TopGear.com at Australia’s greatest race: the Bathurst 1000

V8 Supercars - Bathurst 1000

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Touring cars’ greatest race — Australia’s Bathurst 1000 — kicks off this weekend, and TopGear.com’s riding shotgun with Andy Priaulx and the XBox One Racing team. We’ll be trackside, engulfed in the madness on the infamous hill and embedded in the XBox garage to bring you all the action as it happens…

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FINAL UPDATE, SUNDAY OCTOBER 13. 7.33am

And normality has been restored at Bathurst, with the Ford of Winterbottom and the Holden of Whincup in a one-two finish. Lowndes, Tander and Bright rounded out the top-5 finishers.

A furious final spell saw Andy Priaulx forced into a final stop for fuel and tyres after a mid-mountain lock-up left him with two debilitating flat spots. The stop saw him slip outside the top 10 with a handful of laps to go, but he wrestled past Van Gisberge on lap 159 to secure tenth.

Without the stop, he might have been pushing for victory. A point not lost on the unlucky driver.

“We could’ve been, should’ve been — whatever,” he said. “We had the potential to run right to the sharp end, and we proved that today.

“I needed to pit for a splash and dash anyway. So luckily for me it didn’t cost me anything.

“But I’ve led Bathurst. I’ve actually been out in front. And that’s a special moment for me, I can tell you. To actually be the leader of the pack — I’ll wake up and won’t believe that happened.

“It’s just a shame it didn’t happen at the end.”

And that’s all she wrote from the foot of the mountain. We’ll be wrapping up the Bathurst experience with a gallery of the action, so check back soon.

Running pic

FINAL STRETCH UPDATE, SUNDAY OCTOBER 13, 6am

Whatever dark magic lives inside that XBox Triple Eight Racing Commodore, it’s doing its job here today. Mattias Ekstrom was sitting first with about 40 laps to go, consitently setting the same lap times as Bathurst All-Stars Whincup and Winterbottom.

An unbelievable fusion of skill, luck and strategy has seen the Xbox car charge toward the front and, to a fair bit of local surprise, stay there.

The inevitable fuel stop arrived at lap 135, with Priaulx jumping in for the final spell and leaving the pits in 12th. You could almost hear the Calculators being whipped out all over the mountain. A V8 Supercar’s running on vapours after 25 laps, but if Andy can coax 26 out of it, they might just claim the mountain. It’s been a staggering performance from the two internationals – Mattias is so unknown in Australia that when he hit the front, the commentators were calling him “Marcus”.

Its between them, Whincup and Winterbottom now, both of whom banked for fuel a couple of laps later.

Holy hell, this might just turn out to be the greatest underdog victory in Bathurst history.

LAP 90 UPDATE, OCTOBER 13, 4.08am – the run home

While Jamie Whincup and Mark Winterbottom trade body shots at the front, the boys further back are learning racing’s oldest lesson: sometimes you get lucky. And sometimes you don’t.

And for the XBox One team, today could be one of the lucky ones. But for James Courtney and Greg Murphy? Not so much.

A massively uncharacteristic mistake from Murphy, who butchered the entry to a corner near the top of the mountain and slammed his Commodore into the wall on exit — ending the Holden Racing Team’s time on the mountain — has drawn a safety car and reset the field again. Team Xbox One used the slowdown to pit on the 86th, then again on the 87th, topping up the Triple Eight Engineering Commodore to squeeze any precious extra laps out of it.

And just like that, there’s a chance. Andy and Mattias, while safe on the lead lap, were bouncing between positions 15 and 20, depending on the pit order in front of them.

The boys are mixing it with the big boys, posting a fastest lap of 2:12.35, less than a second off the day’s quickest, recorded by the Holden Commodore of Fujitsu Racing. They need to find more time, though: the top 10 racers are posting consistent 2:11s.

It’s hard racing, though. It’s 27-degrees outside, and significantly hotter on the track. When we caught up with Andy between shifts he looked smaller physically, like a crisp wrapper you pull from the oven. The hurt is starting to show, but he’s happy with the run so far.

He’s in 16th and driving hard. There’s only one tactic now: survive to the final 20-odd laps and push like hell to the finish.

45 LAP UPDATE, SUNDAY OCTOBER 13 12.30am – and they’re off.

A rumble of V8 thunder and the booming cheer of thousands of thunderously drunk punters on the hill marked the start of the 2013 Bathurst 1000, with the cars peeling off the grid at just after 10.30am local time.

And the writers of Neighbours couldn’t have scripted a better Aussie soap opera after Jamie Whincup scored his first ever pole position at Bathurst with a cracking performance in yesterday’s Top 10 shootout. Then, when arch-rival Mark Winterbottom nabbed second spot in his Ford, the stage was set for yet another epic showdown between the two manufacturers. Bathurst’s infamous hill was alive with the sound of bogans at this fortuitous turn of events.

Things were decidedly quieter in the XBox One garage, though. After a tough qualifying session, the team’s Commodore started from 18th, but a smashing start from Andy, who nabbed first-up driving duties, saw him sneak into 14th by turn one. His hot run was killed by a three-abreast traffic jam into turn two, which pushed Andy wide. He was back to about 20th by the time he made it through.

But 45 laps is a long time in racing, and after a lucky safety car (a kangapro vs a Nissan Altima. The Nissan’s out of the race. The kanagaroo is out, period) brought the pack back together, Andy, then co-driver Mattias Ekstrom, began to push through the order. At lap 30, the team sit in 11th, still on the lead lap and pushing hard for a top 10 spot after some incredible overtaking moves. Whincup leads in his Holden, followed by the Fords of Winterbottom/Richards and Reynolds/Canto. But our Euro wildcards are planning to shake things up, and launch another assault on the top order.

Andy’s gearing up for his second now stint, it looks like he’ll jump in the car in 10th spot after an absolutely stunning drive from Mattias. Whatever comes out of those Swedish taps, we need to get some in Australia.

A slow change and awkward timing saw Andy leave the garage in 20th, But he’s back in top 10 contention now. We’ll be chatting to him after this spell, TopGearers.

UPDATE FRIDAY 10 OCTOBER 3pm – we sit down with Andy Priaulx 

Andy Priaulx thinks he might be in trouble. He’s hunched over a monitor in the XBox One Racing garage, lines of data crowding the screen. His finger is tracing the squiggles, seeing through the code. He’s looking for something. He’s searching for time.

Andy, along with co-driver Mattias Ekstrom, has scored a drive of Xbox One Racing’s Holden Commodore for Sunday’s Bathurst 1000. It’s an arrive-and-drive set-up, with the car prepped by Triple Eight Engineering — the same team behind Jamie Whincup’s championship-leading ride.

But the curtain has just closed on the first practice session, and despite nailing a top-10 lap time, he knows things are only going to get faster.

“We don’t have to worry about the car. It’s very good. We just need to concentrate on our driving. I was in the top 10 this morning – and only half a second off (reigning-champion Jamie) Whincup. And around here that’s a big lap, so the car mixes it with the big boys,” he says.

“But we’re pushing at ten tenths just to keep pace because we don’t know the car, so this is going to be a tall order…”

The 40 year old has spent two decades hovering at the peak of the tin-top racer list, claiming a 2005 victory in the gruelling Nurburgring 24 Hour and three World Touring Car Championships along the way, so there’s not much about racing that worries him.

But having just strapped into a V8 Supercar that he met for the first time only a week ago, those long-forgotten nerves came charging back to the surface. And from a man who’s tackled the Nurburging in inky darkness at 2am, that’s saying something.

“I went out there today, and despite having raced here three times, I still thought ‘bloody hell, I don’t remember it being this bloody scary’. You’re looking down at the lap time and thinking ‘shit, I’ve still got to find four or five seconds a lap’.”

Like most race drivers, Andy’s an expert at shutting down the part of his brain that tells him things are getting hairy. In short, he’s aiming big.

But by close of play on Friday, the already formidable mountain was looking even more imposing. Because each car has two drivers, only one can enter qualifying, and after a strong practice showing Ekstrom took the duties. His time of 2min 09secs — while staggeringly impressive for a man who learnt the track by watching videos of it — could only secure 18th on the grid after a hard-fought session.

“One thing I’ve learnt from motor racing is never expect a result, just work bloody hard and extract the maximum from yourself,” Andy says.

“We’ll be pushing like hell until the race, then we’ll try to stay on the lead lap. But over the last 20 or 30 laps? That’s when the real racing starts.

“Anything inside the top 10 would be like a win and a podium would be amazing. I want to leave Bathurst having conquered the mountain.”

Priaulx

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POSTED FRIDAY 10 OCTOBER 9am 

It’s known as the Great Race. Always with capital letters — no different, then, to the Good Book. And to the 200,000 followers who flock to Bathurst every October, no less important.

The Bathurst 1000: 621 miles, 161 laps, 29 teams with 58 drivers. There are 20 corners spread over the circuit’s 3.8 miles, most of which are impossibly tight, climbing 570 foot up and over the mountain. It’s linked at the bottom by two long straights. All up, it’s a little over six hours of door-banging racing. A pittance compared to European enduros, maybe. But no less intense.

Bathurst, you see, isn’t actually a racetrack. Any other day of the year you can drive the exact circuit in your car, albeit with a speed limit of 37mph. And that’s what makes it so amazing. Racetracks are usually designed by smart people — specialists, even — who blend excitement with safety until they reach that delicate balance in which the drivers are unlikely to die, but wild enough that the spectators still believe that they might.

Mount Panorama, home to the Bathurst 1000 and Mecca for Aussie motorsport fans, was instead designed in the mid-1930s by a crafty town mayor who lied to the government — he told them it was going to be nothing more than a slow-speed tourist drive — both so he could obtain the funding to build it, and dodge those pesky safety regulations that usually surround racetracks. The crews finished carving the winding track out of the then-untouched mountain in early 1938. On March 17, Mayor Martin Griffin loudly declared the new tourist drive open for business. Less than a month later, he more-quietly announced its first official race. More than 20,000 people turned up.

And It’s been a part of Australian folklore ever since. Home to some of the most insanely violent racing the country’s ever seen, and equal insanity among the spectators. It forged the Holden vs Ford divide that still splits the country down the centre. And there’s no Australian, racing fan or otherwise, who hasn’t heard of it. But for those passionate about motorsport, the annual pilgrimage is a religion.

Like any religion, there are zealots. Extremists, even. At Bathurst you find them at the top of the hill, regardless of weather, camping out for four days in their tens of thousands. Until recently, normal people didn’t go to the hill. Not even the police.

It used to be the Wild West up there, but with more beer. A booze-fuelled festival of insanity that left the ridgeline smouldering like a warzone by the time the final car slipped out on Monday afternoon. Dozens of cars were burnt to the ground every year, and the lucky campers lost an eyebrow from the thousands of kerosene-soaked toilet roads that criss-crossed the air above them like tracer bullets. The unlucky ones lost eyes, limbs. Occasionally, they never made it down the mountain at all. But the ones who made it out were back the following year. Nobody ever does just one Bathurst. You’re not even considered a regular until you’ve lost at least a decade to it.

Things have calmed down considerably since then, and the police presence on the hill has jumped to more than 600 patrolling officers. It hasn’t sanitised it completely, though, just enough to make you confident of getting out in one piece. Like when, a few year’s back, they slapped a limit on how much beer a person could carry in with them. The limit is 24 beers per person, per day.

When the dust settled on the 2012 race, cleaners patrolling the campsite reported hundreds of what looked like wombat holes dotting the mountain. Nobody could quite work it out, until somebody found a full case of beer in one. The campers had been climbing the mountain in the dead of night weeks and months earlier, and burying booze stashes to be dug up later.

The modern-day rebellion now takes the shape of Bathurst institutions like the No Shit Hotel, whose members hide all over the mountain scaring the shit out of late-night wanderers. And in the night-before track walk, a Saturday night ritual that can take hours. if it’s your first Bathurst, you have to walk.

And that’s the Bathurst 1000 — no less a part of Australia’s cultural tapestry than Bondi Beach or Uluru.

Words: Andrew “Chesto” Chesterton from Top Gear Australia  

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