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.
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.