For the whole 35 years of my life I’ve never been to a race event at the iconic Bathurst Mount Panorama circuit. Watching the Bathurst 1000 on television has always been a tradition for me, with fond memories of the Group A period in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s through to V8 Supercars and the current generation of Supercars. I remember watching Tony Longhurst throw the wonderful BMW M3 E30 around the mountain, Dick Johnson and John Bowe wrestling the Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth in the wet and Jim Richards/Mark Skaife winning a very controversial race back in 1992. I also remember the late, great Peter Brock dominating The Great Race for so many years. More recently, I recall Craig Lowndes winning in 2006 for his mate Brocky, who passed away about a month prior to the event. There were also thrilling finishes in the 2013, 2014 and 2016 editions of the race.
The Bathurst circuit really put production car racing on the map. Being a Ford fan, I wish I could’ve witnessed Allan Moffat win the race in his GT Falcon’s in 1970 and 1971. To see Brock, Moffat, Richards and Johnson compete throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s would’ve been a great spectacle. It was the era of ‘win on Sunday and sell on Monday’ and led to the creation of some of Australia’s most powerful and amazing muscle cars that are so highly valued today. In the mid 1990’s however, the Bathurst 1000 moved away from its production car foundations and focussed on a new era of V8 Supercar Racing. From 1991 to 1995 there was a Bathurst 12 Hour event for production cars and these races were dominated by Mazda RX7’s. From 1996 to 2006 the event didn’t run but returned in 2007 and ran until 2010. Following this, the 12 Hour race moved to the much faster GT3 category. There were production car classes in this category, however entry numbers dropped.
The Bathurst 6 Hour for production cars was established in 2016. The diversity of the field is definitely the biggest appeal to me for this category with 60 plus entrants. You have everything from turbo 4 cylinder all wheel drive cars like Mitsubishi Evo’s and Subaru WRX’s to the current twin turbo 6 cylinder rear wheel drive BMW M3’s and M4’s. There were also front wheel drive cars like the Honda Integra Type R and Nissan Pulsar SSS. I love how this event really gets back to its Bathurst roots of production car racing. The cars all have different strengths and weaknesses which make for great racing and a lot of overtaking. This is the reason why I prefer watching production car racing over the current Supercars.
I finally got my chance to visit the circuit for the Bathurst 6 Hour race on 1st April 2018. As a spectator event, the 6 Hour was better than expected. Watching the rolling start from the hill on pit straight was a highlight and there was also a great view of Hell Corner and Mountain Straight. For only $25, it was also easy to access the paddock and pit area and look down on the car’s getting serviced throughout the race on top of the pit lane buildings. It was also easy to venture up to the top of Mount Panorama in my car, where McPhillamy Park was visited. The views of the track and surrounding landscape was amazing, with spectator access all the way from Sulman Park to Forrest’s Elbow. If you’re into photography like me, it’s also easy to get a good spot with no annoying tall fences to look through like at the Grand Prix at Albert Park. It almost feels like two tracks in one with the road from The Cutting to Forrest’s Elbow reminding me more of a Targa stage.
There were thrilling finishes over the last 2 years of the event. This year, Class A1 was won by Grant and Iain Sherrin in a BMW M4, with Strom and Jorgensen in a BMW 1M taking second and Woods, Zalloua and Steven Johnson finishing third in an A45 AMG Mercedes. The last 30 minutes of the race was thrilling with Sherrin fighting back through the field after a drive through penalty to win. It’s great to see production car racing growing and I’m hoping to return to the 6 Hour in 2019.