19th October, 2016 · Motorsport

Brand HRT – the end of an
era… when race fans hear Holden
drop Walkinshaw in favour of Triple 888

6 minutes to read

Crenno’s HRT gold medallists in “Team of the Century” (1988 -2016)
After a near 30-year connection, the major motor sport news story of 2016 has been Holden’s removal of the HRT brand and financial support from the Walkinshaw Performance Group to an opposition Holden Team.

The origins of HRT can be traced back to exactly 30 years ago.

On 17 September 1986 a crucial meeting, coordinated by the planning department, took place at GMH Headquarters. My diary notes show attendees were Tony Hyde and Ray Borrett, Engineering; Roger Gibbs and Neil Pogson, Planning; Ed Jaworski, Finance, and from Marketing, John Lindell, Grant Steers and John Crennan.

The Agenda was simple: prepare a recommendation for the directors around:

  1. Should GMH continue to be in motor racing?
  2. If so, what was the most advantageous way of implementing programs?
HRT Gold Medallists (L to R) Craig Lowndes, Tomas Mezera, Ron Harrop, Paul Weissel, Jeff Grech, Chris Dyer, Peter Brock
HRT Gold Medallists (L to R) Craig Lowndes, Tomas Mezera, Ron Harrop, Paul Weissel, Jeff Grech, Chris Dyer, Peter Brock

 

'Gold Medals' to Marg Curtis and Andrew McKenzie
‘Gold Medals’ to Marg Curtis and Andrew McKenzie

This was the start of a series of meetings that led to a crucial ‘yes or no’ for Holden continuing in motor sport. The Holden directors’ decision meeting was set down for Friday 5 December  1986. Attendees were Chuck Chapman, Managing Director; Ken Clayton, Head of Finance; John Loveridge, Head of Marketing, and Don Wylie, Head of Engineering, with the presenters being Neil Pogson, Planning and John Crennan, Marketing.

This is where the connection to HRT began, because a key piece in the marketing presentation centred on a meeting between Ray Borrett, John Crennan and Tom Walkinshaw only a month earlier, on 10 November 1986, when Tom was pitching for our support to compete with a Commodore in the World Touring Car Championship.

Whilst nothing came of GMH supporting Walkinshaw’s pitch, which centred on a ‘no- win no-pay, or win and pay $1m’ proposition for GMH, it was serendipitous timing for Tom. His meeting at Fishermen’s Bend meant the TWR racing credentials were sitting on the desks of those who mattered most, because within 90 days of our meeting Peter Brock and Holden were to have their tumultuous split.

TWR were awarded the tender to set up the Brock replacement business from a total of 12 enterprises that submitted. The June 1987 contract read that TWR would also have first option to conduct Holden’s V8 racing operations should they decide to again enter a factory team to replace Peter’s HDT racing arm. Mid-October at Melbourne’s Regent Hotel, Walkinshaw and his highly impressive 30-year-old Finance Chief John Bradley offered to double my Holden salary, so Crenno immediately signed on to run the new entity after 25 years of Holden corporate life .

It didn’t take long for Holden to call and say they wanted to exercise their option and go motor racing in 1988. With all the work associated with establishing the new SVO business, any attempt to ‘create’ an all-racing team in four months was impossible. So we turned to Larry Perkins and sub-contracted the factory team effort to him for the ’88 and ’89 seasons under the SV Racing brand. Come September 1989 I presented a plan to Holden to set up our own team brand and it would be called HRT from the start of the 1990 season.

Holden were not in a position to licence the HDT brand to our new racing entity as Peter had already registered the HDT brand. This caused Holden much anxiety after the split with Brock and from that day Holden’s legal department paid dramatically more attention to any third parties with whom Holden had dealings, who may need the Holden name in their marketing.
The news of Holden dumping the Walkinshaw ownership in favour of Triple 8 was predictably controversial, as during the 90s we had built an HRT fan base of massive proportions. As mentioned in a previous article, I attribute much of that fan phenomenon to the power of the Brock following when he joined our team in 1994.

There emerged two schools of opinion following Holden’s termination of the Ryan Walkinshaw/Adrian Burgess-lead team. One opinion was ‘no big deal’, as the writing was on the wall for a long period based on over-promise and under-delivery. This compared to Triple 8, who had dominated for Holden over a sustained period. The opposite reaction was from HRT loyalists who were angry that Holden would move the HRT factory team to their arch rival. How this plays out in 2017 will depend upon who is the best marketer.

Despite the legion of fans the Clayton-based HRT had attracted from the halcyon years ’96-’02, it has not been all ‘cakes and ale’ since Tom acquired the rights in 1988 to conduct the factory team.

A summary of HRT’s roller coaster ride:

  • The JV program with Larry Perkins in 1988/89 was strained and difficult. Tom and Larry’s personality differences never aligned and it all nearly finished in the courts but for Holden’s intervention.
  • The Gibson Team late 1992 started ‘broadcasting’ they would be taking over from HRT. Holden’s Motor Sport Manager John Lindell was not denying the rumours. After a very destabilising six months we finally managed to get Holden to cease their encouragement of Gibson Motor Sport and back our new plan for the upcoming 1993 season. We dodged this bullet.
  • Six months into the 1993 season and things were not working out with new Team Manager Neil Lowe and driver Wayne Gardner. Tom was fed up and come August he insisted I shut the team down and hand HRT back to Holden. I fought a massive campaign to reverse Tom’s instructions because of my concerns it would impact the HSV business, plus my pride could not bear the thought of handing the HRT brand to arch rival Fred Gibson. Had I failed to change Tom’s mind the TWR/HRT connection would have only had a six-year (1988-1993) life and. who knows, Gibson Motor Sport mighty still be HRT. We also dodged this bullet which, weirdly, was fired from within.
  • 11 October 1995 at the Nikki Hotel in Sydney (a few days after our Bathurst engine disaster), Holden executives Ross McKenzie and Kevin Wale advised me our lack of success was seriously impacting their marketing/image and gave me notice they intended to remove our factory status and rights to use the HRT name at year end. To save the HRT team this time a totally different campaign of lobbying and business planning had to be conceived and, happily, on 14 December Ross McKenzie visited my office to say Holden had changed their mind. Two months of battles and tough meetings and we had managed to have Holden to reverse their decision. Another bullet dodged for HRT.
  • History now shows Holden’s wisdom in not firing us as, within a few months, Craig Lowndes and Peter Brock had transformed our team into the Championship powerhouse Holden would proudly showcase for many years to come.
  • February 2003, the Bank of Scotland receivers step into the Walkinshaw UK Empire, which meant HRT gets caught in the mess and our six- times Championship Team is decimated. There was no way we were going to dodge the bank’s bullet, as it took on cannon ball proportions.
  • March 2003 Holden go to the UK and buy the team from the receivers, then find on their return that the V8 Racing authorities will not permit a car manufacturer to own a team.
  • June 2003, Mark Skaife then acquires HRT from Holden and sets up a new-look HRT.
  • Late 2007 (a best-selling book will one day be written on how it occurred), Tom makes a miracle return and gets Holden’s backing to re-purchase HRT from Mark Skaife, but the V8 authorities step in and refuse to grant Tom the franchises. Then, after a lot of ‘argy bargy’, the authorities finally approve Tom to compete as new owner of HRT.
  • 12 December 2010, Tom sadly succumbs to cancer and the 2011 season starts with Tom’s widow Martine assuming ownership and their 24-year-old son Ryan becomes the figurehead of the Team.
  • 16 August 2016 Holden make the announcement they will discontinue their factory association with Walkinshaw and move their sole support to Triple 8 Racing. At the same time Ryan Walkinshaw vows to continue in V8s as a privateer team.

The period following Tom’s death proved very difficult for the team, with three different Team Principals all trying to restore it to its former glory days. This is why there are no names from that era on the Gold Medal list below.

Despite the lack of success over these past five years, the successes of six HRT Championships 1996-2002 and the brothers HRT team designated ‘HSV Dealer Team’, with two Championships in 2006 and 2007, mean the HRT legacy will forever reside in Clayton, thanks to thegold medallists listed below.

In this sport the only thing that matters, and on which only genuine comparisons of performance against yourself and your fellow competitors can be made, is the Championship Trophies. Eight of those – for the years between 1996 and 2007 – sit in the cabinets at Clayton. A few colleagues of that era likewise treasure the individual replica championship cars that sit on their own mantelpiece.

There have been some remarkable contributors to the HRT success over 30 years and the massive fan legacy built as a consequence of those successes.

Noted below are Crenno’s gold medallists, who can stand proudly on the top step of the podium and take their place in any HRT Team of the Century. These gold medallists include both the technical/racing personnel as well the marketing and commercial team who established the brand image and financial resources to succeed.

crenno-table

John Crennan
Motorsport Contributor