A 4am alarm on a Sunday is rarely a good thing, but with the prospect of watching the worlds best cars battle it out on one of my favourite circuits, I was happy to refuse the snooze. A pitch-black grid on a crispy Bathurst morning was something I won’t forget in a hurry. The silhouettes of the GT3 cars were illuminated with flash photography, Engineers were calculating, crews were hustling, while I was still trying to wake up.
As we got the call to clear the grid, we made our way up to the top of the mountain to watch the start of the race. The symphony of V10 engines and glowing brake rotors got the fans smiling over their morning coffees and with a safety car deployed on the opening lap, they knew they were in for some drama. When the track was cleared and the sun started to light up the mountain, the Valvoline Audi R8’s set off in pursuit of the BMW M6 which seemed to be enjoying the cold mountain air.
Throughout the course of the day fans witnessed absolute racing melee. Crashes, repairs, driver changes, mechanical failures, pit stops, mores crashes, more repairs… the absence of a yellow flag became a rare sight and spectators were excused for struggling to grasp who was effectively winning. The off-track action seemed equally as entertaining with one of the largest collection of supercars I’ve ever seen this side of an oil tycoon and the likes of Mark Webber and Mick Doohan cruising around meeting fans.
As 5pm came around, fans returned to their seats for the final 45 minutes of this epic race. I happened to be lucky enough to get a garage tour of the Audi Sport Team WRT and I decided I’d just casually hang around and see if anyone noticed. With 30 minutes to go and more cars retiring, it didn’t take long for my sleep deprived brain to realise that the WRT R8 was in with a chance. When the lead Porsche 911 pitted for its final stop, the Audi R8 took the lead with and that’s exactly where it stayed until a large crash up on the mountain meant the race finished under a red flag. Celebrations erupted, I high fived some pretty confused looking Belgian mechanics and made my way to salute the podium.
After the race, Audi driver, Dries Vanthoor, summed up his Bathurst experience:
“You can compare it to the Nurburgring and Macau. It is definitely in the top three. For the mountain I had to learn a lot, but I had a good team and the Audi was very strong on the mountain where you need good downforce, good brakes and top speed. “
In an era when motorsport seems more disconnected with the vehicles they represent, it’s refreshing to see a genuine link between race development and their road cars (over 50% of the parts in the Audi R8 race cars are found in the production R8).
The immersive experience at Bathurst was quite unique and surprisingly accessible. Mount Panaroma truly is a special canvas and the 12 hour endurance race provided the perfect painting. If you get the chance next year, grab some friends and head to the mountain, you’ll have to push through some sleep deprivation but you’ll have one hell of a time.