Craig Kelly was a full-back in the AFL when the biggest and scariest forwards in history played. It took a unique person to survive and thrive. He was a niggling and snarky player and had a way with words; as quick with his tongue as he was with his fist.
He was also a mate of Skaife’s and would eventually become the CEO of the Holden Racing Team. Soon after his official role commenced at the factory Holden team, he was blown away by Skaife’s protective tendencies over HRT chassis #045.
The car had a dream run; it barely got a scratch and it dominated the sport. It is the only car in history to win Bathurst twice (also achieved by the Holden Dealer Team’s VH Commodore SS from 1982 and 1983) and the championship in two years. It was the way Skaife protected and loved that car led Kelly to call it “The Golden Child’, which is exactly what it was to Skaife.
The car debuted at the Queensland 500 in 2001 “ the wet race won by Paul Radisich in a sandtrap “ and was Skaife’s primary car for the rest of that season and the next before being turned into a Project Blueprint car and winning the Adelaide 500 for a second time. It won 20 times as a VX Commodore and then a VY, including 11 of the first 14 races in 2002.
When the car eventually retired it was perhaps, and still remains, the most successful car in Australian touring-car history.
“It is certainly a car I fell in love with” says Skaife, with remarkable affection.
“It’s always difficult when you love something but you’ve got to treat it harshly. It’s a little bit like a cruel-to-be-kind scenario with a child. It’s a love affair that comes from success; it was just extraordinary in that period of a golden era for the Holden Racing Team.
“I did not want at any point for it to be converted into a “Blueprint car’, but as it turned out it was really the only way that we were going to get all our cars ready and done in the period of time that we had. It was an interesting period for us, and the key to “The Golden Child’ terminology was Craig.
“It didn’t have that name prior to Craig starting as the CEO at the Holden Racing Team, and when he knew how passionate I was about the car and how much I protected it from going to stupid places on displays or to having anything done with it that might affect the specification or its longevity that’s when he coined the phrase. Don’t touch “The Golden Child’, he’d say all the time.”
Skaife, like the entire Holden Racing Team crew, knew it had unlocked something special even at the car’s first test session.
“Every time you roll a new car out you try to make it better than the last one, but we rolled it out for its first run at Phillip Island and I went faster than I’ve ever gone on a first day of testing. It had the fundamentals of a great race car straightaway” reflects Skaife.
“The torsional rigidity of the chassis, for instance, the attention to detail of the build and the weight distribution”¦ We changed some ergonomic things with it too. We were already sitting a long way back, but we tried to lay or reduce the angle of the steering column and make it slightly more open-wheeler in how it was functioning, and not by a little bit either.
“We tried to reduce the angularity of the steering column down to the steering rack and we did. We altered it for that car, which was something that I wanted to do pretty much from the time that I arrived at HRT.
“We weren’t totally successful because we actually brought it back a little bit from what we originally designed, but Dennis Watson and George Smith at Dencar were working closely with Richard Hollway on making the ergonomics slightly better and reducing some of those angles of steering joints, apex joints in steering columns which was not easy.
“There’s a lot of constraints around touring cars and the way that you have to configure the seat position and all the steering inputs, etcetera, to make it work. It wasn’t like we were starting from zero base; our cars were pretty good before we built chassis #045. We just continued to evolve it to make it better. It was probably the ultimate expression of a pre-Blueprint era car.”
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