Perhaps they showed that a good race cannot be manufactured or predicted, for all the high technology machinery and stop-watch gazing, a race still seems to need some undefinable spark to make it memorable. Compare, for example, the Australian Unlimited Grand Prix run at Mount Panorama three years ago and this year's anticlimax of an Australian 500cc Grand Prix. In 1979 three machines which on paper were not equal in performance were the instruments in a 20-lap frenzy that people are still talking about. But that race could hardly have been dreamed of after qualifying or when the KR750 Kawasaki's of Crosby and Petty dominated the Saturday preliminary race.
For this year's premier racing machine event, four new TZ500J Yamaha's were set to meet new RGB500 Suzuki's, the last word in production-run racing machinery from both sides. Competing riders included three who had won three Bathurst Grand Prix races each, Ron Boulden, Gary Coleman and Paul Lewis, plus an in-form international with the right road circuit credentials in Dennis Ireland, and Selangor Grand Prix winner Len Willing. So with those machines and that riding talent, Grand Prix race enthusiasts were justified expecting some sparkle. But like too many Sunday features, you have to be wary of the trailers...
Take the revelations from practice, Ireland's Suzuki was stuck on a warf in Melbourne, Lewis' Suzuki was equalling the 500 class lap record on it's out-of-the-crate tyres, but had already seized once, and the three dealer team Yamaha's were suffering speed wobbles on Concord Straight. The tease continued in qualifying. Boulden and Willing qualified their Yamaha's 0.17 seconds apart, their times straddling Greg Pretty's class record of 2m18.68s, which isn't to be confused with John Woodley's best ever Bathurst lap by a 500cc machine, at 2m15.6s in that 1979 Unlimited GP. In other developements, Ireland obtained a Suzuki RGB500 Mark VI (1981 model), Lewis' 290km/h missle locked up before he'd recorded a lap time, and Lee Roebuck (750cc Yamaha) was third fastest qualifier for the Unlimited race, being fractionally quicker than Gary Coleman. However, of the three TZ500J machines Warren Willing and his Toshiba Yamaha Dealer Team crew had built up from 1982 parts and unused, remachined TZ500H crank-cases, Coleman's was the fastest down Conrod Straight, having the least wobbles.
So what happened in the races? Although not a Grand Prix event, the first race, the Bathurst Unlimited, warrants examination both for it's result and an irony which has become increasingly poingant. That irony is the coincidence in timing of the Unlimited class' loss of AGP and Australian Road Race Championship status and the class becoming interesting again. This interest is a product of the rise of really professionally built superbikes, plus prototypes similar to FIM Formula One machines, the arrival of still quicker 500cc and 750cc which won't lie down, no matter how short spares become. Outside Crosby's KR750 intrusion in 1979, 700cc and 750cc Yamaha's had dominated the Unlimited rcing on the mountain since their introduction in 1974.
For one lap Lee Roebuck upheld that tradition this year. His machine out-grunted the 500cc to lead up Mountain Straight. Right in the groove from the outset, he popped a confident wheelie as he led across the finish line. However, less than 600 metres later he was sidelined when his drive chain stretched a couple of links to destruction. A lap later Coleman's weekend was over. The Dealer Team Yamaha's were formation flying when Coleman, unsighted by being so close to Boulden down through the Esses, clipped the median strip which devides the track from the sand trap. The result was a broken collarbone, courtesy of the bank he contacted with.