Bathurst. Mount Panorama. The Supercheap Auto 1000. No matter what you call it, it remains one of the world’s headline races on one of the world’s finest tracks.
The vast and varied fields of the 1980s may be gone with the race's inclusion into the Ford vs. Holden battle of the V8 Supercars series, but the entry list for this weekend’s race draws talent from around the world and from several different series.
The Bathurst 1000 is one of two endurance rounds in this year’s championship, the other being the previous round at Philip Island, won by Garth Tander and Will Davison in the Holder Racing Team-run Commodore.
But Mount Panorama is a very different animal.
A sprawling 3.8-mile circuit made up of public roads that race up, across, and back down the hillside in a lap that includes two of the longest straights in Touring Car racing, a turn that purports to be Australia’s fastest right-hander (there is no record of where the fastest left may be), mind-boggling gradients, and more than a few blind bends.
The fast sweeps at the top of the circuit (officially 862m above sea level) through the campsites at Reid, Sulman, and McPhillamy parks, and the breathtaking descent through the Esses to Forrest’s Elbow (note the two “r”s, the turn being named after a motorcycle rider and nothing to do with trees) onto Conrod straight and into the Chase, where one mistake can send you on a high-speed trip through the gravel that doesn’t often see the car remain on (or with) all four wheels.
It’s no wonder that drivers come from across the planet to drive it.
Of course, the front runners are likely to made up of those who have been regular V8 and Bathurst drivers, but the extra names bring another dimension to the race.
Alex Davison, while being a Stone Brothers Racing regular this year, will be a familiar name to sportscar fans, having spent several seasons in European Porsche Carrera series and having competed in both the American and European Le Mans series last year.
However, the real international flavour (other than two-time New Zealand V8 champion John McIntyre) is leant by a number of British (or British-based) drivers.
Three-time World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx will join David Reynolds in the Bunderburg-backed Holden.
Ben Collins (the man widely thought to be main alter ego of TV’s Stig), who tested a HRT Commodore for an article in British racing magazine “Autosport” earlier this year, is aboard one of the four Kelly racing cars.
But perhaps the international car is the No. 88 Team Vodafone Falcon which sometime World and British touring car star James Thompson will share with Danish driver Allan Simonsen, a man who will race just about anything (single seaters, GT cars, and even previously a Ute pick-up in the Australian racing series) and usually drives it very quickly.
While these pairings may bring foreign fans to Bathurst, a majority of the thousands expected will be following one of the juggernauts of the series, such as Triple Eight’s duo of Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup of the Tander/Davison pairing for Holden.
The strongest opposition to these two teams is likely to come from three teams. The first is the partnership between Ford Performance Racing’s Steven Richards and Mark Winterbottom aboard car No. 6.
Then there are two Commodores. The first sees another of the families racing this year at Bathurst (along with the Davisons and Tanders, Garth’s wife Leanne expected to drive in car No. 333).
Todd and Rick Kelly will pair up in the Jack Daniels sponsored car run by their own team. The other pairing to watch will have a little more age on their side as New Zealander Greg Murphy is joined by recently retired five-time champion Mark Scaife for Sprint Gas Racing.
They will be joined by the normal crop of drivers promoted from the second-tier Fujitsu series, and beyond, with V8 Ute driver Andrew Fisher and Motorcycle racer Troy Bayliss also on the entry list.
The green flag on the 161-lap Supercheap Auto 1000 is expected soon after 10:30 a.m. (local time) on Sunday.