Way back when, Wednesdays

The fast and the far-fetched

Every now and then, the Adelaide media report on some unfortunate car driver who has misinterpreted road signs, taken the wrong lane and become stranded on the tracks of the O-Bahn busway at Hackney Road. If you drive a regular vehicle onto the O-Bahn tracks instead of a specially modified bus, a car pit mechanism situated just before the Hackney Road tunnel will tear out the oil pan on the underside of your car’s engine.

On the front page of the edition dated 12 July 1989, the Leader Messenger reported on a somewhat eccentric plan for the Sunday preceding the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. Formula Holden racing cars and even a Formula One racing car would drive down the O-Bahn tracks to the Paradise Interchange, then travel on the road to their destination at Tea Tree Gully. Not only would this event promote the car race and the busway, it would bring out local residents and tourists to the City of Tea Tree Gully.

Formula OBahn

Aside from having to lift the racing cars onto the tracks by crane to avoid the pit mechanism, there are some obvious flaws in this plan. Saloon cars and especially a Formula One racing cars are incredibly expensive to manufacture. Each Formula One car is worth approximately $2.6 million in material costs. The engine of a Formula One racing car is an example of engineering excellence. A steering wheel alone can cost up to $50,000 (http://autoweek.com/article/formula-one/why-do-formula-one-grand-prix-cars-cost-so-much). It is highly unlikely that the Grand Prix Office and Holden would risk damaging these precision vehicles for such an exercise. Would the width of these cars’ axels and the wheels even be the same as the span of the O-Bahn tracks?

There is no indication in the article of who devised this plan but as the saying goes, somebody thought that it like a good idea at the time. A week later on 19 July 1989, the Leader Messenger reported on page 1 that the State Government had vetoed racing cars driving on the tracks for safety reasons. Transport Minister Frank Blevin stated that racing cars driving on the tracks would be dangerous for O-Bahn commuters and “put ideas in other people’s minds.”

Grand Prix cars

If you did not experience the Grand Prix it began in November 1985 when Adelaide hosted the last race of the Formula One championship season. This was the time before the Adelaide Fringe, Womadelaide and the Clipsal 500. The Formula One race showed that Adelaide could stage a world class event. Over 200,000 spectators attended the four-day event.

The atmosphere in the city was exciting and you could easily hear the roar of the car engines (I remember my fellow Adelaide Uni students imitating the noise for fun). There were tourists visiting from interstate and overseas. The slogan ‘Adelaide Alive’ was used on promotional materials and merchandise. There were flags flying and posters promoting the race were displayed everywhere in the city centre.

Adelaide Alive

At the glamourous Grand Prix Ball, fans paid $400 for a ticket to dress up and mix with drivers and pit crew, while being entertained by Australian and international artists. Ordinary people held their own grand prix themed barbeques or parties while watching the action on television.

The colourful yet challenging street circuit ran through the east parklands and Victoria Park Racecourse. The racing drivers praised the street circuit. Their cars could reach high speeds of over 322 km/h along the fast wide straights and they needed all their skill to maneuver around the twisting turns of the hairpin and chicane.

During the era of the Formula One Grand Prix, Adelaide was privileged to watch drivers from all many different countries compete, such as Keke Rosberg, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Damon Hill. Spectators experienced the rivalry between speed demon Ayrton Senna and the tenacious Alain Prost. Many people had little prior knowledge of Formula One before the race was held here but it did not matter as you soon became familiar with the various car manufacturers and racing champions.

Adelaide continued to hold the Formula One Race until 1995. In 1996 the race moved location to a circuit in Albert Park Melbourne, following negotiations between the Head of the Formula One Constructors Association, Bernie Ecclestone and the Victorian government.

#waybackwhenwednesdays

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