American Muscle Car Tortures the Tarmac
- 3rd June 2006, 10:00am
Whilst there is no doubt tarmac rallying is certainly accelerating in popularity within Australia, what’s yet to gain similar momentum is the way in which prospective competitors consider what type of vehicle they choose.
That’s not to say the bevy of Porsches, and the assortment of Japanese and English classics aren’t both fantastic and highly competitive car types for tarmac rallying. Rather, the opportunity to build a replica of a hero/period car that’s not just great to compete in, but is welcomed by event organisers and promoters and also a head turner in more ways than one.
Victorian’s Mike Pinder and Mark Bryant sat themselves down a couple of years ago after some initial toe-in-the-water tarmac experiences saying to themselves: "OK, we love this stuff, but how can we increase our satisfaction and enjoyment along the way?"
The answer, after a number of casual discussions and the usual serving of ‘what ifs’, was glaringly simple. "We needed to find a car we could both become passionate about; furthermore, if we could share a vision, the overall economic reality of creation and participation could also benefit." From that point forward the decision process, as Mike puts it "was more about elimination rather than what ‘ifs’." For instance: "Mustang – nice car but there are many around. Monaro – hard to find, rare and by definition, more costly. Mini – we are both big blokes so unfortunately no cigar, Porsche – unforgiving to drive and everyone seems to have one and they are ridiculously expensive to maintain, British – don’t enjoy the Australian heat, hard to find and fragile." Solution? The evolution of the Bryant/Pinder Camaro.
But as the pair explained, whilst their Camaro choice represented huge economic efficiencies, relative accessibility to all manner of component parts and metal, coupled with the seriously competitive advantage of being optioned with a four wheel disc brake package, was a distinct advantage. Plus there are heaps of strong, durable diff ratios, the flexibility of being able to fit any engine size from a small block 302ci V8 through to 427, all of which translates into heaps of easily-produced grunt per dollar spend, drive train reliability and huge braking capacity. The real clincher was that there simply were not any of this type of car out there in tarmac rally competition, despite the latest trend in historic racing Group NC where Camaros have ‘arrived’, and are now, in many respects, dominating the series.
The pair decided to make the Camaro a ‘stand out’ - they would theme the car’s build to reflect arguably one of the most famous and successful Trans AM Racing Team cars that ever raced in the United States of America – the Roger Penske Camaro which was driven by its most famous driver, Mark Donohue.
From that moment onwards the vision creators, Bryant and Pinder, started on what has evolved into a simply immaculate replica of the Roger Penske Camaro. It is, in brief, brilliant. The pair, having agreed on their objectives, then just let their creative juices go. The result, for those who have not been lucky enough yet to see this truly fascinating and incredibly savage-sounding V8 tarmac racer, is all the pair wanted and heaps more.
As Bryant and Pinder remarked: "We don’t think we really understood the potential impact our small project would have – although we hoped we would record a class win at its first outing in 2004’s Classic Adelaide. Although a number of unknowns shouted out to us at various times, Mark Donohue is alive and well, and this was further reinforced by Jim Richards who immediately recognised the Camaro’s distinctive blue and yellow colouring and Mark Donohue’s signature #6 race number. We definitely knew we’d won."
The achievement by Bryant and Pinder is further endorsed by a number of other interested sponsors including Scalextric model cars (who actually produce a Roger Penske model Camaro), Melbourne-based company Synergy Packaging, and the Industrial Safety Fencing company who see the replica Roger Penske Camaro as a great example of safety in action.
Looking more deeply into the pair’s Penske Camaro, one is also reminded of that magnificent period between the 60’s and 70’s when in Australia the popularity of V8 tin top door-handle to door-handle racing was crack-a-jack stuff.
Those were the days when Beechy’s yellow Shell Monaro kicked butt and when it wasn’t kicking butt, Jane’s Camaro was blasting across the finish line or Alan Moffat’s big, bad Coca Cola Mustang was square in your face, on billboard advertising and live on television. Like it or not, those days on the black stuff were exhilarating motor sport – just think about how good it would be to see a yellow Shell-sponsored Beechey replica Monaro blasting over those Classic Adelaide tarmac stages.
On the flip side, in America the Sunoco Trans Am Camaro driven by Mark Donohue was creating the same amount of excitement. Donohue’s racing record was second to none and of a style similar to that of Jim Richards, insofar as Donohue, like Richards, possessed that unique ability to be able to step from one car into another and race at the front of the field. Ability that allowed Mark Donohue to secure many Indy Car and Sebring 24 Hour Endurance race podium finishes over a number of years.
So what’s the future for the Bryant and Pinder Camaro? "Simple," says Mike Pinder. "In the immediate future we are going to enjoy every moment of our tarmac rallying. Mark and I take it in turns driving and co-driving. With the car now producing somewhere between 370 and 400 hp, it’s just one beast of a car to drive and along the way we try to provide the odd light relief to the many spectators who support tarmac rallying with a black mark or two. However if it were possible to show off the car in tarmac competitions outside Australia (such as in New Zealand), we would, with the right assistance. We’re keen to take our Penske/Donohue Camaro to contest other events."
Competitive aspirations aside – there is one thing the pair are very definite about, and that’s what they see as a huge, as yet unfilled, opportunity for those interested in motor sport generally, but specifically in tarmac rallying, for there to be more cars to be developed as living tributes, to celebrate the more recent rather than (magnificent as they are) long-past heroes of motor sport. Certainly there could be no better motor sport environment to enjoy such vehicles than via the sport of tarmac rallying
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