Bana's debut on the mountain

A hunk of Hollywood came to Mount Panorama last weekend when Eric Bana - thespian and car tragic - raced at the legendary track for the first time, in the Bathurst 12 Hour race.

No driver in the field of 47 cars was under greater pressure than the luminary in car number 62. If the star of Munich and Chopper were to screw up and crash, the news would flash around the world in an instant. With accompanying photographic evidence.

Bana, the rookie in a shiny new suit with precious little serious motor sport experience (let alone any personal knowledge of the perils of Mount Panorama), was paired with seasoned drivers Tim Leahey and Peter Hills.

Bana and his mates were credited with a handy 10th place finish.

It was a long day. The 12 Hour marathon, little brother to the Bathurst 1000, takes almost twice as long as the V8 supercar epic.

Pulling his weight, Bana was conscripted to take three stints of around an hour or so at the wheel of the turbocharged Mitsubishi Evo.

A measure of Bana's attitude was his request for the media to leave him alone over the weekend to concentrate on his big race debut. Not quite Greta Garbo, but close.

He started the race conservatively and steadily lowered his lap times in the Evo promoting the star's latest film Love the Beast, a documentary about Bana's obsession with cars.

"The weekend has been a bit of a dream," Bana said afterwards. "I really feel like I've lived a dream to finish in the top 10 at Bathurst.

"It's been an awesome day."

Bana said the team came along a little under-prepped and that a top 10 result was a long shot, "but we got there in the end".

"Bathurst has an awesome reputation and I expected it to be an awesome challenge - and it was.
"But it was more fun than I expected it to be too. It was great out there - I had faster cars coming through and I was getting past slower cars.

"I've had a couple of years worth of racing in one day!"

Hearts skipped a beat in the team's pit garage soon after lunch, when Bana was seen cruising into the pitlane, hazard lights flashing, it appeared the inexperienced racer may have broken the car. But after some attention from mechanics to fix a heat-related problem under the bonnet, the orange Evo returned to the track and on to the chequered flag, Bana's reputation intact.

Team-mate Leahey was impressed with the neophyte's Bathurst debut. "He's a good bloke; he listened, he was sensible and he got progressively faster. It was a good first-up effort."

Bana's motor sporting experience before last weekend was limited to some Porsche racing and the Targa Tasmania tarmac rally (where he crashed his much-loved XC Falcon). He is not the first big screen star to be bitten by the motor racing bug. Paul Newman was a very successful sports car racer who finished second at Le Mans. James Dean was a wannabe racer at the time he was killed. Steve McQueen was good enough to do his own stunt driving in action films.

So does Bana want more of the same? You bet! "I'd love to come back next year and do it all over again."

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