holden

Trackside At Australia's Greatest Race, The Bathurst 1000

In a day curtailed by unrelenting pressure, there was even greater relief. For the drivers, at least. As fans folded up their camp chairs and picnic mats, there was a sense of anxiety in the air. With one race, came another: the race to beat traffic.
11 October 2016, 12:45am
Photos by the author

As the sun rose above Mount Panorama, there was a rich smell of fire in the air. Bathurst, a humble rural city some three hours east of Sydney, was again set to become the epicentre of world motorsport.

It was race day.

The sun crept through the thick blanket of smoke and fog. People slowly emerged from their campsites, some weary after a long night of drinking and crooning to rock music. Others sprang to life, setting a cracking pace to scoff down their bacon, eggs and coffee before rushing to grab a spot on the hill for the race.

Widely regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport in Australia, the Bathurst classic was first held at Mount Panorama in 1963 as a 500-mile event, before switching to 1000 kilometres in 1973. Mount Panorama began as a dirt-track and tourist-drive carved out of the bald hills of Bathurst in the mid-1930s, before then-Mayor Martin Griffin decided to turn the drive into a motor racing circuit with hairpin bends, hill ascents and a fast downhill straight that would encourage great racing. In 1938, Mount Panorama attracted 20,000 spectators to its first race, the Australian Tourist Trophy

In 2016, over 200,000 fans had made the pilgrimage to motorsport's Mecca. Anticipation was rife, and the countdown to the race had begun.

As the singer trilled over the final notes of the Australian national anthem, an F/A-18 Hornet combat jet sliced through the sky at an ear-splitting volume. Not one person was spared, everyone joining in a chorus of laughter, swearing and groaning as they remonstrated about the noise that the jet made.

"Will it be Holden, or will it be Ford!" sang the commentator over the loudspeaker as the cars lined up on the grid. A half-cut bloke, accompanied by his mates and surrounded by VB cans, responded gleefully, "Nah, Toyota!" He registered a smattering of laughs, before he repeated the joke with several other car names unrelated to the race. Shortly, the joke was well and truly dead.

Then, just after 11 in the morning, the race began, the mountain rising in applause and adulation as one of Australian sport's greatest days kicked into gear.

The opening stanza of the race was uneventful. Fans grew restless, many toiling away in the hot sun in thick shirts, others shirtless, their skin nearly lobster-red. As lunch time dawned on the mountain, the race still in its relative infancy, people went to stretch their legs to buy some food or check out merchandise alley.

"The pie is bloody cold on the inside," one bloke said. "The place ran out of tomato sauce, too."

"Lucky your car is leading the race, then!" another replied.

This exchange was typically Bathurst; these were people that had no intention but to relax and take in the sights the event had to offer. Lycra-clad grid girls in skimpy outfits and red lipstick happily handed out flyers and posed for photos. An Australian Army band of saxophonists and trombonists crooned their way through 'Livin' On A Prayer'. A family of Ford fans wandered around the merchandise tent. A group of Holden supporters waited in line at a kiosk for a well-deserved bucket of chips. Life was easy.

Suddenly, Andrew Jones' Holden crashed heavily on top of the mountain, bringing the first safety car intervention of the day. At that point, 92 laps had already passed, but fans raced back to their seats, rubbing their hands together in anticipation of what was to become an action-packed second-half of the race.

With every passing safety car intervention, the cars became ever closer, forming a train with contenders at every turn. Suddenly, the train of cars that had snaked in front of the hill for several minutes looked different. One was missing. The image popped up on the big screen: Mark 'Frosty' Winterbottom, Ford's best hope of winning the race, had suffered a brake failure and was beached in the sand at the Chase. A disconsolate young boy wearing a 'Frosty' cap burst into tears, his dad putting his hand on his son's shoulder.

From there, the fans became unsettled again. Fuel strategy was the word of the day, with many diving into the pits to top up their tanks. Once they did, the field cleansed itself, and the race resumed.

Red Bull Holden driver Jamie Whincup had dominated the weekend to this point, but with his fuel strategy in consideration, he wasn't going to win the race. That honour looked like it belonged to Holden Racing Team veteran Garth Tander or Volvo young gun Scott McLaughlin. However, with every passing lap, the trio edged closer together, with Whincup fighting his way back in the fuel window. Fans were anxious. You could nearly smell the tension over the stench of burnt rubber and cigarette smoke.

Lap 150; eleven laps to go. Braking from upwards of 280km/h, Whincup made a lunge down the inside of McLaughlin at the Chase. The Red Bull car looked edgy under brakes and Whincup careened into the side of McLaughlin's Volvo, who was forced onto the grass. As McLaughlin re-entered onto the circuit, Whincup attempted to let the Volvo back past. An unsuspecting Tander, in Whincup's blind spot, moved out behind Whincup into the path of Volvo. All three made contact. Tander and McLaughlin flew into the wall while Whincup continued on. Advertising boards made of styrofoam exploded like fireworks at Tander and McLaughlin slid down the tarmac.

It was absolute mayhem. Fans held their breath, others had their hands on their head, and many more mouthed the words, "You're joking." The race had gone crazy, and as Whincup drove past the next time by, he was met by a symphony of swearing and abusive character references.

For Whincup, he had blown his chances of victory for the third year in a row, with the six-time Supercars Champion eventually finishing 11th after being handed a penalty, much to the delight of Ford fans. However, when these fans saw that three more Holdens were down the road, they sat down in quiet frustration. Regardless, the surprise win to Tekno Holden duo Will Davison and Jonathon Webb was the tonic for the record crowd at Australian racing's holy grail, with Davison's Tekno Commodore taking the flag 0.14s ahead of Shane van Gisbergen in the narrowest victory in the history of the Great Race. Davison was told to conserve fuel in the closing laps with van Gisbergen pushing. Davison's Commodore coughed at the final corner, but made it home. He hadn't led a lap all day.

In a day curtailed by unrelenting pressure and tension, there was even greater relief. For the drivers, at least. As fans folded up their camp chairs and picnic mats, there was a sense of anxiety in the air. With one race, came another: the race to beat the traffic.

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