WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG DETAILED ACCOUNT OF THE PAST 4 DAYS BY A MAN WITH TOO MUCH TIME ON HIS HANDS
Circuit: Mount Panorama
Ah the Great Race, where 90% of the viewing audience is tuning in to witness some poor bastard lose a fight to a concrete fence.
It was barely half an hour into Practice 1 before the Mountain of Mayhem 2019 was underway, when Macauley Jones backed into the wall at The Cutting, with such force that he raised the roof.
Then, in Practice 2, Luke Youlden managed to put Erebus behind the 8-ball very early on, when he carried to much speed over the mountain and smacked the wall hard at Reid Park (Some 20G of impact), causing heavy damage to the right hand side of Dave Reynolds’ #9 Commodore.
The so-called Pussy Wagon would undergo overnight repairs.
Aside from that, Jamie Whincup set an unofficial lap record in Practice 1, but by the end of the afternoon, Scotty McLaughlin had posted a new lap record at 2.03.772, and was joined in the 2 minute 3s by Whincup and Will Davison, with Cam Waters becoming the 4th driver inside the marker as the session ended, with barely 3 tenths separating the Top 6.
Scotty lowered that marker again on Friday in Practice 5 with a 2:03.4813, as Whincup hit the wall at The Dipper, while trying to avoid Richie Stanaway in the GRM Commodore, who had hit the tyre wall directly ahead.
It proved to be far from the biggest headache going into Qualifying in the afternoon, as the weather turned… apparently to the extent that it was snowing in Lithgow.
Wet qualifying sessions are always good fun to watch, because of the sheer chaos they can cause.
A wet qualifying session at Bathurst…. Now that’s right up there alongside Lithuanian honey wrestling for entertainment.
Within the last 2 minutes, there must have been at least 20 different changes for position inside the Top 10.
Through it all, there was that same familiar theme, as McLaughlin still topped the timesheets from Chaz Mostert, Shane van Gisbergen went off 35 times before qualifying 3rd, as he was happier than a pig in shit, Nick Percat and Tim Slade got themselves into the Shootout, while Jamie Whincup smuggled himself in on his last lap, Cam Waters, after numerous setbacks, finished in 8th after only competing 5 laps, and drivers like Fabian Coulthard, Lee Holdsworth and David Reynolds found themselves on the outer.
So after an afternoon featuring Toyotas rolling at The Chase and Super2 wins being stripped for stupid reasons, 5:00 rolled around for the Shootout, and Waters set the early benchmark with a 2.03.91, which managed to stand despite a superb lap by Whincup which missed by 3-thousandths, until Chaz Mostert came out 2nd last and produced a 2.03.78, which was a fantastic lap.
There was just one problem.
Scott Mclaughlin was up next, and the 2019 pace setter was about to make every time look like kids flogging around billy carts.
Scotty, rather spectacularly, set a new unofficial Supercars track record with a 2.03.37, beating Mostert’s time by 4 tenths, giving the Mustangs the Top 3 starting positions on the grid.
I have to say, it wasn’t like the Greg Murphy Lap of the Gods from 2003 (The first ever 2.06), or Scotty’s 2017 lap (The first ever 2.03), which were those laps you just had to see to believe- This was the best driver and car all year long delivering the most comprehensive Saturday beatdown of the year.
Still, they don’t give points for Qualifying, especially at The Mountain.
The Race (161 laps)
The DJR Penske cars finished 1/2 in the morning warm-up, followed bythe pre-race festivies, which included a lovely Convoy tribute to local trucking hero Dane Ballinger, and as 11:30 hit and the cars set out on the formation lap, the #56 wildcard entry of the Kostecki cousins had a crazy problem- Brodie parked the car at Forrest’s Elbow with a medical problem, caused by his cool suit failing and pumping dry ice and carbon dioxide onto his head, delaying the start by 15 minutes.
Chalk up another event to the Strange Bathurst Moments- Start delayed by CO2 poisoning.
Eventually, the car was returned to the pits, Jake got in, Brodie was cleared to race, and the race got underway at 11:50.
McLaughlin jumped cleanly, Michael Caruso in the #6 Mustang beat Mostert into 2nd, Will Davison beat Craig Lowndes for 4th, and then we had the first incident, with Tim Slade, after his Top 10 start, getting put in the fence by Scott Pye out of the Cutting.
Out went the BJR car, and out came the safety car.
Pye simply bounced off a kerb, and the #14 was in the wrong spot.
The race restarted on Lap 4, and things settled down from there- Mostert passed Caruso for 2nd on Lap 6, and McLaughlin had immediately smashed the genuine lap record with a 2.05.6… half a second better than the old record.
The #8 of Nick Percat pitted from 6th with a slow puncture, and had a driver change with Tim Blanchard getting in, which was really the last time they were anywhere near the front.
McLaughlin and Mostert traded punches in front until Scotty pitted on Lap 17, and in went Alex Premat, Lowndes pitted the next lap and stayed in the car, followed by Mostert on Lap 19 for James Moffat, and Carusco pitted for Cam Waters on Lap 20.
Dean Canto in the #21 went up the escape road, Luke Youlden clipped the wall at Reid Park but carried on,
Will Davison was the last of the original Top 5 to pit on Lap 22, hopping out for brother Alex, while Triple 8 kept Tander in the #97 out until Lap 23, and much like Lowndes, he stayed in the car.
Tony D’Alberto in Fabian Coulthard’s #12 made it to Lap 25 (He stayed in the car) with some good fuel saving, Will Brown in the #99 locked up and spun at The Chase trying to pass Alex Davison, and that was it for Hour 1, as most of the co-drivers were out on the road.
Moffat wound down the gap to Premat to 2.2 seconds, Waters was on the back of Lowndes, and Luke Youlden locked the rears and went up the escape road at Hell Corner on Lap 35, and the Erebus team would perform a very rare brake rotor change.
The downside was that he was directly in front of Premat, and he would go a lap down at The Cutting, and Moffat joined in at The Chase, as Premat came in at the end of Lap 38, and Lowndes finally hopped out for Whincup.
At quarter distance on Lap 41, and Moffat pitted from the lead and hopped back out for Mostert, and emerged just behind Premat and Cam Waters, who was all over the rear of the Frenchman, trying to force him into an error.
Shane Van Gisbergen took over from GT on Lap 44, but Triple 8 encountered a major problem… the driver’s door wouldn’t close, although Gizzy somehow got the latch to close while driving down the Conrod Straight at full throttle, avoiding a mechanical black flag, but he soon had to deal with Andre Heimgartner, who had stayed out trouble to climb up to 8th place with a good strategy from the Kelly Racing crew.
The effectively leaders caught up to the actual leader (Thomas Randle in #5) on Lap 45, and Randle immediately pitted, and then stopped halfway up the lane due to a problem with the airbox.
Premat withstood the heat from Waters, who was having to deal with the immediate threat of Mostert… who was having to deal with the stalking threat of Whincup.
On Lap 49, Premat had to defend Waters at The Chase, bringing Mostert into play, and he executed the perfect criss-cross to claim his teammate for 2nd down the pit straight, and he was joined by Whincup, who saw the opportunity and moved up to 3rd at Hell Corner.
Mostert immediately put the pressure on Premat, and this time, the #17 locked up at The Chase, went wide, and the #55 took the lead, as Whincup joined in to jump to 2nd.
Waters eventually got by Premat on Lap 52, and the #17 was getting ready for a driver change.
Premat struggled on with his right front, lapping at some 1.5 seconds a lap slower than the 3 main game drivers, bringing him into the clutches of Van Gisbergen, until Frenchy pitted on Lap 58 to put Scotty at the wheel, and on went new brake rotors as well as part of a compulsory change.
Turned out DJR Penske were right to call him in, as the right front had suffered a major cut as a result of the lock-up.
Not short of entertainment was the #9 Erebus, as Youlden spun again, and was seemingly doing everything short of thump the car into a wall.
Waters and Whincup pitted for their compulsory brake rotor changes on Lap 61 (Waters jumped out for Caruso, Whincup stayed in), Mostert came in for James Moffat (Wearing Cam Waters’ helmet) on Lap 63, and Giz pitted for GT on Lap 65.
Moffat was soon encountering the same problem that Premat had faced in the lead, being chased by Whincup, with McLaughlin fast making up that deficit.
It was pretty boring other than that- Gary Jacobson managed to make contact with the tyre wall entering pit lane, which popped out the drivers’ window when Dean Fiore got in, Scotty caught up to Whincup and Moffat, but with more than half the race still to go, he seemed to be content to let them race.
McLaughlin and Caruso pitted on Lap 80, putting Premat in for his last stint of the race, Whincup pitted on Lap 81 for Lowndes, and as we reached half race distance, there hadn’t been a safety car for 3 hours, but as recent history has shown, the SC was sure to make multiple appearances in the back half of the race.
Moffat pitted on Lap 82 and stayed in the #55 after a very good stint, but he stalled the car and dumped a massive amount of time, costing him the lead to Lowndes, and 2nd place to Premat.
Tander pitted on Lap 87 after passing his 54 lap minimum, meaning Giz was ‘probably’ in until the end of the race, and he emerged just ahead of Tony D’Alberto in the #12 DJR/Penske car, who was fuel saving better than any car on the road, getting some 24 laps out of a tank, putting him into contention.
On Lap 91, Lowndes made contact with the wall at Reid Park, then he made a mistake at Murray’s Corner, allowing Premat to take the lead to begin Lap 92, which also put him back in the same pressure building situation as his first stint.
The Giz became the 5th driver to better Reynolds’ 2018 lap record, and out of nowhere, James Courney, running in the midfield, pulled out a 2.05.75, becoming the 6th driver to better the 2018 record, which by race’s end, didn’t turn out to be a one-off fluke.
Premat completed his business on Lap 95, and McLaughlin was set to run to the end, while the #15 ‘Silver Bullet’ Nissan of Rick Kelly and Dale Wood was running very well in the Top 10, until Wood was forced in on Lap 96 after reporting something broke in the rear (It was a loose wheel), and he rejoined in 16th.
Lowndes pitted on Lap 99, jumping out for Whincup, while Gizzy was flying in his stint, peaking with a 2.05.58, getting himself back into contention just on raw pace, and McLaughlin was back in the lead.
As we ticked over 100 Laps, pretty much every driver was driving well, and then just as I wrote that, Todd Hazlewood brought out the Safety Car by hitting the wall at Reid Park (Leesa’s last ride came to an end), and Will Brown in #99 ran out of fuel in the pit lane, and it turned out the engine was possibly buggered, as the car stopped again at pit exit, before firing up again.
That crash triggered a chain reaction- Coulthard was put in car #12 for the run to the flag, Moffat and Gizzy had to spend an extra lap behind the Safety Car before pitting on Lap 103, with Moffat vacating for Mostert, while Gizzy stayed in the car- As it turned out, they’d been in the bad spot of appearing on the pit straight when the SC came on track.
What it all meant was that McLaughlin led, Whincup was 2nd, and DJR/Penske had played a pretty good hand, with Coulthard up to 3rd.
Milwaukee pitted the Davison car under the SC boards, performing the rare rear brake rotor change (Will had reported problems earlier in the race), dropping him down to 17th.
Eventually, the race restarted on Lap 105, and the Gizzy Overtaking Show began with a bold move on Holdsworth at the Cutting, followed by Chris Pither in the #33 GRM at Forrest’s Elbow.
The mid pack craziness also took off during that restart, with the #9 Erebus of Reynolds firing up the inside of many cars at Griffin’s Bend on consecutive laps, as he was somehow still in the running after Youlden had spent the afternoon auditioning for the Dakar Rally.
Footage emerged of a slightly loose rear bumper on McLaughlin’s car, which had come about when Premat passed Lowndes a few laps earlier, but but it didn’t seem to be affecting the pace on the Mustang, because Scotty fired out a 2.05.295 on Lap 109, followed by a 2.05.372 in a superb battle with Whincup, who fired out a personal-best 2.05.401, which were the 3 fastest laps of any drivers in the race.
Highlighting the massive car development since 2018, by Lap 113, 11 cars had posted a lap faster than the 2018 fastest lap.
Then Jake Kostecki finished off the #56 wildcard by putting it into the wall at Reid Park, bringing out another Safety Car, and triggering a flurry of pit activity, which seriously hurt Coulthard and Gizzy in the double stack, while Whincup was able to jump McLaughlin, who had to take on more fuel than #888.
The SC eventually came in at the end of Lap 116, with Holdsworth leading the race, as the field had to deal with the lapped #78 Nissan of Alex Rullo, went off at McPhillamy Park right in front of Whincup and McLaughlin, but thankfully didn’t make contact.
Holdsworth pitted on Lap 123, and then incredibly, we got a nomination for the Darwin Awards, as Mostert lined up a pass down the outside of Waters at The Chase, but somehow, in one of the great cases of Mutually Assured Destruction, Mostert locked up, locked wheels with the right rear of the #6 car, and they both spun into the gravel, and out of the running!
Teammate on teammate crime- The deadliest sin in motor racing.
It was the second race weekend running (Pukekohe last month), and the second Bathurst running, that the Tickford pair had collided- In 2018, Mostert collided with Waters at Forrest’s Elbow, and put him into the wall.
They were both dragged out, and Mostert re-emerged in 22nd before being brought back into the garage (he would go back out to grab some points), while it took slightly longer to get Waters away, but the Mustang had major damage to the right rear, and he dropped 12 laps down.
Mostert would earn a drive through for causing the incident, and with 35 laps to go, Whincup led from the 2 DJR Penskes,, while Van Gisbergen grabbed fuel during the Safety Car period, putting him at a huge advantage to the front runners if conditions stayed green.
As soon as the SC peeled in, it was back out again, as Anton De Pasquale down the order became the 3rd driver to find the wall at the Quarry, due to some sort of mechanical failure, which caused him to veer hard left and smack the wall with some force.
33 laps to go, and these Safety Cars were extending the fuel windows of the lead runners, as it soon became apparent that the race record of Lowndes/Richards from 2018 would stand another year.
The SC peeled in on Lap 130, and McLaughlin was once again following the back of Whincup, while Gizzy had the angry eyes on, firing up the inside of Davison at The Cutting for 7th, while Coulthard got some bad news, needing to take on water to deal with an overheating engine at his next stop.
On Lap 133, James Courtney made pretty decent contact with the wall at Reid Park, damaging his left rear wheel, and almost taking him out of a very good chance for a Top 5 finish, while the leaders had to go hell for leather to build a gap to Van Gisbergen, as the track reached grip levels not seen since Thursday.
The #27 wildcard entry of Indy 500 winner Alex Rossi and James Hinchcliffe ended up sliding off at Murray’s Corner on Lap 135, causing a highly awkward situation, as it was just short of the fuel window.
Most likely on orders from the Penske boys, Coulthard whipped out the gamesmanship on orders from the brains trust, and massively backed up the entire field to minimise the double stack problem, blowing the gap out 30 seconds by the time Whincup and McLaughlin reached the pits, which also effectively gave the #97 car a free pit stop as well.
McLaughlin slightly stalled on exit, and reemerged behind two lapped cars, giving Whincup a massive free kick on the restart- Meanwhile, James Golding in the #34 GRM Commodore was up to 3rd, having driven a superb race!
And thus, the great fuel game began- None of the front runners could drive at full pelt to the end, while Coulthard was given a drive through penalty for not maintaining 5 car lengths to the next car, but DJR/Pesnke knew exactly what they were doing, and his use as a human sacrifice for Scotty had worked.
Golding pitted on Lap 141, while McLaughlin was all over the rear of Whincup, as they raced flat out and prayed desperately for a Safety Car along with most of the field.
Several drivers rolled the dice and pitted for fuel and tyres for a straight run to the end, as Jamie found himself in a familiar position to 2014, and decided to do the same thing- Take the risk of running empty going for the win.
This is the Bathurst drama we’ve come to love!
Andre Heimgartner (The lead Nissan in 4th) and Winterbottom decided to take their medicine and pit on Lap 147, while Whincup kept building a lead, while further down the pack, Davison and Pye collided at Reid Park, and somehow didn’t end up in the fence!
There was utter cruelty for Golding on Lap 149, who had to pit because of a vibration in his tyres, which meant that David Reynolds, who had taken full advantage of the Safety Cars to work his way into 6th, was the best driver who absolutely didn’t need to worry about fuel.
Whincup had built the lead past 8 seconds with 10 seconds to go, while McLaughlin was still fuel saving, building the intrigue, and as the 6 hour mark ticked over, the crucial SC came when Jacobson and Stanaway collided at Hell Corner on Lap 151, minimising the fuel problems for everyone, as Whincup came in for a splash and dash, and re-emerged in 4th, which meant Courtney was up to 3rd!
That SC set up a massive 9 lap sprint race, with Scotty fighting his fellow Kiwi in The Giz, and Courtney fighting Whincup for the last podium spot, setting up what might turn into a “Hold your breath Australia” moment.
Gizzy was right on the attack, putting pressure on the Mustang in effort to put Scotty back in fuel danger with 5 laps to go, as Mostert, a lap down in 15th, posted a new lap record 2.05.158, followed by a 2.04.76, leaving me to wonder what could’ve been, were it not for that collision.
The leaders all traded punches, with their lap times barely a tenth apart, and barely 2 seconds on the track, and Whincup couldn’t find a way past Courtney, but the question remained- Could the two leaders get to the end?
And then on Lap 158, Heimgartner, who had run in the Top 10 for most of the day, clobbered the inside wall at Forrest’s Elbow and then hit a tyre barrier, bringing out another Safety Car, potentially handing the race to Scotty, as he managed to save more fuel for the 1 lap dash to the end.
It was confirmed when the SC stayed out for Lap 160, setting up a mega battle between the Kiwi demons, with a Mustang in Red, and a Commodore in Red and shades of Blue, contrary to the factory colours crap Neil Crompton was on about.
McLaughlin crawled down to Murray’s before giving the Mustang some jandal, with Gizzy in hot pursuit, going absolutely wild over the Mountain, but the Red Bull was never close enough to pass his compatriot, and the best car all weekend had done it- Scotty McLaughin and Alex Premat won the Bathurst 1000!
The first win for DJR on the Mountain since Dick Johnson and John Bowe won in 1994 in the famous Shell #17, the first win for Ford at Bathurst since 2013, the first polesitter to win Garth Tander and Will Davison in 2009, Premat becomes the first Frenchman to win the race, and Roger ‘King Midas’ Penske, who was in attendance, had ticked off another unclaimed prize in world motorsport.
Some superb drives in that field- Giz and GT after that door latch incident, then JC, with the recent news that he’s out at Walkinshaw at the end of the year, finished 3rd with Jack Perkins (His first Bathurst podium) in a damaged car, and after a wild weekend, David Reynolds and Luke Youlden somehow finished 5th, which cannot be explained by science.
At the end of the day, the #17 Mustang, as it has been all year, was utterly outstanding- The only mistake either drive made all weekend was pretty much Premat’s lock-up at The Chase, which only cost them track position.
As a result, Scott’s championship lead is past 600 points over Gizzy, and if results do go his way, the 2019 title race can be finished off at Surfer’s Paradise.
NEXT UP: THE GOLD COAST 600 IN A FORTNIGHT