MOUN­TAIN HIGH

AHEAD OF OC­TO­BER’S BATHURST 1000, WE TOOK ON THE FAMED MOUNT PANORAMA TRACK IN A GQ-APPROVED V8 – A $600,000 FE R RARI 48 8 GTB.

GQ (Australia) - - CARS -

Fear is a bitch of a mis­tress. More often than not, she sits in the pas­sen­ger seat every time you head out on to a race­track, but when that track is the tow­er­ing ter­ror of Bathurst’s Mount Panorama, and the car is a Fer­rari with al­most 500kw, she seems to sit on your chest, while play­fully kick­ing you in the bol­locks. Seated in the un­fa­mil­iar but lovely sur­round­ings of Fer­rari’s 488 GTB, on the more fa­mil­iar start­ing grid, it’s hard not to keep play­ing all the spec­tac­u­lar ac­ci­dents you’ve seen on TV here over the years in your mind – and to pon­der whether it might be safer to spend the laps you’re about to at­tempt be­hind a safety car. In­stead, we’ll be fol­low­ing a cou­ple of overex­cited own­ers – peo­ple whose abil­ity to drop $600,000-plus on a car makes them in­stantly an­noy­ing – and one male model-cum-‘rac­ing driver’ whose hel­met strug­gles to fit over his dan­ger­ously sharp cheek bones. Peo­ple are talk­ing over the ra­dios about whether we’ll hit 300km/h (the car is ca­pa­ble of 330km/h, and can reach 200 from zero in just 8.3 sec­onds, so any­thing seems pos­si­ble), but I can’t join in be­cause every drop of saliva in my body seems to have pooled in my shoes. Nor­mally, race­tracks are fan­tas­tic fun be­cause they give you the space and the sight lines to at­tack every cor­ner. You have the full width of the road at your dis­posal and can see that if you stuff up, or get too heroic on the brakes, there’s plenty of run-off and gravel traps to save your blushes.

The whole top half of Mount Panorama is a soar­ing, shit-scary test of what a car can do, and how far the hu­man within is will­ing to push it.

The Moun­tain is dif­fer­ent, which we quickly dis­cover after breast­ing the huge hump on Moun­tain Straight at 230km/h – at which point all the air in my body was also try­ing to hide in my shoes – and jag into a sharp, up­hill canyon. It’s here that the very hard and hurty-look­ing walls close in on you for the first time and you have to drive straight at them, then wrench the wheel to the left, aim­ing for an apex you can’t see, but must be there be­cause you’ve seen it on tele­vi­sion. This is what the term ‘blind cor­ner’ means, and it’s not fun. Imag­ine do­ing a trust ex­er­cise in which you have to run flat out at a wall, and you’ve been promised that some­one will pull it out of the way just be­fore you make con­tact. It’s a bit like that, ex­cept that what stands to be dam­aged if things go wrong is not just your body, but a hugely ex­pen­sive Fer­rari that doesn’t be­long to you. The whole top half of Mount Panorama is a soar­ing, shit-scary test of what a car can do, and how far the hu­man within is will­ing to push it. To get the high-speed ap­proach into Sul­man Park just right, V8 su­per­car driv­ers try to kiss the wall with their door han­dles on cor­ner en­try – I’ve stood at that bend and watched them shear off wing mir­rors. It looks ter­ri­fy­ing enough from the hill, but it’s a lot worse from the driver’s seat. On the plus side, the walls do mag­nify the out­ra­geous bel­low­ing cat­er­waul of the Fer­rari’s twin-tur­bocharged V8 en­gine, right be­hind your ears. And when you do get a cor­ner right, find­ing that in­vis­i­ble apex and slam­ming the throt­tle to­wards the next one, the thrill is over­whelm­ing, as fear al­lows you to whoop loudly for a brief second. The rush down the moun­tain, through the ver­tig­i­nous switch­backs of The Esses to For­rest’s El­bow (named after some poor mo­tor­cy­clist who fell off there years ago, and left his el­bow be­hind, in pieces) is hard on your brakes, and your heart, but from there you are into the leg­endary Con­rod Straight, and your shot at 300. Sadly, what doesn’t come across on TV is just how steeply said straight rises in the mid­dle, mean­ing your car gets light at around 270km/h, caus­ing your right foot to panic and stab the brake pedal. You’re out of the walls now, thank­fully, and the last cou­ple of bends, through The Chase and on to the Pit Straight with its typ­i­cal race­track joy – high­speed, high g-force and high on adren­a­line. Or they would have been if it weren’t for the male model, who it turns out isn’t as at home in a race suit as he looks. The chis­elled chap in ques­tion man­aged to cross up his 488 com­ing out of the last bend and bounc­ing back into our path, po­ten­tially tak­ing out at least three Fer­raris in what would have been a multi-mil­lion-dol­lar mess. Mount Panorama is an un­for­get­table place to drive fast, but all those crashes you’ve seen on TV are en­tirely un­der­stand­able, be­cause when it bites, it bites hard.

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