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Mini's 40 years at Bathurst


"It was really different; you can't describe those sorts of feelings," he says.

"It gave me a different attitude to lots of things, I was usually on the bottom of the barrel, suddenly I was on the top."

And it wasn't just a success for Holden and his partner BMC's Finnish works driver Rauno Aaltonen, but for Mini cars overall, which filled the top nine places.

On Sunday October 8, Minis and Mini fans will gather at Bathurst before the 2006 Great Race to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their victory. Holden will lead a parade of more than 50 Minis, mainly older models, including a replica of the 1966 Cooper S he raced. The original was stolen from outside a Sydney nightspot, never to be seen again.

Mini is also considering making a return to Bathurst next Easter for the 12-hour race for production cars.

"We're considering our options for 2007 and if the 12-hour race fits with our program we'll be there," Mini spokesman Alexander Corne says. "It has appeal to us because Mini and Bathurst have a strong history."

Holden plays a big part in that history, launching Minis into the spotlight with his 1 1/2-lap victory in the 1966 event.

"I only drove little cars, which means you don't get noticed until something like Bathurst and you beat all the bigger ones, then you're on top again," Holden says.

The racing legend's rise to success was one of determination and commitment.

Born with what he describes as "twisted feet" and contracting polio while in hospital at the age of five, Holden was told he would never walk. But he was determined to "get mobile".

Walking led to riding bicycles and competing, until an injured knee forced him out of the sport. It was a simple progression into his next sport of choice when he was 18.

"I wanted to do something else, so I started playing around with motorcars," he says.

Even today, Holden doesn't hesitate to showcase his talents on the track, driving a Mini in last weekend's Speed On Tweed and competing at Eastern Creek and Queensland raceways in recent weeks. Earlier this year, Holden raced a V8 ute at Bathurst. "I still win races every now and then," he says.

Holden's resume includes racing Peugeots, Holdens, MGs, Escorts, BMWs and Corollas and stretches to "thousands" of events spanning more than 56 years.

He competed at Bathurst 34 times and says he particularly enjoyed driving the Minis.

"The car itself did things that no other car did in those days," he says.

"They were pretty important, they were attainable, it wasn't very expensive. You haven't got overhang, everything was balanced, it was front-wheel-drive which, at that stage, wasn't thought of very much."

Minis began production in Australia in 1961 and Corne says they quickly became part of the racing scene.

The Cooper S was introduced in 1964 and although production stopped in 1971, the cars were still racing up until 1976.

At the upcoming anniversary, Holden will get behind the wheel of a 2006 model Mini Cooper S.

This is one of three 2006 Minis that has been competing and will continue to compete in the big motorsport events throughout the year. And Holden says the new version of the car that has developed a cult-like following over the decades, is just as much fun to drive, even though it's a little bigger. "I love it," he says. "It's still got all the atmosphere. It has front pockets, it's front-wheel-drive; all Mini things."

As with the cars he drove, Holden is kicking on and says he feels better now than ever. Even recent battles with cancer can't slow him down. "I love being me and being able to do this," he says.

"When you are told you're never supposed to be walking, every day's a bonus.

"People ask why I'm still racing. If I stopped, I'd stay stopped. I wouldn't get going again. I want to keep going."

Mini launched a search for colour photos of the 1966 victory through CARSguide and they have reaped rewards, with the discovery of several colour pictures.

The 2007 Mini will be going on display at the Paris Motor Show next week.

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