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Desert400

Desert 400 2007-10

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The 2007 running of the Desert 400 was newsworthy before it even got underway – when the two FPR cars fell off the back of the lorry.

 

There’s always been a bit of a driving standards problem in Bahrain. The campaigns to make people wear seat belts, indicate, drive appropriately in the rain, use car seats for kids and so on are fairly endless. There’s also the problem of working out which is the ‘on’ and which is the ‘off’ ramp on the main freeway which has long confused some of the locals.

 

The trucks carrying the V8s to the circuit were on the exit slip road and following a car which suddenly had second thoughts about coming off the motorway at that point and attempted a u-turn. In the course of the avoiding action, the cars got loose and… there’s your photo opportunity. Anyway, a couple of panels got dinged on Frosty’s car but that was about it as I recall.

 

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In the year that passed from the first race to this one, trying to get people interested in V8s and buying tickets had been a major preoccupation. We wanted them to come back, not least because a week or so after the 2006 race we’d had a 24-hour GT event at which we had discovered, at around 2 a.m. one of the hospitality suites held an abandoned stash of Victoria Bitter from the most recent occupants – which brought good cheer to the visiting media when we distributed this unexpected bounty.

 

Paul Morris and his sponsors had been very keen to get ‘Supercar Nights’ going in Bahrain in the interim. There’s an abundance of sports bars in the Kingdom and they’ve all made a real thing of putting on Formula 1 since the circuit was built. There are some bars that are better known for motor racing than others, and the atmosphere can be incredible with guys hollering for their team. I’ve never seen anything like it in the UK or anywhere else.

 

Unfortunately, it all went quiet because none of the drinks companies that sponsored in Supercars had import licences for the Kingdom. We had a bit of success working with Vodafone’s regional partner to do ticket promos and we convinced the local newspapers and car magazine to carry race reports and features. Gulf Air was already on the bus as it is a permanent partner to the circuit and had put some branding on the cars in 2006. It’s a nice way to promote routes out into Oceania, so they were good to go.

 

Some journos travelled across to the Australian GP to cover the race and the non-championship V8 round, and there was a plan to bring lots more of the region’s media to Bathurst… but that went wrong because Bathurst was going to be bang in the middle of Ramadan, and taking Mohammed to The Mountain was perhaps too great a test of faith during the month of fasting.

 

One thing that did come across, however, was a bucket-load of production+ specification VZ Commodores. These had arrived in 2006 for a pro-celebrity race and were then retained in order to form a new regional racing series. It was to be arrive-and-drive stuff for local talent, with a calendar of races across Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi.

 

All of the cars were sourced through Tom Walkinshaw, which meant we were surprised to find only one gas tank in them – in fact aside from the roll cage, extinguishers and exhaust they weren’t all that racy at all. There were some young hotshoes involved, a few of the local campaigners from the various drift, drag and rally series who fancied a go, a number of expat British, American, French and Aussie guys with money to burn and a delightful Saudi businessman who was quite content to drive around in last place provided that the A/C worked OK. Here are some pics from their race at the Desert 400:

 

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As a footnote, there was a second batch of cars ordered which arrived for the 2009-10 season if I remember rightly: all of them being VE Commodores with a slightly higher specification. In fact they looked like proper little touring cars. They ran for one season as a two-tier series, then the old VZs were sold off and ended up at the Rockingham circuit in the UK. I saw two of them on eBay this week, although £15,000 for cars that have done three seasons of panel-bashing in the Gulf and nearly a decade of track day work seemed a bit stiff to me.

 

And so on to the race. We had a bit more off-track entertainment than in 2006 – including a big Scalextric replica of the Bahrain circuit complete with Supercars. It was very popular although marshal-inflicted damage ran into hundreds if not thousands of dollars on what are now prized collectibles…

 

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And look – a bit of a crowd is forming.

 

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After the blacked-up guy in 2006, this year's entry in the 'Is that entirely appropriate?' entertainment category was made by a bunch of guys who may or may not have seen Australia before:

 

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In the races, the weekend pretty much belonged to Mark Winterbottom: winning the first two races in what is my all-time favourite livery, the Cobra tribute Falcon. And I say that as more of a Holden fan. Here are some pics:

 

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But on the track the hero of the event was Craig Lowndes without a doubt.

 

He came off second-best in a bit of four-wide argy-bargy on the back straight at the start of the first race, pinballed into the wall on the inside of the circuit and came to rest in the path of the rest of the field. From memory Paul Morris was involved – he seemed to be on a bit of a mission through the weekend. All of this helped Frosty to a fairly dominant performance but in race 2 Lowndes got the bit between his teeth and went through the field before finally winning race 3. Here's the shunt:

 

 

We had another, rather smaller after party when the show was over, and was at least able to say I supped a pint with Lowndes after his stellar job during the day. After that they went home and interest in V8 racing sort of fizzled out a bit among the powers-that-be. Our main preoccupation was the regional series and the deal to promote the winner for a proper V8 drive with Garry Rogers – this being Fahad Al Musalam.

 

When Fahad didn’t exactly cover himself with glory the Bahrainis shrugged their shoulders and moved on. I missed the 2008 race because of family commitments back home, then the V8s missed the 2009 race, so it would be 2010 before I got to see the cars and the guys again - although here's a nice shot from the 08 race.

 

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The 2010 weekend was when Jamie Whincup couldn’t be touched and much of the four-wide hard-bitten classic touring car racing of the first two years was absent. The race itself was held early in the year during the run-up to the Grand Prix, which meant that there was neither time or money spent to promote it, and you also got the feeling that it was held at the start of the year to get the contract over and done with as soon as possible and consign the Desert 400 to memory.

 

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I’ll never lose my affection for the series or fail to be proud of being part of those events and I’ll miss that big V8 howl in future… although I’m intrigued by the new V6s and let’s face it even the Sierras sounded amazing in their day. I’ve got my slot cars (Tander's Toll Holden and Lowndes's Vodafone Falcon - looking out for a few more but they're crazy money), a few photos and a bucket of happy memories. That’ll do for now.

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Once again, great story, well written, with nice pics.

Thank you for sharing.

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The sad thing about this event was the telecast times in Aus. Your second last pic in post #1 is fantastic imo, the only thing that makes it not perfect is thd second djr ford falling out of frame.


My mum says I'm an excellent driver

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