Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Bathurst 1000 - Day 3

By the third day of our trip to the Bathurst 1000, we were getting into a routine: up early, tasty breakfast, head for the track. This morning we had a special treat, as our host Deb whipped up a cooked brekkie for us.

So off we went to the circuit, once again expecting the worst in terms of traffic and once again finding everything to be exceptionally smooth. Our plan today was similar to Friday: morning at the bottom of the Mountain, and afternoon at the top. Today's highlight was the Top 10 Shootout for the V8 Supercars, where each of the ten fastest cars from Friday would get one flying lap to determine their place on the grid.

We negotiated the significantly heavier crowd to find a place on the grass bank at the exit of the final corner and spent the next 90 minutes there, first to see the second Australian Performance Cars race, then the Porsche Carrera Cup race 2, and finally to catch the first few minutes of the V8 practice session before heading to our grandstand seats. It was an enjoyable morning's racing, albeit disrupted once again by safety car periods in both races. It was interesting to see how much more corner speed the Porsches had than the V8s, even though their lap times were about 1-2 seconds slower.

As we strolled down the walkway between the merchandise trucks to our seats, we noticed how dark clouds were gathering. This was a bit unexpected since the morning had started the same as on the previous two days. To make matters worse, neither Ian or I had brought our wet weather gear, opting to leave it at the house that day.

The rain held off through the V8 practice session but the wind was really starting to whip up. As we grabbed lunch behind the grandstand, we struggled to keep the dust out of the fish and chips and roast beef sandwich. We'd been warned about "Bathurst Weather", being so unpredictable, but it had been hard to take seriously given the sunny skies of the first two days. Things took a turn for the worse as we boarded the shuttle to the top, with big spots of rain coming down. Thankfully it had ceased by the time we got of the bus. But then it started again. And then it stopped. And started. And stopped. Aha, now we understood!

The sun came out just as the weekend's second Fujitsu V8 series race started. Our eyes were focused firmly on Tony D'Alberto who was starting from the back of the grid but who had the potential to move very far up the field. All was normal for while, with Luke Youlden taking his place at the front of the pack. However, a few laps in came the commentary that I will never forget: "We're getting reports of a kangaroo on the track at turn six". I did a little mental arithmetic and realized turn six was in Sulman Park, one corner before where we were. I could hear the cars coming up the Mountain and hoped the animal would get off the track. He didn't. I feared the worst, not wanting to witness the gruesome death of a likeable mammal. The first few cars came by us, then moments later the 'roo came innocently hopping over the crest, and mere seconds afterwards, the remainder of the field was upon him. Two cars went to the right, one onto the grass to the left as the 'roo tried to find an escape route. The next few cars also missed him, one of them driving through the gravel trap to avoid a potential pile-up whilst Skippy was finally able to get over to the edge of the track, unharmed. Ian and I looked at each other with incredulity. As the crowd erupted into excited chatter, the kangaroo continued its trek, now moving along the side of the track on the grass verge. He hopped by mere feet from where we stood, ultimately into the grasp of some courageous marshalls who managed to get him over the fence and back to the relative safety of the campsite.

The on-track action in the race seemed a bit tame after that. It was a true Bathurst moment that will live with me until the day I die....

An hour later we took our place on the big embankment at McPhillamy Park, with a good view of the big screen, right in amongst the huge flag-waving crowd, ready to experience a slice of classic Bathurst atmosphere in the Shootour. As each car came by, supporters would cheer like at a football match, blasting air horns and waving the flags. Early on, the biggest cheers were for Greg Murphy (who held the all-time lap record from 2003) and Russell Ingall, although the cheer for Ingall was probably more a jeer when he spun on the final corner of his hot lap.

The drama intensified as each driver took their turn. The early pace-setter was Steven Johnson, enjoying a renaissance weekend in the Dick Johnson Racing Ford. Expectation was high that Johnson's time would be bettered by Mark Skaife in the Holden Racing Team entry, as Skaife has a history of qualifying well at Bathurst. Sure enough "Skaifey" went to the top of the timesheets, much to the joy of the Holden supporters (who seemed to outnumber their Ford counterparts for some reason).

Finally Mark Winterbottom took the track in the Ford Performance Racing car. He'd been fastest the previous day, but it seemed unthinkable that Skaife would be beaten. As the lap progressed it looked marginal - "Frosty" was quickest in the first sector but fell behind across the top. As he came round the final corner, the crowd held its collective breath... until the commentator announced that he'd done it, taking pole away from Skaife! The Ford fans were ecstatic, partly because this was against the run of play, partly because they were the smaller group, and partly because they were simply delighted. There was much chest-beating, cajoling and hooting and hollering, but I was surprised that it was all taken in good humor by the "losing side".

We dashed for the buses, expecting something of mob scene, but despite the large crowd everyone was well-behaved and we got on a shuttle fairly quickly. Once down at the bottom I vowed to have one more go at snagging some merchandise. Happily I found a Holden t-shirt that wasn't festooned with sponsor logos, and was actually on sale. That left some money to grab a classic red Holden baseball cap. I was suitably satisfied with my purchases, and Ian and I headed for the car. This time around it was more difficult to get out, but we managed to find the shortest line, and still made it back to the house in about 25 minutes.

For the evening's fun I was determined to not eat any more chips, so we headed back to the Family pub to get in on their pizza action. Being thousands of miles from my Hawaiian-pizza-hating partner I opted for the pineappley treat and was pleased with my choice. After dinner we checked out the main street, looking for mayhem, but finding none (perhaps the rain had dampened spirits a little). After a beer in another pub that seemed to be full of teenagers, Ian suggested we go to what Aussies call a club. This is basically a membership establishment that derives most of its income from "pokies" or slot machines. The place was huge, the beer was cheap and it felt like a small casino. As time marched on we decided to head back to catch the first half of the England vs Australia match from the rugby world cup. An early morning prohibited us from catching the second half, and we hoped England could come back from a 4-point deficit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I envy you, my in-laws live in Bathurst (and I live in SF) and I've been there many times, but unfortunately never during the race. You can actually drive the track during the rest of the year (it's considered like any other road, 60 Km/h speed limit (and the cops check often ):), and even (supposedly because all the cars I saw on it where going the race direction) two-way traffic).

BTW, technically kangaroos are marsupials, not mamals.... ;)