Feature: The Greatest Race – Five years on from the 2014 Bathurst 1000 – Part One
This year’s Bathurst 1000 marks five years since arguably the greatest race around Mount Panorama in the Supercars era, a race that saw two first-time winners crowned at polar opposite ends of their career timelines.
Ten safety car periods, just under eight hours from flag-to-flag and a last lap pass for the lead marked the 2014 edition of the Great Race as an instant classic that will stay in the minds of those who witnessed it for a very long time.
It was a race that sparked conversations in workplaces and schools the next day, having run overtime thanks to an unprecedented mid-race break which saw the final laps unfold at a time when most people were tuning in to watch the news, only to find one of the best touring car races coming to a dramatic climax.
Part one of this feature will detail the lead up to the race itself, with three days of practice and qualifying providing crucial context of just how insane Sunday’s 1000km race really was.
The Supercars field rolled on to the track for the first time on Thursday morning, having their first laps on the resurfaced circuit since the old surface was replaced late in 2013.
Over the weekend the track surface would soon become a talking point. Having last being resurfaced ahead of the 2003 race, the grippy new tarmac made a big difference in 2014 in terms of lap times, but competitors in the Bathurst 12 Hour back in February had experienced the track breaking up at Turn 2; an issue that would rear its ugly head again later over the course of the weekend.
Chaz Mostert in the #6 Ford Performance Racing (now Tickford) Falcon topped the opening session with a 2:08.0736, two tenths clear of James Moffat in the Norton Hornets Nissan Altima and Garth Tander’s Holden Racing Team Commodore.
Second practice showed the speed of the HRT cars with four-time Bathurst champion Greg Murphy going to the top ahead of defending winner Steven Richards in the Triple Eight #888 car, though Paul Morris (sharing Mostert’s #6 Falcon) ended up 22nd and three seconds off Murphy’s pace – which showed the contrast in speed between the drivers of the #6 car.
Thursday’s final practice session was one for the record books as Craig Lowndes’ 2010 lap record of 2:06.8012 was beaten by the top three despite a handful of red flags. David Reynolds went fastest, his lap of 2:06.3714 just a tenth quicker than FPR team-mate Mark Winterbottom while Fabian Coulthard in the Brad Jones Racing #14 entry joined the two in the post-practice press conference.
Speaking after the session, reigning champion Winterbottom said that the track surface felt like it had less grip than the year before despite lap times being two seconds clear of the equivalent session in 2013.
He noted that while the level of grip on the racing line was fine, the cars felt like they were on a knife edge when they stepped out of the groove and onto the grey, making it harder to put in the perfect lap.
Winterbottom’s #5 FPR Falcon continued to be quick on Friday, going on top in both practice sessions with Steve Owen the fastest of the co-drivers in their dedicated run while Winterbottom became the first driver to go under 2:06 around Mount Panorama in a Supercar after posting a time of 2:05.9011 in Practice 6.
Friday afternoon’s final Supercars session determined which of the 26 cars would make it in to Saturday’s shootout over a 40-minute-long blast. No one could have predicted just how much this one session would make a difference to how the weekend would play out.
Under the baking sun, the main drivers went out to record their opening laps with everyone remaining quietly cautious of the new surface and how it would react with a bit of extra heat.
It didn’t take long for the mountain to bite with defending series champion Jamie Whincup running wide and hitting the wall at The Cutting, taking the #1 Triple Eight Holden Commodore out of qualifying early in the session.
Soon to join Whincup on the sidelines was David Reynolds, binning the #55 FPR car after trying to pass Todd Kelly’s Nissan Altima on the outside at “The Grate”, ending up wide and slamming into the concrete.
As the session stayed green until the end, Fabian Coulthard ended up on top with a record-breaking lap of 2:05.6080 to put himself on provisional pole but less than a tenth clear of Shane van Gisbergen’s #97 Tekno Autosports machine.
Squeezing into the Top Ten Shootout on Saturday, Dale Wood managed to get up to third in his BJR car as Winterbottom and Scott McLaughlin’s Garry Rogers Motorsport prepared Volvo S60 got amongst the top five.
Jason Bright put in a strong lap to put all BJR cars into the ten while Jack Perkins in the #18 FPR car, James Moffat, Garth Tander and Craig Lowndes completed the ten, just edging out James Courtney in the #22 HRT car for a spot in the shootout.
Despite his opening practice pace, Chaz Mostert could only manage 14th but was later excluded from the session after passing Russell Ingall’s Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport car under red flags, meaning the #6 car would have to start Sunday’s 161 lap race from last on the grid.
With the bulk of qualifying done, the Saturday morning practice session was used for teams inside the top ten to get their setups right for the shootout, optimising the car for a one lap blast while those who missed out used the session to dial their machines in to work best over the upcoming 161 lap race.
Driving Garth Tander’s #2 HRT Commodore, Warren Luff left the pits and headed up Mountain Straight for his laps in the session, letting Lowndes past on the outside as he got his final laps in the car before handing it back to Tander that afternoon.
However, as he hit the brakes going into Turn 2, the brakes failed and Luff responded by throwing the car sideways to dissipate the speed. Just as he entered the corner, Lowndes was tagged in the rear by his co-driver for the past two years, sending them both into the tyre barriers violently.
While Lowndes’ car bounced off the wall, Luff’s rolled onto its side and came to a rest there. As Luff managed to get out of the car aided by Lowndes and the track marshals, it was clear that both teams would be have to work against the clock to get their cars out for the shootout.
When the HRT machine returned to the pits, it didn’t take long for the team to realise the damage was too much to repair, meaning one of the quickest cars of the weekend was pulled out before the shootout began.
The Triple Eight crew got to work on Lowndes’ car as soon as it returned, fixing the mostly superficial damage to get him out for the crucial shootout later in the day. At the same time, a battle was playing out between HRT, Triple Eight and Supercars officials.
Given the #2 entry was pulled from the weekend, HRT and Supercars argued that all cars from qualifying on Friday should be bumped up a spot, meaning their #22 car of James Courtney and Greg Murphy would make the shootout.
Triple Eight didn’t agree with this logic and filed a protest, successfully denying HRT getting a car into the now Top Nine Shootout as repairs continued on Lowndes’ broken #888 car ahead of the session with work being completed shortly before he was due to roll out.
Top Nine Shootout
Shane van Gisbergen managed to secure a maiden Bathurst pole after going fastest in the shootout, being the second last car out and putting in the fastest shootout lap in history of 2:06.3267, beating Mark Winterbottom to the pole.
Lining up on the second row, Scott McLaughlin put his Volvo S60 ahead of Jason Bright in the Swedish marque’s first visit to Bathurst since the 500km Super Touring race of 1999, also making it three different brands in the top three spots.
Provisional pole sitter Fabian Couthard couldn’t back up his qualifying performance, only managing a 2:07.0568 to nab fifth however he was still seven-tenths ahead of Lowndes who managed to qualify sixth in the freshly repaired #888 car.
James Moffat gave Nissan its first top ten start at the Bathurst 1000 since 1992 when he put the #360 Norton Hornets Altima into seventh on the grid ahead of Dale Wood’s BJR Commodore and Jack Perkins in the #18 Charlie Schwerkolt Racing/FPR Falcon.
With Tander and Luff’s car withdrawn from the weekend, every car was moved up a grid spot from tenth backwards following the shootout as the teams put down their roller doors on Saturday night ahead of Sunday’s Great Race.
Part two of Jordan Mulach’s Bathurst 1000 feature will follow later as we build up to this year’s Bathurst 1000.