LEYBURN (Queensland) - They’ve pounded the asphalt over hundreds of thousands of kilometres around some of Australia’s most demanding circuits including Mount Panorama, but eight renowned drivers spanning almost 30 years of endurance racing victories will be welcomed at a track just one kilometre long at the 24th Historic Leyburn Sprints this weekend.
Dick Johnson, Kevin Bartlett, Colin Bond, John French, Bob Holden, Fred Gibson, Jim Bertram and Bill Gates are among a host of racing personalities from yesteryear invited as special guests at the Sprints’ 70th anniversary celebrations of the Australian Grand Prix.
The grand prix, the first national motor race staged in Queensland, was run on a former war-time aerodrome circuit just outside Leyburn on 18 September 1949. Watched by a crowd estimated at 30,000 – including the much younger French and Bertram - the 240 km event was won by John Crouch in a French-built Delahaye racer.
This year’s big-name guests, also joined by other motorsport leading lights including Bruce Garland, Don Holland, Brian Michelmore, Ian Maudsley, Bruce Richardson and John English, have no grands prix but many other high-profile victories to their credit.
Holden (1966), Gibson (1967), Bond (1969), Bartlett (1974), French (1981) and Johnson (1981, 1989, 1994) are all Bathurst endurance winners.
Bartlett (1967), French (1968), Gates and Bertram (1969) and Bond (1970, 1974) won long-distance races at the former Surfers Paradise International Raceway. Brian Michelmore was Queensland Rally Champion in 1970, 1973 and 1974.
Bruce Garland, a regular Sprints competitor, is one of Australia’s most successful off-road drivers and finished an outstanding 11thoutright and a class winner on the 2009 Dakar Rally.
All the VIP guests are likely to be kept busy by fans keen to meet them and share memories of some of the greatest years in Australian motor-racing at autograph sessions at 11am each day.
Johnson, along with son Steven, also will be lending a hand as his grandson Jett, 14, continues the family dynasty at the wheel of a Hyundai Excel on the 1.0 km street course.
Race Director Mike Collins said the Sprints was honoured to have so many prominent names help celebrate the 1949 grand prix.
“Although it’s only a tiny town on the Darling Downs, Leyburn has a wonderful motor-racing heritage. The aerodrome circuit hosted racing for several years and even Jack Brabham competed there before he became a multiple world champion,” Collins said.
“The Sprints were created to maintain that heritage and have become one of the most popular events on the historic motorsport calendar. It was named Queensland Motor Sport Event of the Year in 2017.
“To have all these great drivers from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s gracing us with their presence at the Historic Sprints this weekend adds even more to Leyburn’s motorsport story.”
Competition among more than 200 historic, classic and modern racers starts at 8am tomorrow and Sunday.
Off-track, a range of attractions also promise a packed weekend for Leyburn visitors. The colourful Vintage Caravan display and Sunday’s Shannons Show ‘n’ Shine gathering of around 150 classic road cars and motorcycles will be crowd favourites, along with market stalls and food and drink outlets.
Adult entry costs $20 a day or $30 for the weekend and children under 14 will be admitted free.
Enthusiasts unable to attend the Sprints will be able to follow the action with a live video stream from the website historicleyburnsprints.com.au or on the free Power TV Australia app for Apple and Android mobile devices.
The Historic Leyburn Sprints is supported by the Queensland Government through Tourism and Events Queensland and features on the It’s Live! In Queensland events calendar, worth $800m to the State’s economy in 2019.
Further assistance is provided by the Southern Downs Regional Council.