The end of September and beginning of October are circled on Australian racing fans calendars, like Memorial Day weekend for Indy Car fans and mid-June for sports car fans. Memorial Day is the Indy 500, mid-June, the 24 hours of LeMans, the end of September is an equally historic and important race, it’s the Bathurst 1000 at Mt. Panorama.
This is the “The Great Race” for Australian fans, with much history, lore, and legend surrounding it. The 23 turn, 6.21km circuit, is a near perfect blend of high-speed sections, tight twisty section, and significant elevation changes to test both driver and car, more so with a race that is 161 laps and runs six to seven hours. Winning at “The Mountain” is a career highlight for any driver or team. Many could care less about a championship if they could only win at The Mountain.
The 2017 edition of The Great Race goes off this weekend with a very tight championship points race surrounding it. What makes the race even more interesting for the championship is that being an endurance race there are co-drivers who must drive at least one third race distance, and often the quality of the co-driver has a significant impact on the race finish and the championship points coming out of the weekend.
Scott McLaughlin, the young Kiwi phenom driving for DJR Team Penske, brings an 84 point lead into the weekend with 300 points on offer. In second place in the championship coming into the weekend is six-time series champion and the winningest driver in series history, Jamie Whincup in the Red Bull Holden team. Third place in the championship is held by McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard, currently 161 points back, Chaz Mostert is four in the championship 282 points back and last years champion Shane Van Gisbergen also part of the Red Bull Racing team comes into the weekend fifth, 414 points adrift.
Last year with laps winding down Fabian Coulthard had a good lead but was going to be short of fuel. There was a great three-way battle behind him going on between McLaughlin, then racing for Gary Rodgers Motorsport, Garth Tander, and Jamie Whincup. Whincup was charging hard and with eleven laps to go in the middle of The Chase Whincup had a dive to get under McLaughlin but slid into him and knocked him off track. McLaughlin held on was attempting to rejoin when Whincup checked up trying to redress the situation. Tander was coming hard out of The Chase when the three all came together and ended the race for all three drivers. A safety car was deployed and it was setting up a sprint to the finish with five laps to go until another safety car was sent out for a one-car incident that was cleaned up quickly and then it was going to be a four-lap sprint to the finish. It was a duel between Will Davidson, Shane Van Gisbergen to the checkered flag, “The Giz” attacked several times but was unable to get around Davison as Will ran a near perfect final lap and won the race with Van Gisbergen on his rear bumper as they crossed the finish line 0.14 ahead for the win after 1000 kilometers of racing.
For the 2017 race on paper, it looks as if five or six drivers will have a legitimate shot at immortality based on performance this year and the quality of their co-driver.
McLaughlin along with his co-driver Alex Premat look to have the best package. Premat who teamed up with Van Gisbergen last year made the move over to the Penske team this year, and the Penske team has had a good package and consistent finishes all year long. Whincup, along with his co-driver Paul Dumbrell a former front-runner in the series before stepping back to focus on his families business interests may be the quickest of all the co-drivers. The Red Bull team has had some issues with consistency this year but have found some form recently and will be one to watch. Shane Van Gis may be the quickest driver in the series but he has not been able to put a consistent season together. His co-driver will be Matt Campbell, a young driver who has been a standout racing Porsche’s and is in the running for a full-time Supercars drive in 2018. The other driver to watch is 2014 Bathurst winner Chaz Mostert. Mostert has had a very solid season, sitting fifth in the championship for most of the season, but has really come on form in the second half of the season including one win and three other podium finishes. His co-driver Steve Owen has been a series regular at times and a very solid co-driver over the years in the endurance races.
Other pairings to watch out for would the Erebus team of David Reynolds and Luke Youdlen, as well as the Monster Energy paring of Cam Waters who’s really come into his own this year and current Aston Martin factory driver Richie Stanaway. If you are a betting person looking to make some money picking the combination of Waters and Stanaway might be a solid choice.
The best thing about Bathurst is with 20-30 laps to go you can usually throw away the form guide. Between accidents, retirements and safety cars the end of the race will have you on the edge of your seat. Many times the most unlikely of teams end up on the top step of the podium last year it was the Techno team of Davidson and team owner Jonathon Webb, in 2014 it was Chaz Mostert who started last on the grid, those are only two of the recent examples.
2017 should be another fantastic race, make sure you set aside your Sunday, or Saturday evening depending on your time zone for what should be one of the best races of the year across all categories in the world.
(13 years on they still speak about this qualifying lap of Greg Murphy’s known as “The Lap Of The Gods)