Bathurst 1000: A clash of old clans

Jawad Yaqub Roar Guru

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    In the pantheon of great sporting arenas around the world, few stand more illustrious than the Goliath that is Mount Panorama.

    Situated in the humble township of Bathurst in western New South Wales, the 6.2 kilometre tourist road across Mount Panorama doubles as one of Australia’s premier racing circuits and host of the legendary 1000-kileomtre touring car race.

    Such is the aura and mythos of the Bathurst 1000 that on a global stage it can rival motorsport’s Triple Crown events in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans and the ferocious Indy 500.

    Apart from the infinite glory that a driver receives through claiming victory after 1000 gruelling kilometres, the prize for winning Australia’s great race is the Peter Brock Trophy.

    Introduced in 2006 following tragic demise of the ‘King of the Mountain’, the Peter Brock Trophy immortalises the nine-time Bathurst champion as well as adds each winner to the race’s rich history.

    The 2017 event will see a new chapter written in the Mountain’s folklore, with perennial rival manufacturers Ford and Holden set to lock horns for their 21st and 32nd respective wins.

    The season so far has been dominated by a clash of the titans, with the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and the Blue Oval’s DJR Team Penske consumed in conflict for the overall championship.

    A mere 84 points separate DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin from four-time Bathurst 1000 winner Jamie Whincup in the Red Bull Holden. A total of 300 points is on offer for whoever claims the win at Bathurst.

    Both drivers come to this year’s edition of the 1000 with the demons of the previous seasons to purge.

    McLaughlin and Whincup in 2016 were involved in a controversial late incident at the high-speed Chase corner, where the Holden driver’s failed attempt at a dive-bomb sent himself and the Kiwi into the gravel. Whincup tried to redress, but he made a meal of that too and eliminated not only McLaughlin in the Volvo but the fast Garth Tander also.

    (Image: AAP Image/Edge Photographics)

    It’s not only the allure of a Bathurst title up for grabs; the championship itself could see a significant change in direction with the outcome of this race, as has been the case in previous years.

    Defending series champion Shane van Gisbergen put aside the individual glory of winning the Bathurst 1000 in 2016 to collect vital points on the podium and be springboarded to what was his maiden Supercars title.

    That is not the approach, however, that young McLaughlin will be applying towards this year’s great race, with the 24-year-old’s focus on winning what would be his first Bathurst 1000 and DJR Team Penske’s first since 1994.

    “They (Bathurst and the championship) would both mean a lot, but the thing that sticks out to me with Bathurst is that to win it everything has to go well on the day,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

    “Bathurst is it for me, so I’m going to have a crack at it.”

    Van Gisbergen too, now with a Supercars title to his name, has stated his intentions to claim the race at the circuit he enjoyed success at in a GT3 McLaren last year at the Bathurst 12 Hour.

    It would be no surprise if the Kiwi were dwelling on this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour, during the dying stages of which he and his Mercedes AMG GT3 crew were in contention to win only for him to bin the car.

    Whincup, who emerged as the winner at the end of the 12 Hour in 2017, will be hoping to at last break his Bathurst 1000 drought after four years of repeated failures from his side.

    (Image: VUE Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

    Even outside the championship contenders there are a host of drivers with designs on achieving the win and with their own narratives woven around the Mountain.

    Sandown 500 winners Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway have made it no secret that they believe they’re in strong contention to fly the flag for Ford following their dominant display at the pre-Bathurst enduro.

    Their Prodrive stablemates in Mark Winterbottom and Dean Canto will look to emulate the famous formation finish of 1977 and will be bearing the livery of the legendary Allan Moffat’s Ford Falcon in celebration of the 40th year since that historic race.

    Following his heartbreaking departure from the Walkinshaw camp at which he was a long-time servant, Tander will want redemption after being stripped of the victory in 2016 thanks to Whincup’s antics.

    It was at the turn of the millennium that Tander tasted his first round of success at Bathurst, and with the same GRM team that he has now returned to in 2017. That day it was he and Jason Bargwanna who took Garry Rogers’ one and only win at the famed circuit. Could the veteran this time triumph with the young James Golding?

    It would be remiss not to mention modern Bathurst legend Craig Lowndes, who with his impressive tally of six wins could match the great Jim Richards’ record and move within two wins of his friend and mentor Peter Brock.

    Every driver and every team will have their own unique narratives for Bathurst. Whether it is one of celebration, heartbreak or just pure awe, there are few sporting events in the world that can capture all colours of the emotional spectrum.

    What will then be written in the chapter that is 2017? Let it be the tale 161-laps will tell.