In the broader context of the 2000 CART season, it just about ranked as a footnote: a midfield team stuck a local driver into its sole car for the last flyaway of the year. Said local did a solid job until his day was ended by contact 15 laps from the end, and he climbed from the car to enthusiastic applause from a hometown crowd that had long dreamed of seeing one of its own out on the track with the visitors.
And that was it. Adrian Fernandez won the 2000 Gold Coast 300 ahead of Kenny Brack and Jimmy Vasser, and Jason Bright never had the chance to drive a Champ Car again. When the series reconvened for the finale at Fontana a fortnight later, Memo Gidley was back in Della Penna’s No. 10 Reynard.
For Bright, who’d spent that season in Indy Lights, the Surfers race also marked the end of a brief U.S. foray. Already a Bathurst winner before heading to the States – he shared a Stone Brothers Falcon with Steve Richards to take the victory in 1998 – he refocused on Australian touring car racing, and over the years that followed built a successful career in V8 Supercars until retiring from full-time competition at the end of 2017.
But you never forget your first time. Especially your first time in a Champ Car.
“The best thing about that weekend was sitting on the grid at an Australian international event,” Bright recalls. “It felt like, for the lead-up, there wasn’t really enough awareness that there was an Aussie in the race. But come Sunday morning on the driver parade, it was insane. I remember all the drivers in front looking behind trying to figure out why the crowd was going crazy for the back of the field!
“The big disappointment for me that weekend was the weather. It rained for all of practice; there was an hour and a half practice both Friday and Saturday, and then it was dry for both qualifying sessions. We’d been mid-field in the wet, but qualifying came down to the first couple of laps of first qualifying, which were my first laps on the track in the dry. The second qualifying session, when I’d done more laps, was a much slower session because there was rubbish all over the track and really windy, so no one improved in that session.”
The jump from Indy Lights to a Champ Car – on a street circuit – was eye-opening.
“Power-wise, it was insane,” he says. “We were doing 320km/h (199mph) at the end of the straight at the Gold Coast – and it was still accelerating. They were crazy-powerful cars. Really good to drive. If I compare it to an Indy Lights car, with those you had to be more aggressive; you had to really get up on the wheel in that car; the IndyCar was a much bigger beast. It took you three laps to get the tires up to temperature, and then they had a crazy amount of power.
“For that one event [the budget] was AUD $900,000 (around USD $560,000, based on the average 2000 exchange rate). At the time there was a lot of work in getting over there that year and making that deal happen. [Promoters] IMG and the Queensland Government believed in what we were telling them in that having an Aussie in that event was going to take it to another level.”
Now, 20 years on, Bright’s curious to know what happened to the car he drove around the streets of Surfers Paradise.
“I’d be really interested to know what became of that car, the last time I saw it was when I stepped out of it 20 years ago in the pits on the Gold Coast,” he says. “There’s no doubt it’s a special part of my career, so to know what became of it would be great.”
A Reynard 2KI similar to that driven by Bright was advertised for sale by Della Penna two years ago, although that appears to have been a spare car. Also at large is Bright’s race suit from the event. The one he had custom-made for the race was several sizes too big, so he competed in one of Gidley’s suits with tape over the name.
Anyone with leads on where the Reynard – believed to be chassis number 2KI-023 – might be living today is invited to get in touch.