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As is tradition following the conclusion of the footy seasons, the legendary Bathurst 1000 takes centre stage on the Australian sporting calendar, with the Supercars event celebrating its 60th year in 2023.
This also marks the first time that the Gen3 Supercars will tackle the iconic Mount Panorama circuit, with six practice sessions, qualifying and the all-important Top Ten Shootout between 28 cars and the 161-lap enduro thriller.
Between Gen3’s first appearance at The Mountain and concerns for the Ford teams, as well as potential title fight ramifications – here are the talking points heading towards the Bathurst 1000 weekend.
With only three rounds remaining in the 2023 Supercars championship and a spread of just 294 points between the top four in the standings, having a solid Bathurst 1000 couldn’t be any more crucial.
Erebus Motorsport and Triple Eight duked it out at the preceding Sandown 500 enduro, with Broc Feeney and Jamie Whincup ultimately taking the glory ahead of championship leader Brodie Kostecki and his co-driver David Russell.
Contrast that to the fortunes of Kostecki’s teammate and fellow title rival Will Brown, who in the dying laps was relegated off the podium after making a mistake while under pressure. Brown is fourth overall and with the most points to gain.
While some have accused reigning champion Shane van Gisbergen of checking out ahead of his impending NASCAR switch next year, his result of third at Sandown with Richie Stanaway moved him to second in the standings and proved he can still win the title.
Van Gisbergen is the reigning Bathurst 1000 winner too and could possibly add a third victory at The Mountain to his long list of accolades before heading stateside.
The question is, who if any of these drivers will prioritise the championship over the prized Peter Brock trophy, or vice versa? Neither of the Coca-Cola Racing pairings have won the Great Race, with only podium finishes for Kostecki, Russell and Jack Perkins (co-driver for Brown). The same said for Feeney, in only his third Bathurst 1000 start and the impressive Stanaway.
Finishing the race in the first place is key, as seen in the 2017 Supercars title fight where Scott McLaughlin’s retirement cost him the points to Whincup overall, regardless of the Kiwi’s brainfade in the Newcastle finale.
Attrition is always high, and Bathurst is a race known to make or break anyone’s title aspirations. Proceed with caution, as only The Mountain chooses who wins at the end of the 1000km.
It feels almost taboo raising the exhaustingly ongoing discussion of parity ahead of the biggest race on the Supercars calendar, but given the scale of the event and importance to all the competitors it’s an issue that deserves attention.
Widely documented has been the numerous issues regarding the disparity between new Gen3 models in the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, with Supercars finally agreeing to conduct wind-tunnel and transient dyno testing offshore ahead of the 2024 season.
Though that doesn’t stop Ford fans from feeling aggrieved that the Mustang will be in a different class to the all-conquering Camaro. It is common practice in Supercars, that if one cannot win the championship, then one must win Bathurst for a feeling of accomplishment.
While Supercars did announce ahead of the buildup to the event all 13 of the Mustangs will have new door and rear-quarter panels (to save weight and lower centre of gravity), it still may not be enough to create a level playing field.
Mount Panorama is one of the most demanding tracks of the season and is unique with its need for a balance of high-downforce across the top of the hill and down to Forrest’s Elbow – as well as needing top speed for Conrod and Mountain Straights.
The Sandown 500 saw a Camaro lockout of the top six positions, though that was with key Mustang runners having had incidents throughout the race to take them out of contention of a strong finish.
One positive that has come from the new Gen3 cars is the scrapping of the minimum pitstop rule, which was introduced in 2013 for the Car of the Future era and the fact there were multiple manufacturers with differing fuel ranges.
Through COTF and Gen2, a minimum of seven pitstops were required at Bathurst notwithstanding Safety Car interventions and ensuring co-drivers have met their required number of laps, which’ll still be enforced with a 54-lap minimum.
The 5.4-litre quad cam Mustang motor and 5.7-litre pushrod Camaro engine achieve a similar enough fuel economy, that there is no need for minimum stops to equalise the field. Instead we can see teams implement varying strategies to get to the end of the 1000km and that will be fascinating.
Cars will still be required to undertake a compulsory brake pad change between Laps 55 and 120. Teams however won’t be required to make a brake rotor change. This will be the first time also that the Dunlop soft tyre will be the sole compound for the Bathurst 1000.
So, it will be interesting to see what everyone does come Sunday morning. Who’ll elect to run their co-drivers first? Which primary drivers will start the race? How many pitstops will comprise the winning strategy? All the sort of exciting questions to ask ahead of a big race like this.
Simona De Silvestro has been a Supercars fan favourite since her initial wildcard appearance at the Great Race in 2015 for Tickford (née Prodrive) in the Harvey Norman backed entry, to her last appearance as a full-time Supercars driver with Nissan Motorsport in 2019.
With only a best result of 13th having come in that final year with Nissan, co-driving with the young Alex Rullo, the 35-year old Iron Maiden returns to Mount Panorama again as a wildcard and in a Ford.
The highly credentialled Swiss driver will be pairing up with Super2 young gun Kai Allen aboard a third Shell V-Power Racing Mustang, with a striking inversion of its traditional livery adorning the #98 car.
After a recent removal of her appendix, the wildcard missed a pre-enduro season test day. Regardless of how the pairing fares ultimately, it will be great to see De Silvestro back in Supercars and at Mount Panorama – she remains the only female driver to have raced in the category full-time.
The #98 Shell V-Power Mustang will join a couple of other wildcard entries seen at the Sandown 500. The Supercheap Auto #888 car prepared by Triple Eight and featuring seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowndes with Zane Goddard. As well as a second Blanchard Racing Mustang with their 2024 driver Aaron Love and Jake Kostecki.
It is difficult not to look at the Bathurst 1000 and the Mount Panorama circuit with the eye of a romantic, as the place is steeped in folklore and tales of glory, woe and all-round excellence.
And with this being the 60th year of the Great Race, the onus on celebrating the event’s rich history is greater than ever. Always the emphasis on the rivalries, whether it was Ford vs Holden, Brock vs Moffat or Whincup vs Winterbottom.
There is the potential in 2023 to see the outright team’s record for most wins at Bathurst taken by Triple Eight. They share nine wins with the famous and former Holden Dealer Team, while Walkinshaw Andretti United, synonymous with Bathurst success in Holdens and now a Ford outfit – could equal them on nine if they win.
Memories of Bathurst in the modern era certainly peak with the emotional 2006 race, with Lowndes and Whincup winning the inaugural Peter Brock trophy – just months after the eponymous King of the Mountain was tragically killed.
Thrilling finishes, such as in 2011 where Garth Tander and a teenage Nick Percat defied Bathurst legends in Lowndes and Mark Skaife to create their own legacy. The back-to-back wins for Ford in 2013 and 2014 – with the latter having seen Chaz Mostert from last, pass Whincup on the final lap to win.
Erebus in 2017, as the minnows taking on the Goliaths of Supercars with David Reynolds and Luke Youlden with their famous victory in the wet. The list of iconic moments and memories can go on and on.
Please share in the comments Roarers, your favourite memories of the Bathurst 1000 before the first practice session gets underway at Mount Panorama on Thursday October 5, at 1:20pm AEST.