The magic of Bathurst


Andrew Frankel explains why Bathurst is so special  – from the Mountain

If you were to sit down and design the motor racing facility of everyone’s dreams, your imagination would need to be on coruscating form to think up one better than Mount Panorama.

The operative word here is ‘everyone.’ If you thought only from a driver’s eye perspective you’d probably struggle to better the Nürburgring. But what about the poor old spectator, or those sitting at home of a Sunday desperately trying to find something worth watching of a Sunday?

Mount Panorama has it all: a mountain section as fiendishly complex as anything you can find at the Nürburgring and with so little run off (think none) in places it makes the ‘Ring look like a Tilke track. It has gradient sufficient to make Laguna Seca look like it’s located on one of the flatter parts of East Anglia. And, of course, it has the treacherous old Conrod Straight with its aero-challenging undulations and The Chase at the end. The Chase? The circuit owners – whom I shall come to in a minute – were in 1987 tasked with responding to an FIA directive that straights could be no more than a certain length. Their solution? A 180mph kink, one of the quickest corners in all of motor racing, flat out if your aero is good, absolutely not if it isn’t.

So that will keep the drivers amused. For the spectators, all areas bar Conrod (which is on private land) are deliciously easy to access. At the major meetings you can just hop on a bus to wherever you want to go and, with lap distance of just four miles, it never takes long to get there. Spectator areas on The Mountain are on high banks above the circuit, affording perfect views of cars trying to thread the needle through this impossibly thin strip of circuit.

As for those at home, they don’t need to have some expensive subscription to watch the race on television. The Bathurst 12 Hours I’ve come to see is broadcast free to air on terrestrial television. Every minute of it. Try to imagine all or even half of the Silverstone 1000km going out live on BBC2 – and no, I can’t either.

More amazing still is Mount Panorama’s solution to the threat faced by all circuits from locals who apparently were entirely unaware they’d bought a house next to a race track. Every track has them and they all complain bitterly to the council every time a meeting is held. That’s less easy at Mount Panorama, because the council owns the circuit.

And the arrangement works beautifully. The track is all public road but according to the local copper I spoke to all residences can be accessed by other means. Even so, regularly throughout race weekends the track shuts for 40 minutes to let locals go about their business.

But Mount Panorama is owned by the council, so surely it’s also underfunded and in a state of perennial decay? You would not believe it: given just three major race meetings are held here each year – with a large number of smaller sprints – the circuit is in sparkling condition. The pits are immaculate, the glass-fronted suites above icily air-conditioned, and the whole thing runs like a precision instrument.

Best of all though is the access. The Bathurst 12 Hours is a major event – I am told it has a greater global reach than the Nürburgring 24 Hours and attracts works-supported teams from most of the major GT3 players. Drivers of the calibre of Oliver Jarvis, Guy Smith, Darren Turner, Earl Bamber, Marc Lieb and Timo Glock are all here. Yet the paddock is completely open and while out of courtesy and respect spectators tend not to wander into pit garages, for the vast majority of teams there’s nothing to stop them. In that regard it feels like a rather large club meeting at Snetterton.

And the spectators themselves? I’d been told to expect armies of lager louts, drunk before they arrived, furiously digging up the stashes of drink and drugs they’d buried here weeks ago. So far all I’ve seen are thousands of enthusiasts come to watch their heroes do their thing. I am told that the other major event here – the Bathurst 1000 for V8 Supercars – does attract a less salubrious clientele whose motives for coming here may not be entirely to do with motor racing, but at the 12 Hours it was clear from the moment I got here that I was among like-minded individuals.

Guy Smith says Mount Panorama should be on the bucket list of all racing drivers. From what I’ve seen so far, the same should be said for spectators. 

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