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Bathurst 24 Hours – Ross Palmer
The PROCAR Philosophy

The Executive Chairman of PROCAR Australia is a very busy man. We caught up with him as he charged his way through burger and chips, standing outside the Garry Rogers Monaro garage. But he kindly adjusted his schedule to allow us 45 minutes in his company, which included a lap of the track in his Cayenne - to check some signwriting that was going on at the top of the hill. Signwriting for one of his other companies - guess the name of the company.

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This man who started out as a welder in his father's company, and worked his way up to become a major industrialist in both Australia and North America, now devotes a good proportion of his time to PROCAR, but even that is moving along so relatively smoothly that he's about to take a step back, and leave the running of the series in the hands of the capable people he has employed.

dailysportscar.comAs we drove through the paddock to find some fuel to keep the Cayenne going, it was apparent that he knows an awful lot of people here on first name terms. And a lot of people have a deep respect (and friendship) towards him. We were just about to find out why.

"I'm blessed with a creative and innovative mind, but I'm also a marketing man, and engineer and philosopher all rolled into one. I'm also a very committed man - committed to my loyal staff and the teams that have grown to put PROCAR where it is now."

He's also a racing driver, and having raced in the 'Ring 24 Hours seven times ("six times in BMWs, and the seventh in a new turbo Beetle, which annoyed Volkswagen"), it was a natural (though difficult) step to bring a 24 hour race to Bathurst.

"Over the years it's been 'maybe this year, maybe this year', but eventually I had to take the decision to do it. When you're about to lose money, there's never a right time to take the decision....."

But Ross Palmer isn't going to 'take a hit' on this event for long. It was David Addison who pointed out on the circuit commentary last year that the 24 Hours could well overtake a certain other event here in popularity, and that didn't go down too well with the organisers of the 'other event' at Bathurst. It gave Ross Palmer a chuckle though when he heard those words. He does like to provoke, to cause more than a little controversy. But such short term amusement is balanced by a long term commitment.

"I've got a 100 year contract with the city to run this race."

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So as we mentioned in a brief item yesterday that Ross Palmer has expanded PROCAR from nine production cars in 1995, to 200 teams racing in several series this year. How has he done that?

"I call it parity racing. Create something so that everyone has an equal chance. And our top cars in the Nations Cup lap in similar times to the Supercar V8s, but running on 20% of the budget.

"We talk to all the teams, and listen to their opinions. We've got an interesting situation coming up with Jim Richards: he's going to race a Porsche next season, and the way Jim Richards does things, they know he'll do it as well as anyone can. The other teams are worried, but we'll have to organise it so that Jim's car doesn't run away with the races. That's parity racing.

"We cater to every vehicle manufacturer here, not just a couple of them. Have you seen the five litre BMW here? We plan to have four of them racing next year, and by selling the franchise to run the cars for three years, the team will benefit when they own the franchise in three years' time. This series is going to keep on growing."

The fertile Ross Palmer brain isn't just concerned with his PROCAR though: the innovative thinker came up with the Formula Green idea (see separate item) and had to rush off at 15.00 to take part in a formal tree-planting - with Peter Brock and David Brabham. "We're planting enough trees here to offset the environmental effects of this race, and we're involving politicians in what we're doing. The Deputy Prime Minister of Australia is the Grand Marshal here, for example."

So isn't a Porsche Cayenne something of an anachronism for a man with environmental beliefs? "Within 12 months I'll have this car running on hydrogen."

There's a lot more to Ross Palmer than we can present during the race meeting, but he is much more than 'Mr Bathurst 24 Hour' and 'Mr. PROCAR'. “This is American style marketing, European style road racing – with the Australian touch,” was one of his quotes we used yesterday.

And suddenly we can see parallels with what another series is doing on another continent. This Bathurst meeting has more than a little of a Petit Le Mans feel about it, and Ross Palmer is very keen to meet Don Panoz. The latter is now an Australian resident for three months of the year, and it certainly seems as though the time is right for these two giants to meet. And the Holden Monaro is a Pontiac GTO, isn't it?

Thank you, Ross Palmer. It's been a real eye opener.

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