The Bathurst 1000 is a bloody hard race to win. Some fast and experienced drivers have tried year after year without making it.
So kudos to those drivers and teams who’ve managed the deed more than once.
If mechanical issues don’t interfere – and this is less likely in this era of electronics-monitored naturally aspirated V8 reliability – there are always race-ending possibilities like a self-inflicted crash, or a tyre failure-related shunt, or being an innocent caught up in silliness triggered by others.
While in this modern V8 Supercars era speed differences are tiny and fewer cars are on the track – a small but very competitive 26-car field is set for October 12 – speeds are generally higher and lap times lower.
During the 161 laps, there are also the possibilities of nasty surprises provided by an errant rock or wheel. Or kangaroo or horse. Bathurst is a rural area after all.
It can also be subjected to the vagaries of weather – blazing hot days, and perhaps the twist of the knife … drenching rain. It has even snowed.
There’s no surprise perhaps that 2014 Sandown 500 winners Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell are the favoured duo. Again.
While a Sandown win doesn’t necessarily point to a triumphal drive at Bathurst, more importantly Whincup (and Dumbrell) know how to drive to win in the 1000, and they’re backed by the classiest team of recent times, Triple Eight.
Ominously for the rest, though the Holden Racing Team’s double podium in the traditional Bathurst tune-up, with James Courtney/Greg Murphy second and Garth Tander/Warren Luff third, sent a strong reminder that this outfit will again be a massive threat on the Mountain.
Lots of pace and experience in the other Red Bull Holden too with Craig Lowndes and Steve Richards pairing up. Both are multiple winners of the 1000.
Holden drivers have been the front runners in the 2014 championship with only last year’s Bathurst 1000 winner Mark Winterbottom in the mix. Though perennially complaining about a lack or grunt in the Ford, Frosty – with his offsider Steve Owen – loom as possibilities on Sunday.
From the same Ford Performance Racing camp, David Reynolds/Dean Canto were stiff at Sandown but have the potential and the machine to nail a podium finish at Bathurst. Still, it’s impossible to ignore one salient fact, that FPR does have a reputation of shooting itself in both feet at Mount Panorama, last year excepted.
The other Ford with a chance of getting a trophy if all goes nicely is the Dick Johnson Racing Falcon shared by David Wall and Steve Johnson.
Of the newer brands on the scene, it’s hard to see the Nissans and the Erebus AMG-Mercedes winning, but the Volvo of Scott McLaughlin/Alexandre Premat will be damned quick, if a little thirsty. On his 2014 form to date, McLaughlin may be a real chance at pole.
Kiwi speedster Shane van Gisbergen mates up with Jonathon Webb to form another Holden combination not to be ignored. Tekno is another well-drilled team too.
Another Holden contender is Brad Jones Racing’s pacy Fabian Coulthard with his strong co-driver Luke Youlden.
Drivers from outside Australasia are rare in modern V8 Supercars and the Bathurst entry reflects this paucity; other than Sweden’s 2014 full-timer Robert Dahlgren, the line-up includes only the returning Frenchman Premat, and well-credentialed Brit, the lanky Oliver Gavin, who is co-driving a Commodore with the similarly lofty and lean Nick Percat for Walkinshaw Racing.
Dragon Motor Racing has officially withdrawn its two Holden entries leaving New Zealand’s Super Black entry as the only wildcard and the field pegged at 26. Dragon’s Tony Klein conceded his team would be under-prepared for the challenge of Bathurst.
Bear a thought for Super Black drivers Andre Heimgartner and Ant Pedersen, who are being thrown in the deep end; the Kiwis are on the biggest stage of all in their first outing in the main game...
Cost, rather than opportunity and hardware, appears to be the most obvious deterrent preventing more wildcards tackling the Bathurst 1000, which at its zenith attracted overflow grids of 66-plus touring cars.
A minimum number of seven compulsory pit stops has been mandated by the V8 Supercars Commission, to minimise the impact of fuel economy variations throughout the field.
Championship, or not?
Does Bathurst 1000 have the same lustre as in the past, when it stood above the touring car championship on the wish list of every driver?
Every year at this time, when the race rolls around, someone raises the old question of whether The Great Race should again be a stand-alone event independent of the V8 Supercars Championship as it was in earlier times.
Bob Forbes, a runner-up in the 1974 Bathurst classic and later a V8 Supercars team owner and board member, is adamant that the Bathurst 1000 should revert to stand-alone status, and that more should be done to encourage second-tier Dunlop Series teams to enter as wildcards. “It’s not a good look that Australia’s greatest domestic motor race has only 26 cars on the grid,” Forbes said.
Surely the Bathurst enduro should be outside the championship, allowing every driver and co-driver to focus on one aim – winning the race, rather than prioritising varying title aspirations. Co drivers, in particular, bear the onerous pressure of logging consistently fast lap times while avoiding a mistake that might crush the lead driver’s title chances.
Track action starts on Thursday October 9 with V8 Supercars practice and supports. Qualifying takes place on Friday afternoon, with the Top Ten Shootout late Saturday afternoon.
The Bathurst 1000 starts at 10.30 Sunday morning.
The Seven Network will mount its usual massive live coverage across three days – from noon to 4pm (Eastern) on Friday, from noon to 6pm Saturday and, then from 7am through until 6pm Sunday.
|1. Jamie Whincup||2325|
|2. Craig Lowndes||2052|
|3. Mark Winterbottom||2046|
|4. Shane van Gisbergen||1982|
|5. James Courtney||1964|
|6. Fabian Coulthard||1856|
|7. Chaz Mostert||1694|
|8. Scott McLaughlin||1677|
|9. Garth Tander||1662|
|10. David Reynolds||1402|