BATHURST, New South Wales, Australia — Race preview by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike –
Welcome to the continuation of Race Chaser Online’s 2014 V8 Supercars race previews! Before each V8 Supercars race weekend, we will take a look at the track the series will be visiting, and point out the drivers to keep an eye out for during the races. We move forward with a look at Race Two of the 2014 PIRTEK Enduro Cup, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000! Keep checking Race Chaser Online over the course of the 2014 season for your V8 Supercars news and notes!
RACE 30 – SUPERCHEAP AUTO BATHURST 1000
Mount Panorama Circuit, Bathurst, New South Wales
6.213 km (3.861 mi) semi-permanent circuit
Race 30: 161 laps, 1000 km, start time 10:30 A.M. (7:30 P.M. EST Saturday)
2013 WINNERS: Mark Winterbottom and Steve Richards
The V8 Supercars return to Bathurst this weekend for the 52nd 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 nine races remaining in the season, there is little time in the following races 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 on to 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 competitiors; 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 (this was a major complaint of the Nissans in last year’s race).
DRIVERS TO WATCH:
The Bathurst 1000 carries a similar kind of mystique to the Daytona 500 in its home country, and is treated in a similar fashion. Drivers can become legendary simply by winning this race and this race alone- something that can’t be said about the other rounds on the V8 Supercars calendar. This race tends to favor the largest teams in the sport, though there has been some variety in the top 5 as of the past few years, with some of the smaller teams making statements with a finish either on or just off the podium.
Though he is presently the most dominant force in the series, Jamie Whincup is not as dominant in the win column at Bathurst as one would suspect. Since the series switched to the co-driver format in 2010, he has only won The Great Race once (in 2012). That being said, he also has finished second twice in the co-driver era, and as such will be the favorite to win this event for the fifth time in his career.
Following right on his heels will be his Red Bull Racing Australia teammate, Craig Lowndes. Craig will be gunning for his sixth win on the Mountain in 2014, and has missed the podium only once since 2006. Barring the unexpected, he will almost certainly be on the podium this time around. Both drivers will be sporting a special “blue camoflauge” livery this weekend, and will be hoping that they sneak away “unseen” off the front of the field to victory.
Behind the powerhouse that is RBRA, the Holden Racing Team will also be in contention for the win. Bathurst tends to bring out the best of HRT, and driver Garth Tander has two victories with the team in the 2009 and 2011 editions of this event. Though he has lost his co-driver from the past three seasons, Nick Percat, he now has Warren Luff, who was Craig Lowndes’ co-driver in recent seasons. The pairing will be in the mix for a podium spot if they can avoid trouble.
This event will also mark a huge turning point in the season of Ford Performance Racing. Mark Winterbottom has been abysmal by his standards in the middle portion of the season — he has not cracked the top 5 since the final race at Hidden Valley in June. Since then, he has slipped out of the points lead and into third in the standings. Even his teammate, the 22-year-old Chaz Mostert, has been outperforming him as of late. Winterbottom finally won Bathurst last year in his 11th attempt, but there have been few signs as of late to indicate that he will suddenly be able to find form and repeat as champion. In addition, no driver in the co-driver era has won back-to-back Bathurst 1000s.
The media have been swirling about this team in the past few days over the potential exit of Ford from V8 Supercars following the 2015 season. Winterbottom will be thrown right into the middle of that storm, and victory this time around will come from an ability to ignore the media and focus on running his own race.
There are a handful of young drivers not with one of the three largest teams that may also have a say in how this race plays out. David Reynolds leads this group of drivers as the man most likely to win — he hounded Jamie Whincup in the closing stages of the 2012 Bathurst 1000 en route to a runner-up finish, and smashed the track record by over two seconds in Thursday’s initial practice session. When he avoids trouble, Bathurst is statistically one of his strongest tracks (along with Hidden Valley), and of the drivers in the Ford camp, he might be the one with the greatest chance to win.
Scott Pye is the other young Ford driver of note, as he took his Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Holden Commodore to a season’s-best sixth place finish in his first crack at The Great Race. He will be looking to improve upon that this time around with better equipment from Dick Johnson Racing.
Scott McLaughlin will look to continue his impressive 2014 campaign by placing a Volvo on top of the podium in its return to Bathurst. Volvo has seen success in this race as recently as 1998, but there have been concerns from his engineers regarding their car’s fuel mileage. If there is a Safety Car somewhere around 20 laps to go, McLaughlin might be in a position to come in for fuel and race his way to the front, but long green flag runs may spoil his hopes of claiming the Peter Brock Memorial Trophy.
For more information on the Mount Panorama Circuit, visit http://www.mount-panorama.com.au/.
For more information on the V8 Supercars Championship, visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/.