Tasmania’s Mega Motorsport Heritage
With the SpeedSeries once again kicking off its season in Tasmania this weekend, it’s prudent to look back at the incredible motorsport-mad legacy that continues to grow to this day on the Apple Aisle.
Often overlooked by other major league sports, motorsport has found a home in our southern state and continues to thrive from its 1950s roots, when the wild roads around Longford were the focal point of world motorsport.
From there, Baskerville and Symmons Plains flourished, while Targa Tasmania brought motorsport to the people, with its tour of the incredible backcountry lanes, mountain passes, and street sprints attracting global interest and some of the sport’s biggest names.
With legendary participants and significant events playing out in their backyard, the local media understand and get behind motorsport, subsequently engaging the masses.
The homegrown heroes, too, continue to resonate with the automotive-loving public. Names like Marcos Ambrose, John Bowe, John Goss and Skippy Parsons are amongst many who honed their craft locally before catching the Spirit of Tasmania north over Bass Strait.
Between Symmons Plains, Baskerville, Longford and Targa, Tasmania has four sources of significant motorsports heritage amongst many.
Opened in 1960, Symmons Plains Raceway, just south of Launceston, has long been Tasmania’s premiere permanent circuit and the destination of choice for touring series from the mainland.
The venue first played host to the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1969, making it second only to Sandown in terms of longevity on the championship roster.
One of a number of circuits of the era that measured in at 1.5 miles/2.41km, Symmons Plains is characterised by a unique layout, with dominant features including a tight, cambered hairpin with a significant elevation change, to a long sweeping back straight, and a twisting flip-flop past the pits.
The venue has evolved with time, with safety upgrades made and the amenities evolving to the tastes of the interstate visiting circuses.
The track has been host to a wide array of action, drama and oddities over its journey.
From Norm Beechey tasting success in the inaugural ATCC meet aboard his legendary HK Monaro, to Jim McKeown winning in 1970, one of only two points races to have been won by Porsche, the event moved from its season-ending slot to a long-term fixture as the opening round.
Legends like Allan Moffat, Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Colin Bond, Jim Richards and Allan Grice were successful, but others chimed in with big results.
For instance, John Harvey’s pair of ATCC wins were both at Symmons, in 1976 and ’79, while Robbie Francevic’s success in 1985 was the first for the marque in what would prove to be a title-winning Group A stint.
In 1993, Alan Jones claimed his maiden ATCC win, although that event was better remembered for his run-in with Mark Skaife, while in 2004, a safety car clerical error saw David Besnard retrospectively gifted a heat win for WPS Racing.
The 2017 Saturday race meanwhile spectacularly went down in the books as a non-event, with a 12-car melee destroying multiple machines.
The Procar Series and the Shannons Nationals were intermittent fixtures at the venue, while the SpeedSeries has kicked off the past two seasons at the facility, with one of the highlights being a new outright lap record, which has fallen in the favour of the S5000 mounted Joey Mawson.
In 2021, he broke the 41-year-old record, while last year he lowered the mark to 48.5598sec.
Pre-dating Symmons Plains, Baskerville in the state’s south is a fantastic little bullring, which opened for business in 1958, meaning only Mount Panorama can outdo it for longevity.
Although it is a mainstay of the local Tassie scene, it has played host to various key national-level events and categories over its journey, from Sports Cars, F2, Superbikes and more.
In 2021, the venue hosted a non-championship meet for categories that stayed around after the Symmons Plains Race Tasmania event, with the likes of TCR, S5000, Touring Car Masters and Trans-Am taking to the track.
The 2.010km layout is set to officially welcome the SpeedSeries categories next year, in a move that will officially see the Race Tasmania festival spread to two weeks.
The granddaddy of legendary Tasmanian circuits, Longford is still celebrated today with regular commemorations of the 7.2km natural street course held.
Between 1953 and 1968, the town not far from Launceston came alive, with the venue hosting many of the major fixtures of the day.
From the Australian Driver’s Championship to the Australian Tourist Trophy, the legendary Tasman Series, the Australian Touring Car Championship, and the Australian Grand Prix on two occasions in 1959 and ’65, Longford was lapped by many of the sport’s greats.
From Jim Clark to Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme, Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, the circuit also attracted all of the luminaries from the domestic racing scene.
The fastest track in Australia until the opening of Calder Park’s Thunderdome, Longford features long high-speed straights, awesome flat-out curves, and notable landmarks, such as the Viaduct, which saw competitors cross under the railway line.
Ultimately when the venue shuttered, it paved the way for the growth of both the nearby Symmons Plains, and further afield Baskerville.
The Country Club Hotel, which used to be the focal point of the racing action, continues to celebrate the bygone era with numerous displays and centrepieces, making it a must-visit venue for motorsport fans.
Perhaps there is no better way to engage an entire state than to run a motor race right past everyone’s front door, and do it for 30 years.
Since 1992, the incredible roads of the state have come alive to all manner of competition machinery, from classic to contemporary, with the event drawing inspiration from the timeless tarmac rallies of Europe, including the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia.
The concept has spawned the entire sealed road rally genre in Australia, and reinvigorated it overseas, with the honour roll of victors led by the legendary Jim Richards, with eight crowns to his credit, while other winners have included Greg Crick, Andrew Miedecke, Neal Bates, Peter Fitzgerald and Tony Quinn, while in more recent times, Jason White has claimed seven wins of his own.
The event has attracted a who’s who of world motorsport over its journey.
From Sir Jack Brabham to Mick Doohan, Jochen Mass, Walter Rohrl, Sir Stirling Moss, Murray Walker and Hollywood star Eric Bana, the racing and touring sections draw upwards of 500 competitors annually.
Outside of Targa Tasmania, other tarmac rally events have been conducted over time, while dirt rallying also has a proud tradition across the state.