I’m ready for Mount Panorama

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Motorsport - Craig Lown­des

YOU can bet on this. There will be no tie at Bathurst this year like there was in the AFL last week­end.

The only time I’ve ever had to come back for a race meet­ing was at Lake­side in 1996 when it flooded.

Though a photo-fin­ish af­ter 161 laps of Mt Panorama is a pos­si­bil­ity, I can’t see it hap­pen­ing. Any­way, the dig­i­tal cam­eras can sep­a­rate the slimmest of mar­gins.

I usu­ally sit down and watch the AFL Grand Fi­nal, but of course at the time I was be­hind the wheel of the Holden Colorado on the last cou­ple of stages of the Aus­tralasian Sa­fari.

How­ever, I man­aged to catch the last few ex­cit­ing min­utes of the game. I be­lieve it’s only the third grand fi­nal draw in AFL his­tory. Maybe they did it just so I could watch the full game this week­end!

I nor­mally sup­port Essendon, but I’ll back St Kilda as the un­der­dogs. In the NRL I go for the Bron­cos, so I’ll back St Ge­orge on the Wayne Ben­nett fac­tor.

As for the sa­fari, there is no bet­ter way to start my off-road ca­reer than with a win.

It was a long week, but it was quite re­lax­ing. There is none of the ten­sion of a V8 race where you race side by side with other com- pe­ti­tors. You are rac­ing your­self and the clock.

I feel great and have no phys­i­cal or mental tired­ness. In fact, I would have loved for the sa­fari to con­tinue. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence trav­el­ling through some in­ter­est­ing coun­try.

I said I’d like to do other ral­lies, maybe even the Dakar, but whether I come back here again next year de­pends on a cou­ple of things, such as whether it fits into the V8 cal­en­dar again. The cal­en­dar is usu­ally re­leased at Phillip Is­land, but it’s been held back un­til Bathurst this year.

If the tim­ing is right and my co­driver Kees Weel in­vites me again, I’d be happy to re-run the sa­fari. Af­ter all, they change the route ev­ery year so it will be dif­fer­ent scenery.

It was one of the great wins in my ca­reer, like my first gokart race or For­mula Ford vic­tory.

I ded­i­cated the win to my men­tor, Peter Brock, be­cause he was pas­sion­ate about this race and he was my in­spi­ra­tion to com­pete. Un­for­tu­nately, he never had the op­por­tu­nity to win it.

My wife, Nat, was de­lighted with the re­sult, but prob­a­bly more happy that I fin­ished in one piece.

Af­ter sev­eral weeks on the road, it’s been great to be back home and spend some time with Nat and the kids in the last week of the school hol­i­days. How­ever, we still had to do a test day at Queens­land Race­way on Wed­nes­day.

We’re still not 100 per cent sure of our strat­egy for Bathurst, so Mark (Skaife) put in some prac­tice starts in case he’s called on to start the race again like at Phillip Is­land.

While I was in Western Aus­tralia our team was busy re­work­ing the oil cooler on both cars to make them more bul­let-proof af­ter Jamie Whin­cup’s prob­lems at the is­land.

Test day was ba­si­cally about run­ning in the race gear for Bathurst and check­ing the oil cool­ers.

We ran about 100km then changed ev­ery­thing from the en­gine back: bell­hous­ing, gear­boxes, tail­shafts, com­plete rear ends. Also front up­rights, brakes etc so we know it all works when we bolt all that stuff into the car on Satur­day night for the big race. It’s very time­con­sum­ing, but some­thing we’ve al­ways done to make sure we have no hiccups at Bathurst.

Other than that, there was the usual pit­stop prac­tice for sev­eral hours. We didn’t test any­thing ma­jor. It was just more about get­ting Skaifey more laps and get­ting our fuel con­sump­tion ver­sus lap times closer to each other.

I fly out on Mon­day for Syd­ney and the long PR haul to Bathurst. I won’t be car­a­van­ning with the fam­ily down to Bathurst like I have been in re­cent years be­cause Nat needs rest for her spleen con­di­tion.

High flyer: Jamie Whin­cup fires up a jet ski ahead of the Bathurst 1000.

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