V8 Supercars head to Bathurst

By Eric Thompson

Mount Panorama is always special. This year's racing is likely to be among the closest yet

Drivers, pit crew, team owners and principles, manufacturers, parts suppliers, corporates, media and - most important of all - the fans are all making their annual pilgrimage to Mount Panorama for the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 this weekend.

Every Bathurst weekend is special to the drivers in more ways than one where getting a win around the mountain can mean more than winning a series. The pressure is really on this weekend as the biggest and brightest race on the V8 Supercars calendar is now round two of the Pirtek Enduro Cup.

This is new for 2013 where there is now a championship within the overall V8 Supercars championship with the three long-distance races - Sandown 500, Bathurst 100 and Gold Coast 600 - with an enduro trophy up for grabs.

The mountain this year won't just be a sea of red or blue as it's been for about the last 15 years, because two new manufacturers have joined the V8SC circus. Nissan has already won twice in the past at Bathurst and once in this year's series. The yellow and black machines will also be joined on the mountain by the silver AMG Mercedes cars this year.

As a business, Bathurst is probably the most important race in the V8 Supercars series and is the showcase event of the year. This one race has a global following and you could ask anyone with a passing interest in any form of motorsport about Bathurst and they will have heard of it.

Every driver who has grown up in Australasia, and a few from abroad, would give their eye teeth to have their name engraved on the Great Race trophy. As such, teams are under enormous pressure to get their respective cars just right.

The curve ball with the new Car Of The Future is that it hasn't been tested over 1000 kilometres on one of the toughest road courses in the world. The recent Sandown 500 stretched a few teams and a few mechanical issues raised their heads. Hopefully the interceding month has allowed all the teams to iron out the kinks and give their pilots a machine that'll go the distance.

What makes it hard these days as opposed to, say, the 1970s, 80s and early 90s is that the race is run flat out from the time the lights go out. No more is there a middle period of the race where drivers can chill out a bit, save the car and themselves, for an all-out sprint to the finish over the last hour.

Some folk in the paddock have taken to calling the Bathurst 1000 the world's longest sprint race. Interestingly enough, these new cars are now pretty much mechanically bullet-proof and the weakest link, especially if it's going to be hot or teeming with rain, will be the drivers.

Hence a big focus on teams signing the right co-driver who can match pace and fitness with the full-time main game drivers. There is no time to rest in the cars these days as everything is on the ragged edge 100 per cent of the time and fitness is paramount if a team want to be in the hunt.

Jamie Whincup drives the #1 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden
Jamie Whincup drives the #1 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden

This is the hardest year to pick a winner as Bathurst regularly eats the formbook. Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell, on the numbers alone, have to go in as favourites having won last year and recently at Sandown. It'll then be a close-run thing between the pairings of James Courtney and Greg Murphy, and Mark Winterbottom and Steven Richards.

These three cars have pedigree, talent and form. Outside bets would be Scott McLaughlin and Jack Perkins, with Fabian Coulthard and Luke Youlden also in with a chance.

For a curve ball bet, pick AMG Merc's Craig Baird and Lee Holdsworth. They were mighty quick at Sandown and were solid in finishing fourth. And rumour has it Ross Stone has found a bit more driveability.

Manufacturer wins
*Holden - 29
*Ford - 18
*Nissan - 2
*Mercedes - 0

V8 Supercars championship
1. Jamie Whincup - 2147
2. Craig Lowndes - 2051
3. Will Davison - 2050
4. Mark Winterbottom - 1981
5. James Courtney - 1909
6. Fabian Coulthard - 1901
7. Shane van Gisbergen - 1770
8. Jason Bright - 1715

- NZ Herald

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