Motorsport: V8s ready to rumble

By Eric Thompson

It's the last time of the two-marque race at Mt Panorama.

This weekend's battle is all about man and mountain at Panorama. Photo / EDGE Photographics
This weekend's battle is all about man and mountain at Panorama. Photo / EDGE Photographics

This year's Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, held on one of the most recognised race tracks in the world, will be the last time fans get to see the big V8s in action in their current guise. Next year the category moves to the Car Of The Future and two new manufacturers enter the fray.

This weekend none of the drivers and their respective teams will be thinking about that. Tomorrow is all about man versus mountain in one of the most enthralling and long-standing battles in Australasian motorsport.

Defending Bathurst 1000 champion pairing and holders of the Peter Brock Trophy, Garth Tander and Nick Percat, are the only combination in this year's race as a pairing of Bathurst 1000 winners.

It appears Tander is grooming the youngster Percat to be one of the most potent co-drivers in the field and they are developing an uncanny bond. Both stand over 190cm tall, both were 23 when they won their first Bathurst, and both were the first winners from their home states - Tander of Western Australia and Percat of South Australia.

A few rounds ago Tander would not have been considered as a threat for back-to-back wins at Mt Panorama. However, his form at Sydney Motorsport Park (fourth) and Sandown (fourth) has thrust him back into the championship where he sits sixth on the table just behind Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen.

"There's a lot of attention on Triple Eight and FPR, they've won all the races, but the form guide really doesn't count for much this weekend," said Tander.

"Bathurst is unique. It's a different type of race to the 120-200km sprints that we've had so far. It's 1000km with constantly changing scenarios."

Tander's confidence has given 24-year-old Percat even greater self-conviction as he attempts to become the first driver since Bob Jane to win Bathurst twice in his first two attempts.

"I'm probably more confident that we're in for a good result because last year was very much an unknown for me," said Percat.

"I know the job I did then and I know where I did well and where I made mistakes. My driving is now more consistent, I'm faster, and I know what the car's doing a lot more, so I can't wait to get back to the mountain."

But there are a couple of combinations breathing mighty heavily down Tander and Percat's necks and chief among them will be Craig Lowndes and Warren Luff. Lowndes has brilliant form at Bathurst over the past few years with seven podiums in nine years, including four wins.

The Triple Eight pairing also arrive at the Great Race with the bragging rights, having won the most recent Sandown 500.

"It's been a good time of year lately and everything's coming together," said Lowndes. "These races [Sandown and Bathurst] I really enjoy. It's the biggest race on the calendar and globally recognised and if we can get to win it, it'll be the best race of the year.

"The race these days is a sprint the whole time. You can see from Sandown that it doesn't matter where you qualify, the fast cars will always come to the front. It's all on for young and old, that's for sure."

Championship leader Jamie Whincup has three trophies on his mantelpiece, all with Lowndes but none since 2008, so he has a bit of a point to prove. His teammate Paul Dumbrell has a solid reputation on the mountain.

"You come over the hills and see the mountain and the circuit and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and you're ready for another big weekend," said Whincup.

"We're trying not to make amends for last year, that was just a Bathurst thing but we're well prepared for this year and really looking forward to getting into things."

Mark Winterbottom and Steven Richards are serious contenders to break the FPR duck and get the team's first win.

As long as Greg Murphy turns up at Bathurst he'll always be in the mix and should never be ruled out of being there at the end of the race.

Fellow Kiwi and young gun van Gisbergen has been quick on the Mt Panorama circuit since his first foray onto the mountain. He reckons he and Luke Youldon have the tools to get the job done and are pleased with the form they showed at Sandown in finishing fifth.

"I think we'll be reasonably competitive this weekend. We made a good step forward at Sandown so I don't see any reason why we can't challenge," said van Gisbergen. "Don't get me wrong, it's going to be tough. Hopefully practice and qualifying will go well and we'll see where we are come Sunday."

- NZ Herald

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