about at that time was my immediate family and that's about it. It's like when I went back to Formula One – people were saying, 'You left on such a high note, you're the only driver to have ever won his last Formula One race. Then you came back and spoiled it.'
Yeah, so what? So what if I had a shit season in in 1998. Who really cares? I guarantee I don't go to bed thinking, 'Oh, 1998, Christ, oh Jesus. I wish I hadn't done that.'
There were times when people probably perceived me as arrogant during my touring car years. I remember when AVESCO was formed and they started all these things we had to go to, and you'd get a fine if you didn't go. I scored a $1000 fine for one non- attendance at something, and I worked out I could just pay for the whole season and do none of them. So I did.
In touring racing in Australia at the time there were just too many idiots. People like Peter Wollerman. I just didn't see why I had to be answerable to someone like him. I had a slight case of diarrhoea at Winton – you could say Winton gave me the shits but this time that would be unfair. I went into Benalla to get some tablets and I missed the drivers briefing because of that and he fined me. I threw the old force majeure at him, I was either going to shit my pants or I was going to go to Benalla to get the appropriate tablets. He didn't care, he still fined me. A year or two later when we were having an argument over something else, he said, 'Why didn't you tell me that?' I had! He's still around.
It wasn't like this in Europe. Mostly you'd get great people who were involved for the love of the sport – but then you'd get the dickheads.
Anyway, I didn't even get off the grid at Sandown 500 and the car sat there for the entire race at the side of the track. I was able to jump the fence to the pits and get out of the shit weather. We got 58 laps done at Bathurst after qualifying 11th. We weren't really going all that well after a couple of extra pitstops when I was coming down to Forrest Elbow when I got stuck in the middle of a five-car crash. That was that.
I walked away from that season and from full-time racing. I still enjoyed racing and I enjoyed driving fast, but as ever I didn't enjoy it when it was a shitfight. I did three sets of endurance races with Anthony Tratt and that included a couple of extra races in the championship to get ready. We had no speed in 1999 and finished the Queensland 500 but then retired at Bathurst in the closing laps of the race. We finished neither race in 2000 and then finished both in 2001 – but we weren't racing, we were making up the numbers.
My final opportunity in V8 Supercars came up with Dick Johnson Racing and the chance to drive a Falcon with Greg Ritter while Paul Radisich and Steve Johnson ran the lead car. It was good to be back in a serious team. This was 2002, at the end of the era where the team was a powerhouse of the sport. Greg's aspirations sometimes got a little bit in front of his ability, but we finished eighth at Queensland and seventh at Bathurst. Greg actually fell off the track near the end when he was trying to pass my old mate Larry Perkins, then he fell off again and lost a chunk of time, before deciding he wasn't going to win and he just needed to get home before he put it in a wall.
I never announced or even declared a retirement proper from racing. I would never close the door to a good opportunity if it came up, but I was now in my late 50s and knew I was stretching it. I just walked away from it, no fanfare, no farewell tour, just me being me and doing it my way.
So in a very quiet and private way, that was it for my motor racing career as a driver.