BATHURST, Australia — Sunday’s Bathurst 1,000 kilometer race is one of the toughest in the world.
Seven hours and 161 laps later, a champion will be crowned, having battled the elements, stresses, The Mountain, and oh yeah, other drivers.
So what does it take to win the Peter Brock Trophy?
Sheer mastery of everything imaginable. To win at Bathurst, everything must go right on race day.
First, the weather conditions at Bathurst can throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Despite being held in early spring, the weather can be anything but predictable, especially because elevation around the circuit varies a total of 613 meters.
In these conditions, being able to see is paramount, and when fog obscured the start of the 1978 race, it was delayed until the sun could burn through it.
The late, great, Peter Brock — the closest thing to Superman at Bathurst — described the wet first laps of the 1972 race as just making sure he was following close rival Allan Moffat.
“For the first few laps I just couldn’t see,” Brock said at the time. “I could only see the stop lights … I was following Moffat and my memory of the circuit to figure out where to go.”
In 1964, drivers and fans alike showed up to The Mountain to find it was sleeting and windy up until the race began. Mud and clay were swept off the circuit right up until the start, but once it began, everything was fine for Bob Jane and George Reynolds to win in their Ford Cortina.
Weather also led to the shortening of the 1992 race, as the works Nissan GT-R of Mark Skaife and Jim Richards piled into the wall at Forrest’s Elbow.
Supercars commentator Neil Crompton said the weather is a tricky thing to deal with.
“It’s nearly impossible to read,” Crompton said. “It’s spring time, and this is a high-elevation location more than two-and-a-half thousand feet above sea level and surrounded by terrain. The place literally makes its own weather.”
Second, the pit stops have to be perfect. Get the car down to the speed limit, don’t overshoot the marks in the pit, and don’t spin the tires on the way out. The crew has been training for this moment for months, and the pressure is always high.
While the crew is an important part of the stop, it’s the driver who’s got to make sure the setup for the stop is right. Moffat found that out in the 1972 race twice, as he was handed two minutes of penalties for starting before the refueling was finished.
Another big reason for why Bathurst is a test of both man and machine is the extreme stresses the circuit puts on components. There are about 5,500 gear changes that must be made during the race is a prime example of just how strong parts such as the gearbox must be.
While the components used in the current breed of V8 Supercars are similar in each car, back in the production car days, it was whatever equipment the car had off the line. Kevin Bartlett found that out in 1980, when his drum-braked Chevy Camaro had brake fade by lap 14, and wound up slamming into a slower car on lap 105.
But the biggest trick that drivers must do to win is get the circuit right. While there are 161 laps to make or break the race, the key is to drive each lap quickly and cleanly.