The Land Down Under
Reflections On Two Weeks In Oz
In the best
traditions of not beating about the (Australian) bush, here are
some random thoughts on two weeks in Australia.
What a country! And Bathurst is not only the most remarkable race
track, it is also a fabulous little town.
- The Ed. isn’t
a city lover, and despite enjoying some of the sights in Sydney,
would far rather be in the midst of real Australians, in a real
Australian town. Why is it that all cities seem so cosmopolitan?
Why is Sydney just one enormous suburb? What a pleasure to admire
the Court House in Bathurst (right). And the railway station is
a wonderful building (above).
- Travelling around a
small corner of NSW in a small camper was great fun. So no one minds
if you just stop beside the road, anywhere you like? They wave as
they drive by the next morning. In England, cramped little old England,
they’d be moving you on, getting you off their land.
- The parts
of Australia we saw redefine the word rural. It would have been
a great exercise to take a train to Broken Hill, but in both directions,
the trains travel overnight, so we would have seen nothing but the
stars. Perhaps there is nothing much to see, that far west? But
the stars – are there really that many?
- The heat. It wasn’t
too much of a problem at the 24 Hours – but the rain was.
All credit to the racers out there to largely survive unscathed
in the worst of the rain, some of them twitching and sliding into
the pits on slicks. Frightening stuff, at very low speeds, just
as it was out on the circuit in the worst of the downpours.
- The event. We’ve
drawn enough conclusions already, haven’t we? Just one point
to be made: for those racers who can’t stop driving in the
winter months, this is a beautiful event to be part of. You may
not get a great deal of track time before the race, but once you’ve
done it once, you’ll be unable to resist coming back and coming
back and coming back. We know we won’t be able to keep away.
- The Australians. Europeans
couldn’t believe what they were reading, when presented with
the statement by PHR Team Manager Terry Little (addressing Garry
Rodgers, Holden TM): “Garry, I have always held you in high
regard, however you must question a fully professional team with
eight leading drivers running cars with backing from Australia’s
biggest manufacturer, with huge resources and funding, when they
try to stoop to such levels to try and unsettle an unsponsored privateer
team with three full time staff running a car that is four seconds
off the pace of the Monaros.
- “Our car is not only legal but was approved by PROCAR for
this event and for the 2004 Nations Cup, prior to its purchase.
It is not a purpose built hybrid that you cannot buy.
- “The ‘bully boy’ tactics being employed may
have worked in the past by a team which last year threatened to
pack their bags and go home when they couldn’t get their own
way. They got their way, subsequently winning the race.
- “But I will say this to (you) Garry, put your money up and
lodge your protest and we will see you in court. Or shut up and
go racing, isn’t that what we are here for?”
- Ross Palmer calls it
“parity racing” and by and large it works very well
– except maybe at Bathurst. Garry Rodgers’ comments
in the race programme - “we’ve got to hope that the
others have some problems where we can hopefully make up the shortcomings
that we will have in actual vehicle speed” – just made
no sense at all, as already expressed here, in our race conclusions.
Palmer was delighted to learn that the Mosler had lapped quicker
than the Monaros – or at least until five minutes before the
end it had. How quickly could the seven litre monsters lap, if given
a free reign? 2:09 was one suggestion we heard. GTS cars surely?
But on balance, their presence added to the event, we felt. Did
we wish to see another Porsche win in a 24 hour race this year?
Probably not. And the last three laps were special, whether you
believed that 427 was ever going to try a genuine pass – or
- And so to the V8 Supercars
at Eastern Creek (and let’s finally be a little controversial
here, as suggested at the beginning).
- The one-off, one shot
shoot out didn’t work as a piece of one off theatre. Over
30 cars made for a long drawn out affair, and there was a degree
of caution being exhibited by at least some of the drivers that
was not what we’d expected to see. But who could afford an
off and a start at the back?
Greg Murphy started too far back in Saturday’s Race 1 to be
a real factor in the Championship race, so it came down to Skaife
against Ambrose (right). A jumped start for Skaife went down about
as well with the Holden fans as an England victory in the rugby,
and that was virtually the end of the race as far as the win was
concerned. Ambrose just disappeared into the distance.
- Why allow pit stops
to take place so early into a race? Tyre wear / durability didn’t
seem to be a factor at all, but surely a window of, say, 15 to 25
laps into a 39 lapper would create much better racing? Cars stopping
on lap two and lap 32 made for a protracted period before they all
came together. So much of the programme is built around entertainment
that it does strike a pommie as odd that the show becomes less of
one because of odd pit stop schedules.
- One of our number actually
fell asleep during Saturday’s race! Most of the big crowd
didn’t though – and it was a big Saturday crowd.
- Large screens helped
to bring the stars (and the race) closer to the fans thanks to lunchtime
interviews and screening of the race round the rest of the circuit.
That was greatly appreciated, and the cars are monsters. But only
two marques in the race does detract from its appeal, and there’s
something nagging away at me which suggests ‘contrived racing’.
- The commentators certainly
go over the top in describing on-track action, and there is a tendency
to bait the drivers, and escalate incidents into acts of warfare
between them. Perhaps that’s what the fans want?
race – we missed that one – produced the unusual circumstance
in which Ingall and Skaife collided, the latter retired, shook his
fist at the Ford man as he passed … and Ingall swerved at
him! A Roman amphitheatre, or Eastern Creek?
- The over excited commentary,
the apparent delight at contact on the track, a bizarre scoring
system where Ambrose and Skaife went into the last race with 1989
and 1898 points respectively (we think), it tended to remind the
Ed. of another kind of racing (two in fact), a world away from Eastern
Creek near Sydney.
As a brand of Touring Car racing, it’s the best in the world:
almost all the 30+ drivers are familiar, household names, the cars
are fantastic, the show is excellent…
- But there
has to be a but. As one observer noted, the typical PROCAR schedule
provides more racing and less glitz, and for the purist, it’s
better entertainment. Those who knocked the Bathurst 24 Hours probably
prefer sprint racing anyway. The last three laps also reminded us
of a class of racing a world away, and as a one off it was fun.
But endurance racing is not like that. The Monaros won’t get
away with a contrived sprint at the end again. We’ll live
with other memories of Australia’s second 24 hour race –
such as David Brabham millimetres from the wall in the BE Ferrari,
of dramas in the pits, of Lamborghini blow outs and an absolute
refusal to give up, of a magical circuit, of absurd weather, of
triumph over diversity, of a Morgan performance that promised so
much – and of Australian people who opened up their event
to Europeans and offered a welcome second to none. “We don’t
know how others do it.” We do.