Circuit feature Mark Walker May 18, 2022 (Comments off) (213)

Year-by-Year: Winton’s Awesome History

Winton Motor Raceway has packed a lot of history into the last 62 years, with the “Nation’s Action Track” continuing to evolve, this weekend playing host to a return of the Supercars Championship.

From humble beginnings, the facility has grown in stature to now be a regular fixture on the national calendar, hosting events ranging from Supercars to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

The venue is the oldest continually operational circuit in Victoria, with Winton’s first race in 1961 pre-dating Calder Park and Sandown (1962), and although the modern Phillip Island circuit opened in 1956, it has twice been closed for a total of 15 years.

In recent times it has become a favourite for testing, thanks to its accessibility and affordability, while the venue has hosted a wide range of events, from truck racing to rallycross, the Formula Ford Festival, drag racing, Production Car and other long-distance events.

Outside of racing, it continues to prove its adaptability, from school cross country races, to the 2017 Rockin the Raceway concert featuring Adam Brand, Thirsty Merc and the Choirboys.

1957 – The Benalla Auto Club was founded on the 17th of October by local schoolteacher Bruce Watt and an initial membership of 20 people, with its first event being a gymkhana on the 1st of December in downtown Benalla. One of the early intentions of the club was to run rallies in the local area, which it did in 1958.

1959 – Before Winton, there was Barjarg, located about 50km to the south of Benalla along the Midland Highway towards Bonnie Doon and Mansfield. Promoted by the Benalla Auto Club, the little developed facility was like others in the area – it was bare bones, with drivers thrown multiple challenges, including dodging rather large boulders in the middle of the main straight. With the dirt track surface somewhat held together with a layer of oil, the tight 1.5km layout packed eight corners. After an initial gymkhana, the circuit hosted its first race meeting on the 25th of January, 1959, with 50 entries registered. With the construction of the more permanent Winton circuit somewhat behind schedule, Barjarg received a stay of execution, before hosting its final event on the 9th of April 1961. These days, Barjarg is more closely associated with downhill mountain bike racing than motorsport.

1960 – Plans for a circuit on the Winton Recreation Reserve were announced on the 23rd of June. Legend has it, that the initial track was carved into the paddock by local speedway identity Ken Cox, who led around Barry Stillo aboard a bulldozer.

1961 – The first event at Winton was held on the 26th of November, following 12 months of construction that cost £10,000 to produce the 2.028km circuit.

1962 – Championship competition came to town on the 9th of December with the Victorian Formula Junior Championship.

1963 – The first motorcycle event was held at the venue on New Year’s Day.

1965 – Big events kick up a notch when the famed Neptune Racing Team made an appearance for the first time in a March program that also included the Victorian Formula Two Championship.

1967 – Peter Brock was entered for his first race meeting on the 26th of November aboard his wild Austin A30, although reported throttle problems meant the combination apparently didn’t make the race.

1976 – The first running of the Rose City 10,000 for F5000 cars was won by Graeme McRae.

1977 – Along similar lines to the historic meet at Amaroo, Historic Winton roared into life for its first running on June 25th – 26th. A highlight of that initial event was a series of vintage aircraft aerobatics displays. The event enjoyed an unbroken streak of 43 years through to the pandemic with a popular 2+4 format.

1978 – Winton stepped into the limelight when Formula One World Champion James Hunt was enticed to start the Rose City 10,000. After dominating Saturday’s preliminaries aboard an Elfin MR8 B-C, around 10,000 spectators arrived on race day, with Hunt winning the race by almost a lap over local ace Alfie Costanzo. With his heart no longer in it, Hunt would retire from driving following the Monaco Grand Prix the next year, making his Winton victory the final of his storied career.

The Australian Sports Car Championship made its first of seven appearances at Winton, with Ross Mathiesen claiming the win in his Porsche.

1980 – The Australian Drivers’ Championship first visited Winton, with Alfie Costanzo winning the opening three events contested at the venue. Another first-time visitor was the Australian Sports Sedan Championship, with Jim Richards victorious in his Hardtop Falcon.

1985 – The Australian Touring Car Championship event on the 10th of February was one of firsts. Outside of being the initial visit by the ATCC to the venue, it was the first of the new Group A era, and it was the first to be televised by Channel 7 under its new television deal for the series. Notably, it was the only ever round of the ATCC to not have a Holden face the starter. Winton’s facilities were overwhelmed by the number of spectators who attended the event.

1987 – The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix came to Winton, and was won by Kevin Magee aboard a Yamaha FZR750. The event subsequently returned to Bathurst in 1988, before the World Championship circus came to Phillip Island in 1989.

Winton was left off the ATCC calendar.

1989 – Winton became Nissan country through to 1992 in the ATCC, with George Fury, Jim Richards (twice) and Mark Skaife unbeatable.

1994 – The Australian Super Touring Championship stopped by at Winton, with the biff literally being brought back as BMW teammates Tony Longhurst and Paul Morris tangled, with Longhurst subsequently punching the be-helmeted Morris, above.

1995 – During the year, $500,000 was invested into the facility, with the circuit’s repave including the widening of some sections of track.

1997 – The biggest change in the history of the facility came in the form of a 1km extension and a new pitlane. The works came in at a cost of $1.1million and were commenced after Winton was left off the 1996 ATCC schedule.

Larry Perkins claimed his first and only ever career V8 Supercar/ATCC pole position.

2000 – Arsonists set fire to the control tower five weeks before the V8 Supercars round at the venue, with the structure rebuilt in time for the event. The culprits have never been found.

Glenn Seton claimed his final career V8 Supercars race win.

2001 – Progress continued with the construction of pit lane garages on the new section of track, a 1,000 seat corporate pavilion on the inside of turn one, a two storey media centre near pit exit, and a new three storey control tower.

2003 – The Benalla Auto Club founded the Australian Auto-sport Alliance (AASA), an alternate sanctioning body to the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS), now known as Motorsport Australia.

2004 – Cam McConville pulled a swifty, passing Rick Kelly for the lead and the win of the Winton 300 Supercars race on the 100th and final circuit of the race.

2005 – Winton was dropped from the V8 calendar, and only made a return in 2006 as a late replacement for the cancelled China event.

2007 – The Benalla Auto Club added Wakefield Park to its portfolio of facilities.

2009 – The Winton V8 Supercars round was the first to ever use the Dunlop Soft compound control tyre.

2013 – Winton’s chief executive Mick Ronke sadly passed away at the age of 66.

The track received a $723,000 upgrade, including a massive bitumen area for additional activities, plus an improved power supply.

History was made when James Moffat broke through for victory in the V8 Supercars event aboard a Nissan, the first win for a car other than a Holden or Ford since 1992.

2014 – Mercedes AMG followed in the footsteps of Nissan when it claimed its maiden V8 race win at Winton with driver Lee Holdsworth.

Notably, Scott McLaughlin also registered his first of 76 career Supercars pole positions aboard a Volvo.

2015 – In December, the Victorian State Government announced $1million in funding for a full circuit repave, with the total project expected to inject $3.35 million into the local economy. The renovations included the re-profiling of turns 10 and 12.

2016 – Tim Slade broke through for a Winton Supercars sweep.

2017 – It is noted that the Supercars event annually delivered an $8.8million boost to the local economy.

Rallycross burst onto the scene with Winton hosting a round of the RXaus Championship.

2018 – In the week in which Nissan withdrew from the sport, Rick Kelly claimed his last career victory aboard his Altima.

2020 – Before the pandemic kicked off in earnest, turns three and four of the circuit received a major overhaul, with the kerbs brought up to modern standard, improving the racing and limiting the chances of cars firing into the turn four fence.

With the works complete, Rubens Barrichello, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jack Aitken tested their S5000 machines at Winton prior to the abbreviated Australian Grand Prix event.

The scheduled Supercars round was postponed three weeks before race day, and was later cancelled altogether.

2021 – With competitors waiting at the NSW border, the Supercars event was this time cancelled two days before it was set to kick off.

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