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Australia’s underdog Spa attack

This weekend marks the centenary running of the 24 Hours of Spa and during the mid-1980s there was an Australian invasion thanks to the international Group A regulations.

Although now the globe’s leading GT event back in the 1980s it was an event on the calendar of the European Touring Car Championship.

As plans for the World Touring Car Championship of 1987 were coming together set to be organised by New Zealand’s Strathmore Group, a couple of Australian competitors did some reconnaissance the season prior.

Peter Brock and the Holden Dealer Team were one entity, with privateer Allan Grice bringing the Les Small-led Roadways operation the other.

Racing a virgin white VK Commodore, Grice completed most of the season including Spa featuring an eclectic mix of pay drivers.

Brock on the other hand raced in selected events as the two Australian teams were very much separated until Spa.

HDT expanded to two entries for Spa as the two entities joined together to go for the prestigious King’s Cup awarded to the manufacturer accruing the most points during the race.

Preparations for the HDT included a 24 hour test at Calder Park, but this didn’t raise an engine problem, which hampered its attack at Spa.

Arriving at the famous Belgian circuit, HDT’s lead entry was spearheaded by Brock, Allan Moffat and John Harvey, while the back up Commodore was shared by lead engineer Neal Lowe, Kent Baigent and Graeme Bowkett.

Belgian jeweller Michel Delcourt and Alex Guyaux joined Grice for the event, but it wasn’t the engine being the problem.

Grice led the Commodores in qualifying to be seventh from Brock in 13th and the second HDT entry starting from 18th.

As teased above there were plenty of dramas for each of Holden’s representatives as engine drama caused by head gasket deficiencies leading to many hours in the pits.

Grice on the other hand had a wheel fall off his Commodore and later was forced to replace the driver’s seat due to the big frame of Delcourt. However, he got around this problem by stealing the seat out of Tom Walkinshaw’s display car!

It was the second string HDT Commodore leading the way in 18th from the lead entry in 22nd and Grice in 23rd.

Lowe was forced to stop at La Source after another failure as he let the HDT Commodore roll down the hill alongside the other two claiming the King’s Cup and providing a famous photo.

Following the event, Brock’s relationship with Holden was beginning to enter shaky ground and eventually splitting in early-1987 curtailing any WTCC plans apart from a return to Spa.

Moffat and Harvey left the HDT, but did purchase Brock’s first VL Commodore to race in Europe winning the opening round of the WTCC before finishing their programme at Spa where the duo scored a superb fourth.

Grice meanwhile continued as a privateer and debuted the VL Commodore in ATCC competition before joining BMW at Spa in 1987.