Nostalgia hits Bathurst ahead of Ford Falcon's finale
THERE'S plenty of emotion for Craig Lowndes at the Bathurst 1000 in his last year as a full-time Supercars driver, but an arguably bigger name is leaving Mount Panorama this year and it ain't coming back.
The Ford Falcon.
The beloved vehicle is being replaced in 2019 by the two-door Mustang as the manufacturer looks to the future.
There's certainly excitement about seeing the iconic galloping horse badge up and down the Supercars grid.
There's nostalgia too, as shown by a trip around the grounds of the famed circuit.
Flags and banners featuring the Blue Oval adorn tents and campsites, with hundreds of Falcons bumper to bumper in carparks.
"It's pretty emotional really," Ford stalwart Mark Winterbottom told AAP.
"I've driven Ford my whole career.
"You put so much into the sport and the model has so much importance as the badge does."
The Falcon has provided Bathurst with some of its most memorable moments - as well as a hatful of race wins.
Of the 19 Ford triumphs in the Great Race, 14 have been in Falcons - from Harry Firth and Fred Gibson's win in 1967 to Chaz Mostert and Paul Morris's remarkable triumph from last place in 2014.
Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup - now firmly ensconced in the Holden camp - won their historic three-peat from 2006 in the BA and BF models.
Scott McLaughlin's Lap of the Gods mark II last year in an FG X shows the Falcon still possesses remarkable pace.
When thinking of the Falcon on the Mountain though, one man leaps out.
"It's been an iconic vehicle around here," Ford legend Dick Johnson told AAP.
"Even since the very early days, even prior to Bathurst at the Armstrong 500. The Falcon won down there too.
"It's been a huge part of Australian motorsport for many, many years."
Johnson started his career in an FJ Holden, but he built his reputation in a Falcon.
The five-time champ and Hall of Famer won three times at Mount Panorama and twice - in 1981 and 1994 - in a Falcon.
It was two other years in which he really made his name.
In 1980, Johnson entered as a self-funded privateer but came a cropper from the race lead when two drunk fans accidentally dislodged a boulder into his path.
Johnson was incredulous at the time.
"I couldn't believe my bloody eyes. Those galoots up there that just throw boulders. It was enormous," he memorably told the broadcast.
"Unless I can get $40,000 to rebuild the car, you've lost me because I've had a gutful of the whole bloody operation."
Australia responded, donating thousands of dollars through a telethon - which Ford matched - to set up Johnson's racing career.
He returned to the mountain the next year and won after a disastrous six-car crash forced an early end to the 1000km classic.
In 1983, Johnson wrote another legendary moment - and one-liner - into Bathurst's history.
The Queenslander was on a hot lap during the shootout when he clipped the wall, dislodging his the steering column and sending him arrowing into the trees.
The crash could have claimed Johnson's life, except he was wedged between two trees rather than hitting one front-on.
Asked how he managed it, Johnson said he'd benefited from driving around Brisbane.
"You know what it's like parking in Queen St," he said, deadpan.
This year, it falls to a seven-strong Falcon team to deliver a 15th Falcon success at Mount Panorama.
Scott McLaughlin, second in the championship under Dick's eye at DJRTP, said the looming retirement of one of Australia's favourite cars had been spoken about as a motivator.
"Us as a team, we'd like to send it out with a bang. That's with a championship and with a Bathurst as well," he said.
"What the Falcon has done with this team, with Dick especially, it'd be very special."
Showing the dispassionate nature of many drivers, McLaughlin said he was already eyeing wins in a Mustang next year.
"I'm really excited for what the future is," he said.
"The Mustang is going to be cool. I'd probably be a little bit sad if we were going to a Mondeo, not that it's bad but the Mustang is a cooler car."