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50 rounds of touring cars on the Apple Isle

Symmons Plains is second only to Sandown as the longest serving venue on the Repco Supercars Championship calendar.

This year marks the 50th time touring car teams will cross Bass Strait to contest a round of the championship, with Symmons Plains just outside of Launceston being the venue for each trip.

One of two racing facilities in Tasmania, the other being Baskerville near Hobart, Symmons Plains is the premier venue and is distinguished by its iconic hairpin. At 2.411Km, it is one of the shortest circuits on the calendar and also one of the toughest.

During the early 1990s, the pits were moved from inside what is now the Turn 1, 2, 3 sequence to where it is positioned now on the outside of the circuit, while a further upgraded was completed at the turn of the millennium. This prevented the Repco Supercars Championship from racing at the venue from 2000-2003.

Debuting as a touring car round in 1969, Norm Beechey took the win in his Holden HK Monaro GTS327. This was just the second round of the Australian Touring Car Championship to be won by a model made locally.

Beechey sealed the first title for an Australian made model in 1970 before the final round at Symmons Plains, but he did not race after blowing an engine in practice. Wet conditions and the tight nature of Symmons Plains played into the hands of Porsche driver Jim McKeown.

For 1973, Symmons Plains moved from the last round to the championship opener, which it continued to hold for the duration of the 1970s and into the 1980s. This enabled the Tasmanians to be the first to watch two new eras of the Australian Touring Car Championship starting with the first Group C ruleset of 1973.

Allan Moffat prevailed in his factory Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase III, but his battle with the Holden Dealer Team’s Peter Brock driving the nimble Torana GTR XU-1 was a precursor to what the season was set to provide.

Seven years later, a new revolution in Australian touring cars debuted in Tasmania when the new Holden Commodores, Ford Falcons and Kevin Bartlett’s stunning Channel 9 Chevrolet Camaro took to the track.

Major changes were experienced during the off-season as privateers homologated the Ford Falcon despite the manufacturer’s disapproval and Holden pulled its support from the Dealer Team leading to Brock purchasing the squad from John Sheppard.

It was Brock taking the win at Symmons Plains and in the end securing his third touring car crown.

For 1985, International Group A regulations were introduced and Tasmania was the scene of New Zealander Robbie Francevic’s maiden Volvo victory on Australia soil.

Eight years later Alan Jones made enemies in the first Tassie event for the new V8 formula and it was all in one lap. First, he tapped Mark Skaife out of the lead at the hairpin before Wayne Gardner challenged and finished bunkered in the sand trap. A war of words erupted post-race between Skaife and the former world champion.

There has been plenty of action since at Symmons Plains, none more so than in 2017 when a major pile up ended the opening race prematurely.

In treacherous conditions on lap 2, all hell broke loose as Garth Tander slid into Rick Kelly and the remaining pack were mostly involved. Teams worked overnight to effect repairs, though a couple of entries didn’t make the grid for Sunday.