With the last of the Enduro series coming up tomorrow  and Sunday amongst the high rise buildings of the Gold Coast, we are set for a two race thriller , of that I am sure. I have been a little delayed in posting this week but a look back at what happened at Bathurst is essential to set the scene. At the start of these scribblings I promised something a little different and posting this summary of the happenings on the Mountain ten days ago hopefully provides a little more than “hot news”.

The annual excursion to Bathurst is a journey of motor sport reverence in the realm of Le Mans, Indianapolis, F1 Spa and Monza and Nascar’s Daytona….no question. In fact I would put the Aus race at the top of the tree simply because it is just so….’common sense’…. in all aspects of the event make up. It is personable and reflects a normality in human endeavour lacking in motor sport in general today. The ra-ra factor is minimised…..the best is that it is unpredictable and the producer of genuine heroes …….the event last weekend underlining that…. the private Erebus outfit consisting of ‘rejects’ showed the works teams how it should be done.   Just where else in top flight motorsport today can that happen?

1. Autographs

Cheery Autograph Sessions

2 It has acomfortable feel

The place has a comfortable feel.

Bathurst – The Top Ten Shootout on Saturday

The robust competitive nature of this event continues to produce incredible results and before we get into the detail, it is worth noting that it is the sheer professionalism of the Supercar organisers that make all this possible.  As a technical person first and foremost, I pay homage to those who have drawn up the tech specifications for the cars…….quite frankly the best application of that common sense and tech savvy in racing on the planet.  We often forget, or severely criticise the backroom boys drawing up the rules in all the razzmatazz… and the F1 boys need to take a few lessons….. but kudos to those folk, the cars despite restrictions, are fast, consistent and reliable, with enough left on the table to allow the teams to work their magic…. and those aspects are the core of good racing.

By Friday night the Fords had staked their claim as being the cars to watch and with both Penske and Prodrive on the front foot, qualifying on Saturday morning made the point….it was six Fords vs four Holdens in the top ten….how’s that for a change of fortunes in a year. Even more surprising is that Holden’s  Jamie Wincup, currently second in the drivers championship, did not make it into the shootout and watched proceedings from the pits.

Here is where we will take a different tack on reporting…I could take three paragraphs to describe who did what to who in the shootout but only need to describe “that Lap” by Scotty McLaughlin…last out, with Reynolds in the Holden quickest at a 2:04.27 to that point, the DJR Penske Falcon danced around the mountain to produce an incredible 2:03.83. To some, this is just another statistic to be closed into the record books and move on…..It is most definitely not and here is why.

Something special happened on that mountain last Saturday and it was the arrival in stereo and cinemascope of the real talent of Scott McLaughlin. Having paid close attention to this series over the last three years or so, I first saw Scott in the Volvo….always punching above his weight. It was not about whether he won or was the fastest but simply the manner in which he conducted himself both on the track and in person…. whilst more often than not being in contention at the front.  No ego or posing…in fact a little shy and giving the impression that we should leave him to just get on with driving. Moving from Volvo to Ford was the best thing to happen…instead of driving the pants off a good but average car, he is now in arguably the quickest package in the series  and has delivered 14 poles so far this year and in a three-way fight for the championship.  Please just watch “the lap”  quickly.

But it goes further than that, it is about inspiring young talent….the first word he uttered was ‘Mobil’….. This all started with Scott at the age of ten watching the top ten shootout in 2003 and witnessing Murphy’s “ Lap of the Gods”…. that incredible 2:06.8 punched out at a time when the Supercars were running in the 2:08’s and a time that would not be matched for another seven years! He wanted to emulate that and it evolved from a young boy’s dream into an objective…and came to fruition on the mountain on Saturday. Better still, Murphy, his hero, was on hand to congratulate and him as he stepped out of the car.  There is a little bit more we should look at…Mount Panorama is an unforgiving place and the top ten shootout is folklore in Aus with both a huge audience and massive expectation…..and many broken cars. Virtually every driver interviewed after their respective runs on Saturday made the same comment  “I left a little on the table” or eluded to the fact that it was better to be safe than sorry, these were mostly experienced men. Scotty by comparison, left nothing on the table and risking the ridicule of a failed attempt and a car buried in the wall…at 24 years old, instead, he buried his right foot and drove a near perfect lap.

We kind of expected McLaughlin to get pole…and he did… but by nearly half a second ?….that was shattering. Davey Reynolds ended as the only Holden at the sharp end of the field with the Fords ominous, with 5 in the top seven….a late charge by Van Gisbergen, not good in practise or qualifying, hauled the Holden into 5th to balance the top ten just a little. I was hoping for a Nissan to stick its nose in there somewhere but to no avail.

Unless these old ears of mine are playing tricks on me, the Prodrive Falcons have a different (and  still very pleasing) exhaust note as compared to their DJR Penske cousins. The trailing throttle exhaust note is sharper and word also has it that the Prodrive guys are fastest through the speed traps at a fraction short of that 300Km/h magic number.  Maybe the arrival of their NASCAR engine specialist has something to do with it…in fact I’m prepared to put money on it, I rate those Nascar engine guys better than the F1 men in their respective disciplines anyway.

The other impressive team?…..unquestionably the Waters/Stanaway combo. In the same mould as McLaughlin, these two youngsters are grounded, focused and in interviews display a level of composure quite surprising for their age. I predict big things for these lads and as an endurance team combo, that composure is a very big plus indeed.

4. Waters in the rain

Waters and Stanaway brilliant in the rain

The Race – Reynolds/Youlden/Holden win.

All the above proved to be meaningless on Sunday, however, because what was looking like a rain-free run tuned rapidly into a guarantee of rain for a good part of the day, with probability increasing in the afternoon. As it turned out, the rain arrived at the start, stayed for most of the time but never got to an intensity great enough to destroy the competitive nature of the event, in contrast, the rain made the day.

Again, we are not going to simply repeat the event happenings so well covered in reports on the Supercar site, but we are going to pull the golden nuggets from the action….firstly….. the broadcast. 150 cameras, a chopper cam and a 150km/h rail cam down the pit straight….sorted.  Then Neil Cromton’s Key facts presentation immediately before the start, covering everything from fuel usage, driver rules, stop detail and strategic issues confronted by the teams. This is the finest pre-race coverage of the race/car/driver “what to look for” enlightenment you will find  anywhere and just ramps up the level of interest one has in the happenings on the track.

The start…. and the first few laps…… Just how good are these guys?….after six practice sessions and the shootout, all in dry weather, the rain arrived exactly on time at the 11 o’clock start, providing a menu of greasy surface, varying levels of grip/slip around the track and 26 cars going for it like it was a ten laps sprint…One slight contact at the start with Winterbottom being sandwiched  between Reynolds and McLaughlin but for the rest, excellent  2/3 abreast car control on the limit and no prangs.

3. 2017 start

A bit of hip and shoulders at the start

The level of driving skill in these conditions was immense and as described by Crompton, the race was now going to replace the physical exertion normally required in the dry with massive mental focus 24/7…..and how well these drivers did. Bathurst would normally serve up a good few crashes in the dry, quite consistent with the happenings at Panorama….in the wet we were pretty well set on the fact that there would be even more rain induced crashes…but no…. No safety cars caused by a prang until the 142nd lap of 161 in the semi dry…but…. three safety cars caused by a rock, a kangaroo and a valve respectively.

The rock found its way onto the track around the 60th lap…. first safety car,  the all-conquering top ten V power McLaughlin Falcon lunched its engine with a broken valve on lap 75 at the cutting, one of the worst spots for this to happen …second safety car, and lastly  Skippy the kangeroo decided to zip up mountain straight on lap 88 ….third safety car.

Throughout this period the consistency of Waters/Stanaway in the Prodrive Falcon, winners at Sandown, proved ominous. Reynolds was in the same league in the Holden, never being far from the front with Mostert  in a second Prodrive car taking the lead as the various pit stop strategies played out.. Nothing spectacular happened until the 144th lap…. except for the fact that Car 88 the Wincup Holden also gobbled a valve on lap 127. Our racing lives are filled with ironies…. how’s this:

The McLaughlin Falcon, at the time leading the Virgin Australia Supercar Championship, broke a valve on lap 75. The Wincup Holden  second in the championship also broke a valve…. But managed to be classified as a finisher by completing two laps at the end, in order to do so. The competitive nature of this series then kicked in, with Coultard in the second V Power Falcon moving to 1st in the championship with a third place finish in the race. So, with Five races to go the top three contenders most likely to take the championship are but a few numbers apart and anyone can do it.

Coultard Ford Falcon – Leading

Wincup Holden Commodore –81

McLaughlin Ford Falcon –87

The chase to the finish resulted in three safety cars in that period with the top 12 Cars nose to tail at each restart on those last laps. The track had dried out on the racing line allowing the train to approach full dry lap times….if on the line…. and making overtaking really tricky on the damp portions.    The result was that overtaking moves by many resulted in visits to the sand traps. The restart on lap resulted in the first multiple car incident at hells corner eliminating a few podium contenders. I was particularly disappointed that the very consistent  Waters/Stanaway Falcon was involved in this and lost the rear wing, making his subsequent run down Conrod faster than it should have been….luckily, not knowing the wing had gone, he sussed out what had happened and slowed before The Chase.  The bumping and barging at hells corner largely affected the Falcons with Waters, Mostert and Winterbottom all losing critical spots in the final run to the flag.

From then it was flat out to the flag and Reynolds in the Erebus Holden had the legs on everyone, here was our privateer showing the big boys how to do it. The team unkindly considered by some to be a group of misfits were doing the job tidily and in my opinion the only man capable of shutting him down was a flying Van Gisbergen…who should have been more patient. His wild entry into The Chase, off the racing line, attempting an overtake, shot him into the sand trap and a flat tyre…straight into the pits, he recovered to finish a charging 5th.

But it was Holden, Holden, Ford, Holden, Holden for the top five….a result I did not expect…this is the one time I thought Ford had the firepower to knock this one over.

5. Reynolds Youlden Win

Reynolds, Youlden and Holden

The Gold Coast 600

6. Wincup Lap record Gold Coast

Wincup on way to record lap at the Gold coast this morning

On to the Gold Coast 600, consisting of two 300Km races, one each on Saturday and Sunday. As of this morning the Holden boys seem to be back in the hunt with Wincup in 88 setting a new record lap of the track in practice. Tomorrow morning there will be a qualifying session to establish pole and I will post accordingly.