Fred Gibson (racing driver)
|Australian Touring Car Championship|
|Years active||1968, 1972-74, 1982-83|
|Teams||Ford Works Team
Nissan Motorsport Australia
|Best finish||4th in 1968 Australian Touring Car Championship|
|2004||V8 Supercar Hall of Fame|
Fred Gibson (born 1941) is a former Australian racing driver and race team owner. Fred Gibson won the 1967 Gallaher 500 at Mount Panorama, Bathurst driving a Ford XR Falcon GT alongside Ford team boss Harry Firth.
After a career that began in small production sports cars, first an MGA, and later the first Lotus Elan to run in Australian competition, Gibson quickly moved up into the touring car ranks. In just his second Bathurst start he claimed second place in the 1966 Gallaher 500.
In 1967, Frank Matich, who was to co-drive one of the new Ford Falcon GT's at Bathurst with Harry Firth but had to pull out due to other commitments, recommended Gibson as his replacement. Gibson first met Firth on the Thursday (28 September) before the Gallaher 500 and later set the 2nd fastest qualifying time behind their Sydney based team mates Ian and Leo Geoghegan, 1967 was the first year at Bathurst that grid positions were determined by qualifying times and not by class.
Alongside his team boss, Gibson scored his first major win, defeating the Geoghegans after a re-count of laps (the Geoghegans were flagged in 1st but a lap scoring error had been made during their first pit stop). The leading V8 Falcon GT's battled for most of the race with the Alfa Romeo 1600 GTV's, but for the first time in the history of the race, the bigger cars proved up to the challenge and went on to a strong win over the leading GTV of Doug Chivas and Max Stewart.
Gibson became a mainstay with the Ford team for the next six years, taking much success at Sydney's Oran Park and Amaroo Park in particular. He won the competitive Oran Park production sedan series, the Toby Lee Series, in 1970 and 1971 driving his Falcon GTHO supported by his Sydney speedshop, Road & Track. At Bathurst however in the early 1970s he suffered a string of retirements. When the racing industry went into decline during the 70's Gibson raced less frequently but was a still regular at Bathurst.
In 1981 Gibson joined the newly formed Nissan touring car team, headed by his former Ford Australia boss Howard Marsden. Gibson became the team's regular number two driver alongside George Fury during the Group C era while running the cantankerous Nissan Bluebird Turbo, pioneering turbo charged touring cars in Australia (Gibson would later describe the Bluebird as a shithouse little car). Gibson's racing involvement generally was as lead driver of the team's second car at the Sandown and Bathurst enduros, selected ATCC races and generally 'flying the flag' for Nissan at the AMSCAR series run at Sydney's Amaroo Park.
Fred Gibson gave Nissan its first touring car race win in Australia (and the first turbocharged win in Australian touring car racing) when he won heats 2 and 3 of Round 3 of the 1983 AMSCAR series. After finishing 2nd in heat 1, Gibson won the round, going on to eventually finish 3rd in the series final pointscore behind Sydney based privateer's Terry Sheil (Mazda RX-7) and Terry Finnigan (Holden VH Commodore).
Gibson's win in the AMSCAR round was his first major touring car win since he drove the Ford teams new XA Falcon Hardtop to win the Chesterfield 250 at the Adelaide International Raceway in 1973, giving him the distinction of being the first winner in both the Falcon Hardtop and the turbocharged Bluebird. His 1983 AMSCAR win would also prove to be the last win of Gibson's driving career.
During the early 1980s Gibson's Road & Track business also built Group C Ford Falcon's for Sydney privateer Joe Moore. The Ford XD Falcon built by Gibson and raced by Moore at the 1981 James Hardie 1000 was co-driven by Fred Gibson's wife Christine, herself a successful racer. It was the Moore falcon, with Chris Gibson driving, which was involved at the start of the accident with the second placed Falcon of Bob Morris that caused the race to be red flagged on lap 121 of 163. It was the first of so far only two times the race has been red flagged because of an accident.
Gibson retired from driving after 1983 and replaced Marsden as Nissan team boss at the end of 1984, overseeing the successful introduction of the turbocharged Nissan Skyline program during Group A era (1985–92). As many of the leading teams at the time had established stars in the driving seat, Gibson took advantage and introduced young drivers Glenn Seton (1986) and Mark Skaife (1987) into touring car racing, as well as employing Seton's father Barry as the teams chief engine builder.
The Nissan Skyline RS DR30 first appeared in 1986 and the team, now becoming known as Gibson Motor Sport, became one of the leading Group A teams in Australia. Fury (1986) and Seton (1987) were runners up in the Australian Touring Car Championship, while Gary Scott claimed pole at the 1986 James Hardie 1000. Jim Richards joined the team in 1989 and would go on to win the 1990 and 1991 ATCC's, the second with the famed Nissan GT-R. This was followed up with Mark Skaife winning the 1992 ATCC, also in the GT-R.
Richards and Skaife drive the GT-R to a dominant win in the 1991 Tooheys 1000, with Skaife becoming the first driver since Peter Brock in 1983 to claim pole position, fastest race lap (in the team's second GT-R) and the win in the Bathurst 1000. Skaife's pole time of 2:12.630 and fastest lap of 2:14.50 in the Gibson built GT-R in 1991 remain the fastest ever recorded Group A times at the 6.213 km (3.861 mi) Mount Panorama Circuit.
Skaife and Richards would repeat their win in the GT-R in 1992 in a crash shortened race which ended after 142 of the scheduled 161 laps. Richards had crashed the car at the top of The Mountain after a rainstorm had hit the circuit and would join a five car wreck on Conrod Straight, causing the race to be red flagged. As Richards had been leading on the previous lap, he and Skaife were declared winners. Later on the podium, both Skaife and Richards expressed their disgust with the unruly crowd below, many of whom mistakenly believed that the second placed Ford Sierra RS500 of Dick Johnson and John Bowe should have been declared the winners. Richards famously called the crowd a "pack of arseholes"
With only one car available, Gibson Motor Sport would win the last ever competitive Group A race in Australia when Richards drove the GT-R to victory in the Clarke Shoes Group A Finale support race at the 1992 Australian Grand Prix meeting in Adelaide.
Years after the end of Group A in a magazine interview (and subsequent television appearances), Fred Gibson has admitted that the GT-R's weren't quite as hobbled in 1992 as the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) were led to believe. While the cars did indeed finish their racing weighing 1500 kg, the quoted power figure was a fabrication. In their 1991 specification the GT-R's had approximately 630 bhp (470 kW; 639 PS), but for 1992 CAMS imposed pop-off valves on the cars twin-turbo's which were supposed to drop them to around 450 bhp (336 kW; 456 PS). Gibson explained that CAMS actually had no idea how to work the valves (the same FIA units used in Formula One in 1987 and 1988) and that he had to show them how they worked. His team also built a rig to show the power figures, but had set it to show exactly what CAMS wanted to see. In reality in 1992, the Nissan GT-R's still ran with over 600 bhp (447 kW; 608 PS).
5.0 Litre Touring Cars
Gibson continued to run the team in the post Group A era as a Holden team, becoming a winner again within six months of completely rebuilding the team around the Holden VP Commodore race cars, and championship success returned with Skaife in 1994.
As a former Ford Works Team driver, Gibson had originally approached Ford about running the Ford EB Falcon in 1993, but when Ford were reluctant to back the move, Gibson turned to Holden instead.
The end of tobacco sponsorship forced an end to the team's lucrative sponsorship partner, Winfield. Their fortunes declined in the mid-90s as budgets dwindled. Partnership with K-Mart in the late 90's brought another Bathurst win (1999 FAI 1000). Gibson's role in the team declined in the late 90's and he eventually sold his interest in the team.
Gibson returned to a direct involvement with his former team in 2001 during a dramatic switch with series star Craig Lowndes joining the team as they switched to Ford. Despite the spectacular beginning results did not come quickly and the team declined again. After an acrimonious split which included a court case over merchandising rights Gibson stepped away from the sport to retire, but is a regular at race meetings and keeps involved in racing. In 2004 Gibson was inducted into the V8 Supercar Hall of Fame.
Gibson Motor Sport first competed in Open-wheel racing in the 1988 Australian Drivers' Championship for Formula 2 cars (entered under the name of Dave Thompson). In Round 4 of the championship at the Adelaide International Raceway, Glenn Seton drove a Nissan powered Ralt RT4 to victory in his only race of the series. Surprisingly considering Seton's domination of the Adelaide round, this was the only open wheel race the team would run until 1990. Despite running only 1 of the 7 rounds of the series, Seton finished equal 14th in the championship.
The team entered a Spa FB001 for Mark Skaife to drive in the 1990 Australian Drivers' Championship for Formula Holden cars (the team was entered under the name Skaife Racing P/L). Skaife would finish 3rd in the championship, winning Round 4 at Mallala in South Australia (the same day that Skaife gave the Nissan GT-R its ATCC debut).
Mark Skaife would go on to win the championship for Gibson in 1991, 1992 and 1993 when Formula Holden had changed its name to Formula Brabham in honour of Sir Jack Brabham. Skaife also drove a Spa FB003 to victory in the Formula Brabham races at the 1991 and 1992 Australian Grand Prix's in Adelaide.
Gibson is married to fellow former racing driver, Christine Gibson (née Cole); the couple have two daughters. Fred and Chris Gibson have been married since the mid-1970s.
Christine was a successful racer in her own right, finishing a fine 5th outright in the 1975 Australian Touring Car Championship despite driving a three-litre class Alfa Romeo GTV 2000. If not for being disqualified from Round. 7 of the championship in Adelaide she would have finished 3rd outright behind winner Colin Bond (Holden Dealer Team Torana LH L34) and runner-up Murray Carter (Falcon XB GT Hardtop). After the crash at bathurst in 1981, Christine took two years off from racing but would return would join her husband in the Nissan team from 1983 to drive the teams turbocharged Nissan Pulsar EXA. She shared the car with veteran Bob Muir at the 1983 James Hardie 1000, and would partner a young Glenn Seton in the 1984 race in what was Seton's first drive for the team and Christine's last. Fred Gibson only ever tested the Pulsar EXA once, and proclaimed his wife "A bloody hero for driving that". The front wheel drive EXA turbo, while very potent in a straight line, was known as a very evil handling car.
|Winner of the Bathurst 500
(with Harry Firth)