Wild and wet Bathurst 1000 full of drama

This year’s Bathurst 1000 well and truly lived up to the race’s reputation for drama-filled racing and unpredictable outcomes. The arrival of rain on Sunday and the uncertainty of conditions over the course of the race was a recipe for a memorable race and many stories of what could have been.
The previous round at Sandown had shown that many teams were in contention for the second endurance race and that luck in all its forms would be a determining factor in who would be on the top of the podium on Sunday afternoon.
For our Team PAYCE drivers in the Wilson Security Racing GRM team, the prospects of a good result looked extremely promising, especially after Garth Tander made it into the top ten shootout and put the #33 Commodore ninth on the grid. James Moffat was also looking good in the #34 Commodore and set for a top ten qualifying, only to be bumped down to 22nd when his fastest time was disallowed after he crashed and caused a red flag stoppage to the session.
The four-day meeting got underway well for the GRM team, with the main focus on trying different setups as this was the first outing for the team’s Commodores at the mountain.
The first practice on Thursday had both cars mid-field, but James Golding in the #33 car quickly got into a rhythm in the practice two, which was for co-drivers only, and put in a 5th quickest time.
Garth backed up that performance with a 4th fastest in the last practice session of the day and the team were justifiably confident of a good weekend ahead. Unfortunately, Richard Muscat was caught out as he approached The Dipper in the co-drivers session and contacted the concrete barrier, but the team had the car repaired in time for the afternoon session with Moffat behind the wheel.
The highlights for the GRM team in Friday’s two one-hour practice sessions was James Golding’s second fastest time in the co-drivers’ session and James Moffat’s 8th fastest time in the last session before qualifying. This was also Moffat’s fastest time ever around the track in a touring car.
The 40 minute qualifying session saw Garth Tander quickly up to speed and jumping into second on the timing charts, before slipping down the order. James Moffat was equally impressive and with just four minutes to go, James was in 9th place and Garth was 11th. With only seconds left in the session, James made an error and hit the wall, bringing out the red flag and an end to his hopes for a top ten spot, as he lost his fastest time and was relegated to 22nd position on the grid. In a fortunate twist, this moved Garth up a spot to 10th and gave the team a start in the top ten shootout, albeit James’ exclusion was devastating for him and his hard-working crew. Scott McLaughlin set a blistering pace to set fastest qualifying time.
The good news was that Garry Rogers and his team felt confident they had two cars capable of a good showing on Sunday, and it was not out of the question that they could be in contention for one or two podiums.
The top ten shootout on Saturday afternoon was again one of the highlights of the meeting, with the question being asked “could the long standing 2003 record lap by Greg Murphy be eclipsed?” Garth was first out and set a good initial time without taking risks and the team was satisfied it had a good setup for tomorrow’s race.
As successive cars did their runs and conditions cooled, times dropped but Garth had already jumped one position. Last in the shootout was Scott McLaughlin who delivered the fastest ever Supercars lap at the track, logging a 2:03.8312s and displacing David Reynolds’ fastest time until then by four-tenths of a second.
Congratulations to Scotty for a brave effort that saw him run wide at Skyline and kerb hopping through the Esses in setting the record time.
Sunday dawned and the rain clouds gathered as predicted. As the cars gridded up, the first spots of rain appeared and teams were faced with their first dilemma of the day – what tyres to start on and who of the two drivers should be in the car.
There was still a lot of uncertainty about the weather and the condition of the track, but in the end all but a few teams opted to put on ‘’wets’ and have their primary drivers take the first stint.
As the lights went out and with the rain now set in, all cars made it safely through the first corner as the field began to settle down. The race lead see-sawed through the first half of the race as weather conditions changed, cars left the track and different strategies came into play.
Amazingly, given the conditions, there was no need of a Safety Car as cars passed one-third race distance.
Both Wilson Security Racing GRM cars were travelling exceptionally well and the further the race progressed, the closer they moved towards the leaders.
This has been the trend for the GRM team in recent rounds and confirmed that while the cars are not yet at their peak in qualifying, their race trim makes up for that.
Garth was able to improve on his good starting position and was 8th by lap 16 when he pitted, while James was most impressive in his drive through the field to be well inside the top ten by lap 20.
With the first of the pit stops and driver changes completed by lap 25, Richard Muscat in the #34 car was in 5th and James Golding in the #33 car was 11th.
By lap 55, with the second pit stops out of the way, James Golding had moved up three spots to be 8th and Richard was close behind in 9th.
It wasn’t until lap 75, that the Safety Car made its first appearance when Scott McLaughlin’s hopes of a Bathurst victory evaporated, the #17 Ford Falcon slowing to a halt on the mountain after showing signs of an engine malfunction for several laps.
The GRM cars continued to hold strong positions and by lap115, when the seven mandatory pit stops had been completed, Tander was in 7th and Moffat was 8th.
On lap 133, both cars took advantage of a Safety Car period to fit slicks after a dry line appeared on track. At that stage, Moffat was running 3rd and Tander 7th.
Then with just 19 laps to go, the GRM team was gutted when James Moffat hit the wall at The Grate and brought out the Safety Car, putting an end to a potential podium and what was by far the best drive by James all season.
The team was buoyed by the fact that Garth was up to 2nd with just 15 laps to go, but the bad luck that struck the #34 car was also to hit the #33 car, with Garth slipping off track at turn 23 and then being caught up in an incident at the end of Pit Straight as a group of cars fought for space at turn one.
Garth was turned around and once again the team was totally devastated after a podium finish disappeared in a flash. Garth battled on mid-pack and was pulling up some places until he collected the wall at The Cutting and all but ended any hope of a good finish. He nursed the car back to the pits for repairs and the team managed to get the car back on the track to finish 19th.
After doing so well up to the dying stages of the race, it was cruel to think the team came so close to a podium and possibly a win.
All credit though and congratulations to David Reynolds, Luke Moulden and Betty Klimenko’s Erebus team for their well-deserved win.
What an amazing race of changing fortunes for Team PAYCE, but Garry Rogers and his team can be justly proud of their hard work and never-give-up attitude through the four days. All four drivers, the engineers and pit crews gave it their all and will no doubt approach the last three rounds of the championship with vigour and fresh confidence.
On the championship leaderboard, Garth is still in the top ten in 9th place, while James Moffat is in 12th. The Wilson Security Racing GRM team maintains its 4th spot in the Teams Championship.
The next Supercars championship round and final round of the Pirtek Enduro Cup is the Gold Coast 600 on 20-22 October.
Dunlop Super2 Series
This year, the Super2 round supporting the Bathurst 1000 carried no points as it was hoped some Super2 teams would take up the offer as ‘wildcards’ in the Great Race. As it transpired, there were no wildcard entries forthcoming, but several Super2 drivers did compete as co-drivers in the main race as well as in the Super2 round, while other teams opted to give the round a miss.
Understandably, some would have tight budgets, so with no points on offer, they made the decision to save their cars for the final round at Newcastle.
On the other hand, if there was one race to win over the whole year, most would agree Bathurst is the one, points or no points, especially as this year the race was a mini-enduro over 250 kilometres.
Flying the flag for Team PAYCE was Macaulay Jones in the Brad Jones Racing’s #14 PAYCE Commodore and Mason Barbara in Garry Rogers Motorsport’s #99 Commodore. Richard Muscat was absent, being one of the regulars concentrating on their Bathurst 1000 co-driving duties.
A total of 15 cars made up the field and despite the absences it was still a quality field with most of the front runners electing to participate, including Dumbrell, Le Brocq and Hazelwood.
Macauley and Mason both had reasonable practice sessions on Friday and both teams were happy with the setups of the cars. In the 30 minute qualifying session on Saturday, Macauley put the #14 PAYCE Commodore on the second row in 4th spot, while Mason qualified 12th.
Dumbrell led the race until lap 4, before he ran wide at turn one and dropped back in the field. A Safety Car period on lap 13 brought most of the field into the pits. The BJR pit crew did an outstanding job to get Macauley out in front of both Le Brocq and Hazelwood.
Once Dumbrell, who had stayed out, pitted on lap 22, Macauley hit the lead and was never headed through subsequent pit stops and finished the race with a comfortable margin to clock up his maiden series win. Mason Barbera drove a steady race to bring the #99 Commodore home in 9th place and gain more valuable experience in the category.
Macauley’s win and a third place by Andrew Jones could not have come at a better time for Brad Jones and his team, who have had some serious and expensive setbacks in recent rounds.
Congratulations to Macauley on a faultless drive. The win is sure to stay with him as one of his special moments in his career and to do it at Bathurst in his father’s team makes it even more special.
It’s a shame there were no points to be had, but the win likely lifted Macauley’s confidence in tackling the Bathurst 1000, where he drove a great race to help put the #8 Commodore he shared with Nick Percat in a winning position before Nick crashed out close to the end. What a fairytale ending that would have been if the #8 car could have pulled off a win and given Macauley a double if only.
Macauley currently sits 8th on the championship leaderboard, while Richard is 10th and Mason 15th.
The Dunlop Super2 championship wraps up at the Coates Hire Newcastle 500 on 24-26 November.
Porsche Carrera Cup Australia Series
David Wall is enjoying a very successful season in Porsche Carrera Cup in the #38 PAYCE Porsche 911 GT3. The Bathurst round consisted of three races – a mini-enduro over 100 kilometres on Saturday, a second nine lap race later in the day and another nine lap race on Sunday, preceding the Bathurst 1000.
As was the case last year, David started this year’s Bathurst round with fastest time in the first practice session on Thursday and did one better than last year with the fastest time in qualifying that placed him on pole for the mini-enduro.
The mini enduro was the longest ever solo driver event in the history of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia series and popular with all 18 drivers in the field who welcomed the opportunity to stretch the legs of their Porsches on the best track in Australia.
David made a perfect start in the race and was leading the pack as they travelled up the mountain. Back in the field everyone was jockeying for position and unfortunately Steven Grove came to grief just before the Cutting, resulting in a safety car period. When racing resumed David pulled out a healthy gap in setting the fastest lap. He continued to extend his lead and was not challenged through the remainder of the race to come home a clear winner and notch up his first podium of the meet.
The sprint race on Saturday saw some great battles with David continuing with his strong form in the opening laps before Heimgartner moved into the lead at The Chase. David successfully defended his second position despite pressure from Davison, Evans and McBride and took his second podium.
Sunday’s third and final race of the round resulted in a decisive win for Heimgartner after a well-timed start, with both David Wall and Davison in hot pursuit. David held onto his second spot before Davison was able to pass him approaching The Chase, after which David continued to press Davison up until the chequered flag.
With three podium finishes in the form of a first, a second and a third, David took second overall for the round and consolidated his lead in the championship. With just one more round to go at the Gold Coast later this month the season is heading for a thrilling conclusion.
Touring Car Masters
The Touring Car Masters series is arguably the most popular support category to Supercars and the sight and sound of big V8s thundering up and down the mountain and sliding around the turns is an awesome spectacle.
Team PAYCE member, John Bowe has been competing continuously at Bathurst for more years than most, and this year he arrived with a slim hold on the championship. He was determined to show that the ‘little’ Holden Torana was still a force to be reckoned with, even though the track favoured the bigger-engined V8s and hampered by a rev limitation applied as a result of his successes through the season.
Thursday’s practice sessions went well for JB and in the last session he finished on top of the timesheets. Qualifying on Friday saw Steve Johnson hit form and smash his own TCM qualifying record. The session was shortened to just nine minutes after a stranded car brought out the red flags, but enough time for JB to clock third fastest time.
Race one on Saturday morning was a reverse grid and once again the race set for some exciting duels. Unfortunately, Bob Wisely in his Torana came to grief at the end of Conrod Straight, but once the track was cleared, racing re-commenced in earnest.
A great battle between Abelnica and Cameron Tilley saw Abelnica in his well –prepared Falcon triumph, but not before Tilley’s Valiant had put a fight. Meanwhile JB and the other backmarkers were having their own battles, but given the quality of the field they were not able to reach the bolting front runners on this occasion.
Race two in the afternoon was back to the regular format with Steve Johnson as fastest qualifier on pole. John Bowe made a great inside run from the second row and was in second place as the cars headed up Mountain Straight. The leaders maintained their positions, although there were some moves to improve that did not come off. Steve Johnson came home the winner followed by JB, who set a new lap record in his pursuit of Johnson’s Mustang.
Race three on Sunday morning was held early in the lead-up to the Great Race. Starting from pole, Johnson was slow off the mark, allowing John Bowe to run alongside through turn one and up Mountain Straight.
Johnson fought back and took the lead into turn two, with Bowe and Bressington slotting in behind. JB attempted an outside move on Johnson at The Chase, allowing Bressington through when he ran wide.
Bressington held second for the next several laps, before JB slipped through under brakes at the final corner before Pit Straight and re-took second position.
JB chased Johnson hard, and again re-set his own Bathurst lap record and get to within half a second of his old rival at the chequered flag.
Steve Johnson was the overall winner of the round with John Bowe second. John, however amassed enough points to stay in the lead in the championship, which will now come down to the wire at the Newcastle 500 meeting on 24-26 November.
Contact: Bill Smith 0412 446 058