RACE 21 – SUPERCHEAP AUTO BATHURST 1000
Mount Panorama Circuit, Bathurst, New South Wales
6.213 km (3.861 mi) semi-permanent circuit
Race 21: 161 laps, 1000 km, start time 11:10 A.M. (8:10 P.M. EST Saturday)
2015 WINNERS: Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards
The V8 Supercars return to Bathurst this weekend for the 56th edition of “The Great Race”.
This is the most historic and prestigious race on the calendar — Australia’s version of the Daytona 500. Every driver and co-driver will want to win this race, if for nothing else to claim the Peter Brock Memorial Trophy, but this race can play a pivotal role in deciding the championship as well. There are 300 points on offer to the winner (double the amount of a typical Sunday race), and with three rounds remaining in the season, there is little time to recover from a bad day on the Mountain.
Ask drivers to describe the track at Bathurst, and more likely than not, one will hear descriptions of legends and lore than of the actual track itself. Only at Bathurst does the layout of the circuit carry so much history; every single part of this track, both corners and straightaways, has a name and a story behind the name. The lap at Bathurst begins with a run up the pit straight before approaching Hell Corner, a slow 90-degree right-hand turn. From there, drivers head up the Mountain Straight, a 1.1 kilometer-long run up to the actual mountain portion of the track.
Drivers will then slow from around 160 miles per hour into Griffins Bend, a slow right-hander that marks driver’s arrival onto the Mountain. At this point, the track narrows to about half of the width of the Mountain Straight as driver begin to tackle the mountain portion of the circuit- throughout the subsequent series of corners, it is very difficult to pass anyone, much less go two-wide anywhere. This is followed by a short run up the hill into The Cutting, a left-hand hairpin with a 1:6 grade uphill (a number nearly identical to Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew).
Drives then reach the steepest point of the track as the climb up the long right-handed turn to the series of “Parks” turns. Reid, Sulman, and McPhillamy Park are all left-handed turns, and represent the first rhythm section on the track- finding speed and time there is all about finding the very edge of what one’s car can handle. Break momentum, and one could be down a second to their competitors; hold momentum, and one will be set up for a fantastic run into Skyline and the esses.
Skyline follows the series of “Parks”, and is a short connecting straightaway that represents the heart of the fanbase on the Mountain. Thousands of V8 Supercars fans gather here for what is arguably the most legendary fan experience in all the series, and it is not uncommon to see barbeque grills galore and enough flags of competing teams to make the United Nations Headquarters jealous.
After Skyline comes the Esses, which are anchored by the dipper, and see drivers begin to decline at the same 1:6 grade that they climbed up the Mountain at earlier. Like the “Parks”, this is another rhythm section where time can be gained or lost. The Esses lead drivers straight into Forrest Park, a left-hand hairpin that is almost identical to The Cutting, save for the fact that drivers are descending in the former.
Getting a good exit out of Forrest Park is crucial, because what follows is Conrod Straight — the longest, fastest, and most famous straightaway in all of Australian motorsport. As drivers exit this corner, the track finally opens up to full width again, and drivers return towards Pit Lane from the Mountain on this 1.3 km-long line of pavement. Speeds at the end of the straight will land right around the 180 mile-per-hour mark. Drivers will come off Conrod Straight into the Chase, a section added in 1987 to break up Conrod Straight and the succeeding corner, Murray’s Corner.
Drivers take a slight dogleg to the right here and mash the brakes to make the slow left-hander before accelerating out of the gradual right-hander that follows. A short straightaway leads to Murray’s Corner, the final corner on the circuit and a sharp, 90-degree left-hander that can give drivers problems if they brake too late into the zone. The exit of Murray’s Corner can play a crucial part in determining the winner of The Great Race — given that the finish line is not too far up the track from corner exit, it is possible to beat the driver ahead of you off of the corner and overtake him before you reach the finish line.
Though there are multitudes of ways to win at Bathurst, the strongest setups will usually be low-downforce and high-speed. Drivers only need as much downforce to make quick runs through the “Parks” corners — all of the other corners here are relatively slow in comparison. Otherwise, setups will focus on squeezing every last bit of speed out on Conrod Straight – it is not unheard of for teams to lose a second or more there just for having too much downforce on the car.
DRIVERS TO WATCH:
With all due respect to the competition, this is an event that should be dominated by Red Bull Racing Australia. Jamie Whincup has won this race four times, but by his standards, that is almost a number too low. Since his last victory in 2012, he has been in contention to win each of the last three seasons, only to lose the race late in the going. Past culprits include an inability to pass Mark Winterbottom on the final lap in 2013, a fuel tank that ran dry on the final lap in 2014, and a penalty for passing the Safety Car last year.
No doubt, then, that Whincup will be more determined than usual to right the wrongs of recent years and claim the Peter Brock Memorial Trophy. But Whincup will also recognize that this is a big points race as well, and will need to put together a strong finish in order to retake the top spot in the standings.
That Whincup doesn’t hold the points lead at this point in the season is a bit of a surprise. The irony is that the man who does possess it is Whincup’s teammate – and likely his stiffest challenge to make a run at victory come Sunday.
So this weekend, then, might well be more about Shane van Gisbergen than it is about Whincup.
Shane made the move from TEKNO Autosport to Red Bull Racing Australia at the start of this season, having proved himself in his time there and earlier at Stone Brothers Racing as a driver with a massive expanse of talent. He came to RBRA with a point to prove: to win his first series championship, and to win the big races on the calendar that he has yet to win. No race is more significant in Australia than this one, and thus no race that van Gisbergen wants to win more than this.
He has come close once before, in 2014: his No. 97 TEKNO Autosport Holden Commodore came down for its final pit stop with 11 laps to go before it stalled in the re-firing process and would not restart. van Gisbergen’s best shot to win was instantaneously shot down, and he retreated to the hauler to find some solace in the massive disappointment.
Doubtless then, that he will remember 2014, and subsequently recognize that 2016 represents his best shot to win the Great Race – and the series championship as well. Victory for van Gisbergen here would be monumental, both for his career, and for the picture of the title race: it would make him the clear favorite for the title over the six-time champion Whincup going into the final three rounds of the season.
While Whincup and van Gisbergen will rightfully dominate the headlines going into the weekend, they are not the only ones that have a shot at winning. Prodrive Racing Australia’s Ford Falcons have won two of the last three Bathurst 1000s (one each for Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert), and will be able to run close enough to the Red Bulls that a smart strategy call could steal the win at the end.
Beyond those two, Garry Rogers Motorsport’s Scott McLaughlin has shown pace on the Mountain in past years, but has never been able to run a full 161 laps without trouble. If he can run a clean race in his final race at Bathurst with GRM (before moving to DJR Team Penske for 2017), McLaughlin will be one of the few drivers that has the pace to challenge for the race win.
For more information on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, visit www.supercars.com.au.