Bathurst 1000: A tale of two wildcards

Renee Gracie with NSW premier Mike Baird

Two wildcard entries have been accepted for this year’s Bathurst 1000, and one combo is certain to attract more attention than the other - which arguably is a more competitive pairing.

Let’s discuss the attention grabber first, an all-female combination of IndyCar and Formula E driver Simona De Silvestro and Australian driver Renee Gracie. Gracie has done some Porsche Carrera Cup and second-tier V8 Supercar racing.

It is exciting for the category to have a rare all-female pairing racing at Bathurst. It’s the first all-girl line-up since Melinda Price and Kerryn Brewer drove a Commodore to 11th outright in 1998.

Simona -de -SilvestroSwiss-born De Silvestro, 26, is a very useful open-wheeler racer, with a second placing in the IndyCar Series to her name.  Last year she was a test driver for the Sauber F1 team and she’s about to embark on a Formula E campaign for Andretti Autosport.  She has never raced a touring car, or even a sports car.

Gracie, who is 20, has a genuine passion for racing and says she’s there for the long haul.  Though her results in the Carrera Cup and development series are undistinguished, she is steadily improving under the guidance of Paul Morris.

Gracie currently sits 19th in the development series.

One mystery is how the girls’ two-year Bathurst campaign will be funded.

But the mainstream media has already responded enthusiastically to the announcement, and the ladies will find themselves under increasing scrutiny during practice, qualifying and the race.

De Silvestro is unlikely to be intimidated by Mount Panorama but will need time to familiarise herself with a big, imprecise lump of a Prodrive Ford Falcon with the steering wheel on the right (make that wrong) side.

Gracie has raced at Bathurst previously, if not auspiciously.  It will be up to Morris to bring her up to speed in the small amount of practice time now scheduled during the Thursday and Friday before the 1000.

Renee -GracieRenee Gracie, and (top) pictured with NSW Premier Mike Baird.

There is no reason why females can’t be as competitive as males, and we’ve seen some great performances from lady racers in the past, all the way to Lella Lombardi in F1.

Locally, Christine Gibson, Sue Ransom and Robyn Hamilton have all been seriously quick, as has Leanne Tander, the last female to compete in the Bathurst 1000 (in 2009, when she drove with David Wall to 18th).

Thirty one females have competed in The Great Race, for a best finish of sixth (Christine Gibson and Marie-Claude Beaumont).

Now to the second wildcard. 

Newcastle-based brothers Aaren and Drew Russell have been regulars in the V8 Supercars development series for many years.   They fall into the battlers’ category.

The team will use a Commodore VF originally built by Garry Rogers Motorsport, with the family-operated Russell team running the car once it arrives at the mountain.

Aaren Russell, 23, has posted some podium finishes so he’s raring to make his debut in the 1000.

It is the opportunity he’s been working towards for years.

“To do with it with my family and our own team makes it even more special,” the younger Russell said.

“We have huge respect for all of the V8 Supercars Championship teams competing at Bathurst. We’d like to simply stay out of trouble, fly the flag, complete the race and be happy with our day’s work.” 

That sounds like a terrific target.

Brother Drew Russell, 27, is the fourth-most experienced driver in the history of the development series, having made his debut in 2007.

While he will be making his Bathurst 1000 debut, Drew has amassed seven second-tier round starts at the famous circuit until 2013.

But there is not a lot of fanfare for the understated Russells.  Then again they don’t have breasts.

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