HANSFORD’S FIRST FLING WITH TOURING CAR RACING

The windscreen banner says ‘O’Brien’ but that is Gregg Hansford behind the wheel of this Holden Torana L34 at Calder Park in late 1976. Pic: an1images.com / Ian Smith

A BATHURST winner on both two and four wheels, Gregg Hansford remains one of the most versatile racers that Australia has ever produced.

The blond-haired Queenslander made his name in the 1970s on a succession of fast Kawasakis, winning races at home and at world championship level before injuries curtailed his two-wheel career in 1981, aged just 29.

He then went on to have a decorated career on four wheels, capped by victory in the 1993 Bathurst 1000 with Larry Perkins, the 1994 Bathurst 12 Hour with Neil Crompton, and the 1988 Sandown 500 with Allan Moffat.

While he didn’t make a full-time switch to four wheels until his motorcycle racing career ended, Hansford made his initial touring car race start at the height of his two-wheel career – and he was courted by both Holden and Ford’s factory teams !

It started with a day at Oran Park in September 1976, where Hansford and his Kawasaki production bike were joined by Max Stewart and his F5000 Lola, and the Holden Dealer Team’s Harry Firth, Colin Bond and John Harvey with one of the team’s Group C Torana L34 touring car.

Hansford sampled the big-bore open wheeler first, lapping the South Circuit in the 47 second bracket, before getting turned loose on in the HDT Torana; in return, Firth, Bond and Harvey all sampled the green Kawasaki.

“I think we learned that Hansford would have a better chance of winning the Hardie Ferodo than we would of winning the Castrol Six Hour bike race,” Bond told Auto Action afterwards.

It clearly whetted his appetite: come November, Hansford hopped aboard friend Charlie O’Brien’s L34 Torana after Saturday practice at the Phillip Island 500 to take his CAMS driving test and passed with flying colours, comfortably lapping at a pace that would have put him on the edge of the top 10 on the grid.

License acquired, Hansford made his touring car race debut at Calder Park in a 10-lap preliminary race a week later.

Qualifying O’Brien’s Torana with a time just 0.2s shy of its owner’s mark, Hansford raced to sixth place behind Peter Brock, Murray Carter, a slow-starting Colin Bond, Peter Janson and Warren Cullen.

It was a performance good enough to further interest renowned talent-spotter Firth, who offered Hansford the opportunity of drives with the Holden Dealer Team in 1977.

“I wouldn’t waste my time with him if I didn’t think he had potential,” Firth said at the time.

“When he finished sixth at Calder he was just minding his own business – he was driving just to finish the race.

“Even with his lack of experience, Hansford is recording lap times equal to the majority of average touring car drivers.

“It’s always been my policy to help out a young fellow with potential – and this year that will be Hansford.

“Frankly I think he’d be mad to give his motorcycling away, but on the other hand he certainly has the raw material to make it as a driver.”

However, while Hansford did drive for a factory touring car squad in 1977, it wasn’t the HDT.

Moffat planned to put Hansford in the #2 Falcon for the 1977 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Bathurst. Pic: an1images.com/Dale Rodgers

Allan Moffat put Hansford into one of the all-conquering Moffat Ford Dealer Falcons for a handful of events across the season between his Kawasaki commitments in Australia and overseas.

Limited to lower-profile races to earn the necessary number of signatures to convert his provisional CAMS license to a full one, Hansford set competitive times in Moffat’s spare Falcon during practice for the mid-year Rothmans 500 enduro at Oran Park.

A fortnight later Hansford turned laps in both of the team’s cars during practice for the Lakeside Australian Touring Car Championship round, then drove Colin Bond’s car to second to O’Brien (now driving for the HDT) in the Queensland Touring Car Series support race.

A third place in a preliminary Sports Sedan race at Sandown followed a week later, racing the Falcon on Saturday before devoting his focus to the motorcycle races on Sunday.

Three weeks later Hansford again raced Bond’s Falcon – this time carrying #98 – to victory in a pair of Sports Sedan races at a club-level meeting at Calder.

Moffat’s original intention was for Hansford to line up alongside Bond in the team’s #2 Falcon at Bathurst.

Only a date clash prevented him from doing so.

The Mount Panorama enduro fell on the same October Sunday as the final round of the Australian Motorcycle Road Racing Championships; while the Moffat Ford Dealers Falcons were posting their memorable one-two on the mountain, Hansford was across the country at Wanneroo securing the national two-wheel title on his Kawasaki.

But the Calder clubbie proved the end of Hansford’s four-wheel career for the time being.

“Gregg was in the middle of a Grand Prix motorcycle career at the time and he realized it would be impossible to match two cross sections of the sport, and do full justice to both,” Moffat wrote in a newspaper column in 1982.

“We struck an agreement that when he wanted to make the switch to cars he should give me a phone call (and) it was my intention to accommodate him, provided I had a car available.”

He departed Australia at the end of 1977 for a proper campaign on the motorcycle racing world championship – now known as MotoGP – where Hansford won 10 grand prix in the 250cc and 350cc classes across the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

However, a nasty crash during the Belgian 500cc Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1981, where Hansford crashed into a car that a marshal had parked in an escape road, left him with leg injuries that ended his motorcycle racing career.

Moffat kept his word, and in 1982 Hansford began his four-wheel career proper aboard a Peter Stuyvesant Mazda RX-7.

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