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Bathurst 1000 Preview

DSC takes a look at this year's running of Supercars' annual race on Mount Panorama

EDITORS NOTE: This weekend DSC will be covering Supercars’ marquee event: the Bathurst 1000.

DSC doesn’t have a history of covering Supercars, but that’s no reason not to give it a go. Michael Zalavari will be filing a race report at the end of the weekend and has submitted a preview to the event to get you in the mood.

We hope you enjoy our first attempt at following Australia’s ‘great race’. Who knows where it will lead?

SK

There’s a saying in Australia, about the Melbourne Cup horse race. Held on the first Tuesday of November, the annual 2-mile thoroughbred horse race is coined ‘the race that stops the nation.’

Australians also have ‘the other race that stops the nation,’ for another type of thoroughbred horsepower. A 1000-kilometre endurance test across one of Australia’s most hallowed pieces of tarmac.

I’m talking, of course, about the Bathurst 1000.

The Bathurst 1000 is the crown jewel of Australian motorsport. The country town, 3 hours west of Sydney has seen international attention in the sportscar world for the annual 12 hours, now part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge. But for the locals, nothing tops the 1000. The exhibition of pure Australian muscle is in full force, with 26 V8 Supercars, 16 Holden Commodores, six Ford Mustangs, and four Nissan Altimas, each a tonne-and-a-half and producing 650bhp, echoing between the concrete walls of The Mountain.

For a week in October, over 150,000 motorsport fanatics make the pilgrimage to Mount Panorama, to see who will be crowned the King of the Mountain. It’s a tradition dating back to 1963 when the Australian Endurance Classic moved from Phillip Island in Victoria to Mount Panorama Scenic Drive. The 6.213km public road became a race track for a weekend, Australian racing legend Bob Jane took victory in the 500-mile race, and a new event was born.

Bathurst is a race where legends are made. But the thing about Bathurst is, you’re either a Red or a Blue, Holden or Ford. There’s no in-between at The Mountain. Holden has more wins at the mountain, with 33 to Ford’s 20. Nissan has two, while Jaguar and, funnily enough, Mini, have one each.

The Reds boast the likes Jim Richards, Mark Skaife, Larry Perkins, and Craig Lowndes. Richards, a seven-time winner and the oldest man to win at 55 years and 41 days, is best remembered for his infamous ‘pack of arseholes’ after the 1992 event, after crashing ‘Godzilla’, the AWD Nissan GT-R, but being granted victory as a result of a red flag. His co-driver on that occasion, Mark Skaife, won six Bathurst’s, most recently in 2010 with Craig Lowndes. Perkins, a former F1 driver, also won six Bathurst’s, and despite never taking a V8 Supercars crown, his Bathurst haul cements him as one of the greats.

In the Blue corner, the likes of Allan Moffat and Dick Johnson hold legend status. Allan Moffat was Ford’s best answer to Peter Brock, taking 4 victories in the Falcon GTHO, XA and XC models. His most famous victory was the 1977 race, where he and teammate Jacky Ickx won ahead of the sister car of Colin Bond and Alan Hamilton, coming across the line in a formation finish.

Dick Johnson’s story is one of Bathurst folklore. While leading the 1980 race, Dick Johnson came over the crest at The Cutting to find a recovery vehicle on the race line. In an attempt to avoid the vehicle, Dick swerved and hit a large rock that had been thrown onto the track by a fan, totalling the front of the car. After an emotional TV interview where Johnson described the personal financial cost of the accident, the viewing public called the station to pledge money to rebuild Johnson’s car, totalling over $70k. Johnson rebuilt his car and came back the following season to win Bathurst and the championship. A total of three Bathurst crowns and five championships cemented his position as the Blue Oval’s hero.

But there is one who stands above all, one King of the Mountain: Peter Brock. Brock’s nine victories stand alone as the most wins at Bathurst. Brock took his first win in 1972, the last of the 500-mile events, and his last in 1987. His most famous victory came in the 1979 event, at the seat of the A9-X Torana. Driving with Jim Richards, the duo won by 6 laps, setting a new lap record on the last lap of the race. With nine wins and six poles, Brocky is synonymous with Bathurst.

In 2006, Peter Brock had an accident while competing in a Targa rally. He lost his life only weeks ahead of that year’s Bathurst 1000. In response, a minute’s silence was observed, the front row of the grid was left vacant, and the Bathurst 1000 trophy was redesigned and renamed in his honour. The Mountain would never be the same.

That event, the first without Brocky, was a classic. The last stint saw two championship contenders, one Ford, one Holden, battle to the closest competition finish at the time. Jamie Whincup, and Craig Lowndes, a friend and protege of Peter Brock, became the first name engraved on the trophy bearing his mentor’s name. It was a result that was a fitting tribute to the King of the Mountain.

Lowndes has won the event six times, to place equal second on the all-time winners list alongside Jim Richards. He, and Jim’s son Steven Richards are the defending winners but are not driving together this year. Lowndes is taking on co-driver duties for the first time, after retiring from full time racing at the end of last season. He’s partnering with V8 Supercars legend Jamie Whincup in car 888, who has seven championships and four ‘Bathurst’s’ to his name. Jamie is hoping to get the monkey off his back at Bathurst.

Since his last win in 2012, Whincup has been at odds with The Mountain. He ran out of fuel on the last lap while leading in 2014, was handed a penalty for passing the safety car in 2015, penalised for a late incident in 2016, suffered an electrical gremlin in 2017 and lost a wheel last year. And that has been the story of Whincup’s Bathurst woes, a trend he’s hoping to change this year. The pair have a history together, taking a Bathurst three-peat from 2006 to 2008, and with Triple 8 Race Engineering machinery behind them, the pair are a formidable pick for this year’s race.

The sister Triple 8 machine is the #97 car, featuring Shane Van Gisbergen and Garth Tander. Shane is the best placed Commodore driver in the championship this season and is no stranger to The Mountain. In 2014 he was in the box-seat for victory in a mad flurry late in the race, until a stall in the pits and a broken starter motor put him out of contention.

In GT machinery, Van Gisbergen has caught the imagination of many with his efforts in the 12 Hour, taking victory in 2016 (his Tekno Mclaren pictured below) and a hero stint this year to take fourth this year. While he has won a V8 Supercars championship to go along with his international acclaim in GT machinery, he has yet to win at the Bathurst 1000.

His co-driver is no stranger to Bathurst success: Garth Tander has three Bathurst wins and is coming off the back of taking the Australian GT Endurance title. The driver shuffles last season saw him without a full-time drive for 2019, but with recent V8 Supercars experience, Bathurst knowledge, and results in other categories, Garth will be a co-driver to watch in this year’s race.

The favourite for the weekend, however, comes from the Dick Johnson Racing/Team Penske garage. Johnson’s famous #17 will be piloted by reigning V8 Supercars champion and series leader Scott McLaughlin, and former Audi LMP1 driver Alex Premat. McLaughlin has had a stellar season, breaking the record for most race wins in a season with 17, and six races remaining. Despite being strong contenders, Bathurst hasn’t been kind to McLaughlin.

An uneventful third place last year as event favourites broke a string of bad results, including a failed engine and a late-race accident. This year, McLaughlin and ‘Frenchie’ [Premat] are un-backable favourites to break the drought. With the strong Mustang platform underneath (below) and the backing of Johnson and Roger Penske, the organisation is looking to win the first Bathurst for Ford since 2014.

Their teammates in the #12 car, Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto, are an outside shot at victory. Coulthard has his own slice of Bathurst infamy; on the first lap of the 2010 race, a blown left-rear tyre heading into the 300km sweeper at The Chase pitched the car sideways and off the road, resulting in a spectacular tumbling crash into the gravel runoff. This season has seen Coulthard fall into the shadow of his more successful team-mate, but his position firmly in the battle for second in the championship speaks volumes to his quality, and he shouldn’t be written off. Tony D’Alberto has recently been competing with WM Waste racing in the Australian GT series, and with Wall Racing at the Bathurst 12 Hour.

The remainder of the Mustang stable sees a four-car effort from Tickford Racing. With two former race winners in the team and the Mustang at their disposal, a win from this team is certainly on the cards. The most likely chance comes from 2014 race winner and third place in the championship Chaz Mostert, driving with James Moffat in the #55.

Chaz has grabbed international attention with his recent efforts as a BMW driver, but his win in the frantic 2014 Bathurst is one of the most iconic moments at the Mountain. After starting from last on the grid, making contact with the wall at Griffins bend twice, and a drive-through penalty, Mostert was the first driver in line when the lead car ran out of fuel on the last lap. He and his endurance cup winning team-mate from 2018 will be looking to improve on their fourth-placed finish last year.

2009 and 2016 winner Will Davison is partnered with brother Alex in the 23 car, who has recent WEC experience in the Gulf Porsche. Car #5 features an exciting mix of experience and youth, with V8 Supercars stalwart Lee Holdsworth partnering 23-year-old Thomas Randle, while car #6 features an experienced pair of Cameron Waters and Michael Caruso.

The best of the privateer entries come from a pair of Erebus Motorsport Commodores, both looking for redemption at The Mountain. David Reynolds and Luke Youlden, in the #9 car, were winners of the 2017 event and entered 2018 as one of the favourites. Starting from pole, and leading for the majority of the event, Reynolds began to suffer cramp heading to the last stint of the race. Unable to hold down the clutch saw the wheels spin while on the jacks in the pit stop, resulting in a penalty.

An emotional and ‘shattered’ Reynolds was pulled from the car afterwards, in stark contrast to the normally jovial fan favourite. The sister car, #99, features a pair of young guns; Anton De Pasquale and Will Brown maintain their partnership from last year, in a duo that is coming of age in Australian motorsports. De Pasquale has been the strongest of last year’s class of rookies, sitting just outside the top 10 in the championship, while Brown has just taken the inaugural Australian TCR championship. A strong race was marred by a late-race crash at the Metal Grate, dropping the car from a possible top 10 to the last classified finisher.

The Nissan charge features four cars, all run by the Kelly Racing outfit. Since its return to Supercars in 2013, Nissan has yet to taste ultimate success at the mountain, with only a single podium in the frantic 2014 race to celebrate.

The most likely challenge from the Nissans come from the #7 Heimgartner/Fullwood pairing, currently 12th in the championship, or car #15, featuring two-time Bathurst champion Rick Kelly partnered with Dale Wood. The #78 car of Simona De Silvestro and Alex Rullo will have some extra attention, with Simona looking to back up her first top 10 finish in V8 Supercars amidst questions around her future in the series. The #3 Jacobson/Fiore car rounds out the Nissan entry.

The former factory Holden outfit, Walkinshaw Andretti United (featured), is fielding three cars this year. Full-season entries #2 (Scott Pye/Warren Luff) and #22 (James Courtney/Jack Perkins) are joined by wildcard entry #27, featuring Andretti Autosport drivers Alex Rossi and James Hinchcliffe. The pair have been down under testing their NAPA Auto Parts sponsored car at Winton, and are hoping to emulate recent good results from Bathurst wildcards by placing in the top 10.

Both are expecting their addition to adding to the international interest of the event and provide an example to other drivers hoping to get involved. WAU has a long history at Bathurst, with numerous wins as the factory Holden outfit. Pye and Luff will be looking to breakthrough for their first Bathurst wins after finishing second in the previous two years.

After last year’s win with Craig Lowndes, Steven Richards reunites with past driving partner Mark Winterbottom at the seat of the #18 car. The pair themselves won in 2013, for “Frosty’s” first Bathurst win. While Chalrie Schwerkolt’s #18 outfit may not have the backing of the factory teams, the driving talent and experience is certainly good enough to take a win.

Brad Jones Racing features their three regular cars of Percat/Blanchard, Slade/Walsh and M. Jones/Canto. BJR’s drivers all have vast experience at Bathurst, with Percat taking victory co-driving with Garth Tander in 2011. However, with the quality of the rest of the field, it would be an outside shot, if any, at victory.

The entry list is completed by two cars for Garry Rogers Motorsport, a car from Tekno Autosports, one from Matt Stone Racing and a wildcard at the hands of Kostecki Brothers Racing. The GRM cars feature young talent, continuing Garry’s knack for identifying and bringing through new drivers.

The #34 Golding/Muscat pair is overshadowed by the international eyes on car #33, of Richie Stanaway and Chris Pither. Stanaway’s successful stint as a co-driver in 2017, winning the traditional Bathurst pre-cursor event at Sandown and performing one of the stints of the race at Bathurst saw him switch from Sportscars to Supercars, however, his full-time Supercars career has yet to yield the results expected.

Tekno Autosports (#19, Le Brocq/Webb) are hoping to improve on results that have deserted them since their Bathurst win in 2016. The #35 Matt Stone Racing (Hazelwood/Smith) car has a fan-favourite livery for the weekend, reprising the SP Tools Stone Brothers Racing livery from 2012. In what has been a break-out season for the team, a top 10 would be a solid result.

Finally, Kostecki Brothers Racing are stepping up to the main game after running a Super 2 team for the last few seasons. Dipping their toes in the main game on the biggest stage will be a valuable experience for the team with ambitions to run full time.

Practice for the Bathurst 1000 is split into 7 sessions, starting on Thursday the 10th of October. Qualifying is in the traditional Bathurst format, with a 40-minute session at 4 pm local/6 am BST/2 am EST on Friday the 11th, and the top 10 shootout starting Saturday 5 pm local/7 am BST/3 am EST.

Green flag for the 59th Bathurst 1000 falls at Sunday 11:30 am local/1:30 am BST/Saturday 8:30 pm EST. Coverage in Australia is on Fox Sports 506, Kayo, and on free-to-air Channel 10, with international coverage on Superview.

Images courtesy of Red Bull Holden, Kelly Racing, Tickford Racing & Ford Australia