Five-times Bathurst winner Mark Skaife yesterday announced he will retire from full-time driving at the end of the 2008 season
Skaife, 41, said the decision had been difficult, but that it was the right time to move on.
“Motor racing has been my life for the past 21 years and, as any professional sportsperson will attest, if you have a love and passion for what you are doing, for the competition and being on top of your game, then retirement is not something you ever easily consider.
“But the reality is that you do come to point in your career when you have a decision to make. I’m looking to the future for both myself and the Toll Holden Racing Team, and while this decision ends one phase of my career, I’m confident it will also open doors and exciting new opportunities.”
Skaife’s list of achievements is unsurpassed in Australian motor sport, with a record-equalling five Australian Touring Car/V8 Supercar Championships (tied with Ian Geoghegan and Dick Johnson), five Bathurst 1000 titles and a record 40 Australian Touring Car/V8 Supercar Championship round victories. He also has three consecutive Australian Drivers’ Championships (1991-93).
Skaife said he was looking forward to ending his career on a high note over the season’s remaining rounds, including the NRMA Grand Finale at Sydney’s Oran Park Raceway – ironically that circuit’s last ever V8 Supercar event.
Skaife holds the track qualifying record, set in 1999, and has won at Oran Park six times previously – including four in a row from 1999-2002 – while HRT won at the track for seven consecutive years from 1996-2002.
Having begun racing in karts before moving to cars, Skaife made his professional debut at the wheel of a factory-backed Nissan Gazelle at Winton Motor Raceway in 1987, finishing third, and later showed his versatility by winning three consecutive Australian Drivers’ Championships in the Formula Holden open-wheelers.
As a works Nissan driver in 1992 he clinched the Australian Touring Car Championship, Australian Drivers’ Championship and Bathurst 1000 in the same season before moving to Holden with Gibson Motorsport at the beginning of the V8 Supercar era the following year.
Jumping to the Holden Racing Team in 1997 upon the retirement of the legendary Peter Brock, Skaife won a hat-trick of championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002 in addition to back-to-back successes at Bathurst in 2001 and 2002.
He assumed ownership of HRT in 2003 and mounted a championship challenge that was alive until the final round of the series. In 2005 he collected his fifth Bathurst 1000 victory, with Todd Kelly.
Last year Skaife chalked up 20 years as a professional racing driver at Winton, and the following round again rewrote the record books, his victory at Eastern Creek notching the 38th victory of his career to eclipse the all-time record of racing legend Brock.
His tally increased to 39 wins earlier this year when Skaife was retrospectively awarded the 2000 Clipsal 500 title after series organisers corrected a rules anomaly, and he added win number 40 with his and Garth Tander’s victory in last month’s L&H 500 at Phillip Island.
Skaife said three performances stood out from the others during the past 21 years. “The first was in ’92 when I won my first Touring Car Championship in the Nissan, and then being the youngest ever to do so,” Skaife said.
“That same day we also won the Australian Drivers Championship in a Formula Holden open wheeler, so it was a great day.
“The second was winning the V8 Championship in 1994 with a Fred Gibson Commodore as it was Holden’s first title for 14 years since Brock and HDT in 1980.
“The 2002 HRT Bathurst win with Jim Richards was also one of my favourite moments, as it sealed the championship at the same time and came 10 years after we last won Bathurst together in 1992.”