GALLAGHER 500 REUNION.
If there’s one race that put Mini on the map in Australia, it was the 1966 Gallagher 500.
The endurance race, staged at one of the country’s most iconic racetracks, Mount Panorama, saw Mini establish its position in Australia as a formidable opponent.
The event became the stuff of Mini legend.
But for the team behind the win – Australian driver Bob Holden and Finnish rally star Rauno Aaltonen – the race was never about the accolades.
Bob Holden, already a successful racing driver, was set to race in the Gallager 500, when he received an unexpected phone call from the then head of PR for BMC Australia.
“He said to me, ‘I’ve got some extra money to have Rauno come out a week early before the Southern Cross Rally,” Bob recalls.
“When you’re given the opportunity to drive with someone who in those days was virtually world champion...it’s hard to believe.”
The pair met on the Thursday night before the race - a meeting which would usually prove problematic for a team set to take to one of Australia’s most well-known tracks only days later.
“I had the best incentive in the world, and that was Rauno." Bob says.
Bob recalls preparing the cars with immaculate attention to detail in anticipation of meeting Rauno.
“That’s why I put so much time and preparation into it. I couldn’t bear the thought of me preparing the car and the damn thing stopped.
“How would I ever live it down? I don’t think I slept for about a week beforehand.”
When the pair met, Bob describes it as being “beyond special”,
“We clicked immediately,” Rauno adds.
“That’s important, because you need trust in the other person.
“In many sports, which have many spectators, people tend to play their role as in theatre. But I like people who are honest and natural and genuine, because that’s the easiest way to communicate and be a good team.”
The pair were aware that they were about to take on one of Australia’s most important races, but in their own typical style, took it in their stride.
“When you are in this sport, you’re concentrating to produce a result and you don’t keep reading the history of the event and the background, you just concentrate on the car, choosing the right car and all the organisational things,” Rauno says.
For team BMC, that came down to careful and insightful decisions made by Bob, such as choosing firmer tyres rather than soft tyres, in order to take advantage of Mount Panorama’s long straights.
The race ended up being dominated by the Morris Cooper S, which took out the first nine positions in the race, with Bob and Rauno taking out first place.
“One thing most people don’t know is that our car, we were a full lap and a half ahead of the second Mini that came in after it,” Bob says.
It was the race won Mini a place in the hearts of race fans and drivers across the country.
But Bob and Rauno took the win in their stride.
“Everything after the finish, that’s an anticlimax,” Rauno says.
“I don’t drive the event to win, I drive to enjoy the event.”
The pair raced together again in 1991, and have remained close friends, making trips to visit each other in Finland and Australia.
“I think we’re still a really good team,” Bob says.