Grand visionary

Former racer who defied the odds and brought Adelaide Alive

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

FORMULA One is all cutting-edge business and squillion-dollar deals. In the early 1980s, it was all very… 1980s. One man who should know is Adelaide business and marketing man Bill O’Gorman, the father of the Australian F1 Grand Prix.

Conception occurred at an Adelaide corporate Christmas party. “We were all halfpissed, to be honest with you,” says O’Gorman.

“It was 1982 and we were talking about South Australia’s Jubilee 150 in 1986. I said, ‘I suppose we’ll celebrate with sewing and knitting?’”

Asked what he’d do, O’Gorman responded: “An F1 grand prix.”

He had motorsport form. In 1970 he began racing a Ford Escort Twin Cam (“my first race was at Calder, and it snowed”) and in 1972 he bought the unique Matich SR5 2.0-litre sports racer, which he raced successfully for four years. As a punter, he’d attended the British, French and Italian GPs.

O’Gorman wrote to SA Premier John Bannon and in short order was named chair of the GP board. “I still knew a lot of people from motorsport. Jack [Brabham] was very helpful, although I don’t think he believed it would actually happen. And Alan Jones said if we could get a GP here, he’d come back [out of retirement] – which he did.”

In April 1983, Alan Bond showed what an international event could do. Then Adelaide’s Vern Schuppan won Le Mans. O’Gorman suggested the Premier host a celebratory luncheon, where the GP plan was announced.

In May 1984, O’Gorman and senior politico Mal Hemmerling visited Bernie Ecclestone in London. “Bernie’s office had a big glass table.

He sat on it and said, ‘Right. Where’s Australia and where’s Adelaide?’”

Ecclestone wasn’t overly interested, though he certainly noted Hemmerling’s government guarantee. Two months later, O’Gorman was visiting the British GP when Ecclestone chased him down. The Dallas GP had been a disaster and Bernie was ready to deal.

“We had discussed terms at the first meeting. He wanted $US2m, 100 percent of the signage he sells, 50 percent of the signage we sell, and we get the gate. He said, ‘If you want it, you have to take it in 1985, not 1986’. And I said, ‘Okay, but it has to be for three years-plus’.

And he said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do a deal.’”

The FIA only approved its calendar in October, leaving just 12 months to put the event together.

‘Adelaide Alive’ was exactly that. O’Gorman’s fondest memory is when the F1 cars were about to go out for the first time. “The two Tyrrells were first in line and Bernie walked across and stopped them – and called for Alan Jones to come through and do the first lap.”

Politics lost Adelaide the race, but by then O’Gorman had moved on to other business.

Subsequent motorsport projects included onemake Suzuki Swift GTi and Mitsubishi Mirage race series.

Today, O’Gorman is project-managing the Cardinia Motor Recreation and Education Park, near Pakenham, Victoria. The 50ha facility was initiated by kart mogul Drew Price with an eye to the state’s future motorsport and driver training needs.

Does O’Gorman still follow F1? “Oh yeah, but I’m not happy with it. It needs to be a motor race, not an ecology convention.”

PIONEER PAPA

MARKETER and motor racing raconteur Bill O’Gorman delivered the 1985 Adelaide GP, chairing the AGP committee that would bring F1 to Australia. “The most important part for us was that nobody believed we could do it,” he grins. O’Gorman even went out and won the inaugural AGP Celebrity Race.

“Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo.

Bloody quick car. No bloody brakes, though.”