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Aussie V8 Supercars - Bathurst 1000 remains the world's greatest race as the V8 age ends.

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

There are simply no superlatives left: the race around the public roads around Mount Panorama is perfect. From the fly-pasts to Deltra Goodrem showing that National Anthems at sporting events don't have to be cringe-worthy demonstrations of ego to the fact that races that last 1000km around a circuit that is, on a good day, dangerous and, this year, beyond that, are decided by, usually, at most seconds and, often fractions of a second, to the tear-jerking losses and outsider wins this is the consummate racing event. And then there's the party and the partisan crowd. Mercedes turned their back on the series, so have Volvo although the reasons for that are different, whipped by the perennial battle between Ford and Holden, a battle made all the more poignant by the decisions by both companies to withdraw manufacturing from Australia and support from Aussie motorsport.

Mount Panorama is a mount, not a mountain. Like Oliver's Mount near Scarborough in England, it is characterised by steep climbs, like Scotland's Knock HIll, it has corners over blind crests. Like Macau, it has almost no run-off areas (which is why, unlike Oliver's Mount, it's motorcycles are not allowed. Like the Isle of Man (which runs time trials, not races, as such) it is long : not Nuremburgring long but long nonetheless.

The Mount is, like the Isle of Man, tall enough that the bottom can be clear and the top in the clouds; The track is an elongated circuit that has microclimates at each end: sometimes one end is dry and the other end is wet: properly wet. Sometimes there is drizzle at one end and a near-monsoon at the other. Every range of weather is possible - and every combination. This weekend, steady heavy rain eventually eased off but there was no wind or sun and, because there is so long between cars passing, unlike a short-track, a novel problem: the drainage works well but residual damp did not easily dry in the absence of weather-generated assistance.

Everyone has a favourite part: the wiggly bit across the top of the hill as Skyline, The Esses and the Dipper toss car and driver from side to side, the cock-up inducing entry to the pit straight, the climb up Mountain Hill where ball-out power sorts out the men from the boys on the entry to the fast bends at the top or the blood-draining dive down the 1.9 KM Conrod Straight. And every driver has a part they secretly hate, mainly because at one time or other they've had a crash there.

There are no slow crashes at Bathurst. It is testimony to the cars, marshals, safety design teams and emergency crews that the race has not killed a driver since 2006: in fact, by far the greatest number of fatalities in the track's 58 year history has been to the now banned motorcycle classes. For the full list see the official circuit memorial list at https://www.mount-panorama.com....

Today's race was, as they all are, a classic. Normal running time in recent years has been about six hours after huge performance improvements. And the noise: anyone who has never heard a current era V8 storm by would find it difficult to understand the noise: now imagine the noise from 20 of them . In Mount Panorama, the noise is rolling thunder across open fields - but in a city environment, it is earthquake-level tremors that move buildings and turn stomachs upside down and leave fans with a fixed grin and post-vibration satisfaction that is almost sexual. Next year, the cars change to V6 (the exclusive V8 format having been abandoned in 2014 - hence the change in the name of the series to drop the iconic V8 tag). Holden turned up with a demonstration car - the new V6 bi-turbo. Fans have complained that the noise has gone.

There is logic to the change: now Holden and Ford no longer make cars in Australia, and last week Toyota closing its last Australian plant, the famed Commodore is likely to be no more. The name has long been abandoned by General Motors stablemate in Germany, Opel. The engines were American engines but "fettled" by both domestic and foreign performance companies; Tom Walksinshaw Racing and Prodrive being examples of huge UK commitment to the series.

So, it was fitting, that the last race should be the most difficult for years. Horrible rain did not go away as expected. Did the drivers slow down? Yes, of course: they slowed down to 260kph, in blinding spray, as they plunged down Conrod Straight. Amazingly, it was only once the rain stopped that cars speared off into "the beach" at The Chase as drivers thought things weren't so bad. The only material difference seemed to be that they could see what they were going to crash into and went for it.

As the track dried in a single-lane, cars banged walls, went agricultural and knocked bits off each other trying to find grip on the greasy off-line areas. Big names tanked it or got held up. Was it, therefore, a lottery? One might think so when some drivers who have been at the race for two decades failed to finish.

Absolutely not. The winning team of David Reynolds (a star who has begun to shine bright this season in a small team which is punching way above its weight) was accompanied by Luke Youlden who made the podium (and the top step at that) 19 years after his first attempt. Reynolds was second last year. Racing for the tiny Erebus team, formed in 2011 and winning Bathurst in 2012 with a Mercedes. At the beginning of last year, with Mercedes' having provided no official support, the team moved to new premises and took on Holden for the last two years of the current specification. People said they were done: a series of results including, now "The Great Race" has proved otherwise. Team owner, Betty Klimenko, took over the team in 2013 and has invested heavily: she was shaking all over and unable to speak on the pitwall as Reynolds drove the car back into the pit-lane.

Now Ford has officially pulled out of Australian Motorsport, despite a stellar season this year, the fact that Holden took Bathurst led to frantic celebrations by the fans of the marque that will now be little more than badge-engineered foreign cars (albeit turned into racing machines in Aus) and with in interest in Walkinshaw's Aus outfit being taken by Andretti from the US and United Autosports from the UK even that is in doubt as GM has abandoned all pretence that Holden has significant factory support. Ironically, as the series becomes more popular than almost any other, it is scrabbling around for manufacturers and almost returning to its roots when Dealer Team Holden run by Peter Brock dominated the sport - until Holden refused to sell him cars, seeing him a a PR risk, despite his incredible success on track.

Youlden says that the Erebus team call themselves "the little team of rejects" but no more: as the big teams watched their deconstructed cars being returned on flat-bad trucks, Erebus's second car, driven by Dale Wood and Chris Pither , came in fourth.

"The Little Team that Could," perhaps, now.

Footnote:

Six years ago (seems much more recent than that) Jenson Button was strapped into his McLaren F1 car (the one that worked) and posted the unofficial lap time of 1 minute 48 seconds (see https://www.motormag.com.au/fe...) a time that even the mighty V8s of today don't trouble in qualifying, much less a wet race. The official lap times are here, demonstrating the near-insanity of the racers: https://www.mount-panorama.com... This year's times were almost 20 seconds slower than that.

hahagotcha