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Bathurst 24 Hours – Conclusions
Turning The GT World Upside Down

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The Race For The Win
Klaus Engelhorn, joint owner of the Baron-Engelhorn Ferrari, had some interesting opinions on the way the race developed (he was speaking shortly before the Monaros dipped into the 2:14s during the closing moments of the race):

“Andrea (Montermini) set a 2:15 in our car, within a couple of tenths of the Monaros’ best, but they have another 200 bhp more than us. Either
- they didn’t run at full speed
- or Andrea is a better driver than the Holden drivers
- or the Modena is better over the kerbs than the Monaro (allowing us to get so close to their times).

“I’ll leave you to decide which to apply to the situation at this event.”

Garry Rogers had some equally interesting thoughts (which were expressed 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. And that’s where I see our best opportunities will be.”

In other words, Garry Rogers didn’t think the Monaros would be fast enough.

Those thoughts didn’t sit too well with the observation that the Holdens looked so easy at 2:19 or 20. And then, in traffic, during the last three laps of the race, both of them ripped off 2:14s.

“I’ll bring a new engine next year: we had 50 bhp more at Le Mans, and with that engine here, we would have pushed the Monaros harder. If we had pushed them harder…,” wondered Klaus Engelhorn.

Let’s look a little more closely at what did happen during those closing laps….. “Who would have thought that we’d have to go hammer and tongs like that,” said Garth Tander afterwards.

Of course, it’s no good relying on a driver to help perpetrate a little deception, which was clarified when his last laps rival admitted that "the call was made to have a fight at the finish," (Greg Murphy).

But the hammer and tongs were very exciting: all credit to Garry Rogers for allowing Tander and Murphy to go at it so enthusiastically. The task was to make a great show, but not collide or go or off in the process. The two drivers put on a brilliant show, amid much ‘oohing and aahing’ from the press corps. It was wonderful entertainment, but 2:14s in such close company, so close to the end – in traffic. What are the Monaros really capable of?

Can you imagine two Audis pretending to race like this at Le Mans?

So, to almost conclude this part of the wrap up, the Monaros put up an outstanding performance for 23 hours 53 minutes, hardly giving anyone else a look in, and then took some risks to provide brilliant entertainment for seven minutes.

The Circuit
“It’s a fantastic circuit, the real deal,” pointed out Klaus Engelhorn. “It’s dangerous and it’s difficult: if there was more gravel, you’d have more chances to get though the race even if you made a mistake. But if it’s secure and easy, why do it?

Thanks to the generosity of the organisers and personnel at the track, one of our number had three separate excursions around Mount Panorama. Paul Ryan took it nice and gently, Ross Palmer took it even more gently, while Pete in the Chase Car took Lordy and I round in “about 3:05.” Across the top was great fun, but coming down was the most exhilarating ride possible – on any circuit anywhere, we believe. There is no other circuit like it.

Klaus Engelhorn spun on his own oil, Heather Spurle was cut off by a slower car and spun, while Allan Simonsen had the mother and father of all moments after another puncture on the Lamborghini, but despite finding grass, he still managed to keep it off the walls. No doubt there were other incidents up there we didn’t hear about. Someone saw Uwe Alzen pass a Monaro round the outside, somewhere up there, in the pouring rain: this is a circuit on which legends are created. Drama is guaranteed, lasting memories are assured.

In some ways though, Mount Panormama and the Bathurst 24 Hours are well kept secrets. They won’t stay that way internationally for long.

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The Staff
Let’s pick out a few of the names: Ross Palmer, Brian Lawrence, Chris Nixon and Peter Turner of PROCAR, and Maggie and Errin in the press room. You simply could not conjure up a more helpful and welcoming group than these. “We don’t know how others do it,” said PROCAR PR Chris Nixon, “so we just do it our own way.” Please don’t worry about finding out any other ways to do it, Chris. From food in the press room, to offering chances of laps of the circuit, to a shower (plus towels, soap and shampoo) in the press room, to introductions to anyone and everyone who could add to a reporter’s understanding of the event, this meeting was a brilliant experience (for me) from start to finish.

Next year there will be a new row of pit garages and suites, and a new press room. The only niggle we could find was the slow phone lines, and they weren’t that slow, and we could cope with that.

The Weather
Should we take any wet weather gear? Perhaps we ought to, just in case…

“Besides running the 24 Hours, we sorted out the drought too,” chuckled Ross Palmer.

Friday was changeable, adding to the difficulties for the teams – of getting cars and drivers dialled in and qualified in one day. Perhaps the wet second session was a help though…. The two downpours during the race were just about confined to Saturday, and what rain! Some teams had just had fresh slicks fitted before the first deluge, and the likes of Pat Pearce had to slip and slide their way in to the pits on slicks – “I was full lock this way, full lock that way, then back again.” How easy it would have been to have lost it at 15 mph – but at least it shouldn’t have been a race ending accident. Tim Harvey described how bad it was while trying to find the car in front, in the Safety Car queue. Looking for the walls then steering away from them? This place is dramatic enough without biblical volumes of water drenching the track and everyone out there.

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A Kiwi in a tent next to our little camper behind the paddock was seen to try and dig channels to divert the rain around his tent, then gave up and trudged off to watch the midnight race.

David Lord kept the same clothes on throughout the race, and his trousers were still damp at bedtime on Sunday… “And don’t forget to mention the parrots and the ants.”

The Crowd
Did the weather put some off coming? It almost certainly did. But a three day crowd of 41,000 was double last year’s.

Ferals? That seems to be the local term for those less desirable race fans who set up shop at the top of The Mountain, and binge their way through the meeting. The funniest story we heard was of the group at the 1000 Kms who spotted the cappuccino vendor setting up his machine. They watched and waited, and when he left his post to attend to a call of nature, they blew up his machine. Literally. Whatever they used, the poor cappuccino machine exploded – upwards.

Reliability
33 cars finished, from 45 starters: that is an excellent reliability record. Commiserations go to the 888 Porsche and Honda S2000 squads, the final retirements, the 911 with only moments of the race left.

In terms of potential class or race winners, the significant retirements were the BE Ferrari, the PHR BMW, the Cirtek Porsche (24) and the Morgan.

It was the loss of the Ferrari that hurt the race the most, although the Morgan had become a real crowd pleaser before its engine failure a quarter of the way through the race. We loved following what the Richard Thorne boys were up to, and Neil Cunningham in particular was as effervescent as one of that poor chap’s cappuccinos. Keith Ahlers was the one at the wheel when the Morgan suffered that first hour hose leak, but it didn’t seem to get him down at all. Where would the Moggie have finished had the engine not let go?

We loved the Lamborghini effort. Its only mechanical ailment was a broken (and very hard to find) spark plug connector, but that series of punctures was at first worrying and then frightening. Time after time they bolted on fresh rubber and sent Simonsen and co. on their way towards who knows what, but an eighth place at the flag was almost an overall win in terms of pure satisfaction derived from getting it home.

Driver Combinations
Here are some interesting statistics, based on the spread of best lap times from the drivers in each of the following (significant) cars. The first figure is the spread from fastest to slowest driver in each car. The second figure is the spread from fastest to third fastest (therefore ignoring the best time from the slowest driver in each car).
1. 05 Monaro 2.8 secs 1.0 secs
2. 427 Monaro 2.6 secs 2.4 secs
3. 54 Porsche 5.5 secs 4.5 secs
4. 6 Porsche 5.0 secs 3.2 secs
5. 900 Mosler 8.4 secs 2.4 secs
6. 7 Porsche 1.3 secs 1.2 secs
7. 8 Porsche 4.1 secs 1.6 secs
8. 20 Lamborghini 2.6 secs 1.7 secs

70 Porsche 12.3 secs 10.0 secs
888 Porsche 10.3 secs 9.8 secs
24 Porsche 19.9 secs 13.5 secs
48 Ferrari 6.3 secs 2.2 secs
420 BMW 10.1 secs 1.5 secs.

What do these figures prove? Well, the excellent Falken Tyres Porsche effort might have got closer to the Monaros with four more evenly balanced drivers, but what a stunning effort it was anyway.

The likes of Tim Harvey in the 24 Porsche and David Brabham, Andrea Montermini and Philipp Peter in the 48 Ferrari might have been very well matched, but Harvey didn’t have the support that Brabham did, for example.

As this 24 hour race develops in the coming years, expect more and more strong driver combinations.

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The British Teams
What contrasting fortunes these four enjoyed during the three days of the meeting.

It was the Mosler that was ‘again’ best of the Brits at Bathurst: ‘again’ because it was almost the only British entry last year. This time, Martin Short was scratching his head (and eye?) on Friday, wondering how to make the 2003 Mosler behave through the dips and sweeps: he knew the answer of course, and his three laps in the 2:15s just after dawn were wonderful proof that the man loves this place – and has mastered it. All three co-drivers provided wonderful support in their different ways, and each was a hero / heroine in his / her own way.

Some found the Morgan simply funny. It’s appearance is dramatically different from anything else, but we’d call that a plus. Keith Ahlers running in a very solid 12th for the first half hour, and then Neil Cunningham setting a best lap of 2:25 were proof of what this car can achieve, and with a different engine management system for 2004, expect even better results.

Did Rob Schirle work his crew harder than any other? A very late night on Friday paid off with the green Kawasaki car on Saturday and Sunday, a fine seventh placed finish for Ian and Andrew Donaldson, Liz Halliday and Peter Floyd.

The GNM Porsche did make it to the finish, and only Tommy Erdos knows how he set a 4:19 on his first visit to the track.

dailysportscar.comThe Schedule
Track action starting on Friday made it difficult for some, probably none more so than Graham Nash’s crew. “Three days of solid action, that’s how it should be,” said Nash on Thursday. And it was. Two engine changes and three qualifying sessions in one day, and then the TAFE guys straightening the 911 GT3-R from 1am until 8 am: but didn’t it look good in Sunday’s sun?

Paddock Atmosphere
Ten out of ten. Let’s hope the new complex retains the atmosphere of the old. Everyone was extremely keen to tell their story, but we found it tough (OK, we failed) to keep up with most of the local teams. We had five of us at the 1000 Km…. And a smaller entry.

Characters
We met many, but must have missed many more. Darrell Dixon (Rollcentre and Morgan logistics) was larger than life, his mum (right) even more so. She was up all night feeding the two teams and was still smiling at 7am on Sunday, despite a broken arm. What with Darrell’s broken ankle last year (Shorty ran over it), breaks seem to run in the family.

Tony Whitlock (below) was great fun to be around, his racefax keeping everyone informed as often as he could produce it. We loved his ‘dsc’ trainers, but Mrs dsc wasn’t so sure…

dailysportscar.comThe Rugby
When the score became 17-17, one of the Australians with Rollcentre suggested “get on the radio and tell Shorty the score.” He didn’t have the same idea moments later when England took the lead again.

The press room went awfully quiet with that last score, but most Australians were gracious enough to admit that England did deserve to win this one.

Extra time at Bathurst probably wouldn’t have made a difference to the result, the Monaros looking as though they could have run for another 24 hours.

And Finally
We loved those V8 Brutes. How much would it cost to bring one to the UK, for editorial use?

The final Bathurst tale involves this young man, Peter (below) by name. He was so sure that the Morgans are built with a frame made of wood that he borrowed his parents’ mobile phone to call the local radio station and answer the question. He was the winner, although we’re not sure that he won.

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We found the gentleman with him in this image (above) at Eastern Creek (below) a week later – for the final rounds of the V8 Supercars. That's Mark Skaife jumping the start, almost handing the title to Marcus Ambrose. The lunchtime entertainment on Saturday involved a jet-powered Donut King van, plus a couple of Donut King V8 Brutes. The circuit had never seen such a crowd on a Saturday, but as the Bathurst 24 Hours grows and grows, we’re expecting the Australian endurance race to broaden its appeal, with both fans and teams. Don’t miss next year’s event, either as a participant or a spectator.

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