Fast and fu­ri­ous

Bathurst pre­view: Driv­ing a V8 Su­per­car is not as easy as it looks


MANY of the peo­ple who tune in for the Bathurst 1000 se­cretly be­lieve they could be a con­tender at Mount Panorama.

Tele­vi­sion makes it look easy, from the 290km/h blast down Con­rod Straight to the romp across the top of the hill and the dive down through the Esses to the Dip­per and on to For­rests El­bow. But it’s not. Not even a lit­tle bit. A V8 Su­per­car is a wild beast, noisy and hot and fast and fu­ri­ous and ready to bite you any chance it gets. And that’s just driv­ing, not wor­ry­ing about ac­tu­ally rac­ing against a bunch of hot­heads who’d give almost any­thing to claim the big­gest prize in Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport.

I know be­cause I’ve just been crammed be­hind the wheel of Tim Slade’s Bathurst racer to see what it’s like. It was only a hand­ful of laps at a track called Win­ton, not the peak of Mount Panorama, but I now have a crys­tal-clear pic­ture of the dif­fer­ence be­tween a road­go­ing Holden Com­modore and its race car cousin.

It’s scary. It’s un­com­fort­able, in­tim­i­dat­ing and dif­fi­cult. Did I men­tion fast?

When smil­ing Scotty McLaughin and jumping Jack Perkins blast past while I’m find­ing my feet, it’s some­thing else again. Fear and in­tim­i­da­tion at a dif­fer­ent level.

But, sit­ting to write, I can’t stop smil­ing. Per­haps it’s the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of adrenalin.

As I ar­rive at Win­ton there is a mix of fear, an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment. This is Bucket List stuff for me and a child­hood dream for any V8 Su­per­cars fan. I’ve al­ready been on email to Su­percheap Auto Rac­ing’s pit­lane boss, Ja­son Bush, for a some tips and a copy of the driver’s man­ual. It’s tough just learn­ing what the but­tons on the steer­ing wheel do.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” Slade re­as­sures me.

“Hah. You’re go­ing to make a right goose of your­self,” chimes in James Court­ney, a for­mer cham­pion and se­ri­ous Bathurst con­tender. And I thought he was a friend.

The tough­est job all day is get­ting into the car. The racer might look like a cushy Com­modore, but it’s a hand­built thor­ough­bred con­structed from kilo­me­tres of su­per-tough steel tub­ing. I have to squeeze in through the gaps and then plop into a seat built for some­one 10cm shorter and 30kg lighter.

I make it in but I can’t straighten my arms and my legs are jammed up against my chest. But I don’t tell any­one. I’m here now and I’m stay­ing.

The en­gine starts eas­ily even though it has 480kW but I know it’s a tem­per­a­men­tal beast and I’ll have to be care­ful not to stall when I head for the track. Now there are six gig­gling race driv­ers all wait­ing for me to fluff it.

But I clunk the six-speed gear­box into first — there is no syn­chro to ease the shifts — and rum­ble down the pit­lane with the speed lim­iter con­trol­ling the car and my en­thu­si­asm.

On the track, I have to get go­ing quickly. The tyres must be kept hot, the en­gine has a nar­row op­er­at­ing range and there are a bunch of driv­ers do­ing se­ri­ous test laps in prepa­ra­tion for Bathurst.

“Re­mem­ber to make your gearshifts strong, all the time. Don’t muck around,” says Bush over the ra­dio.

So I push the long-travel ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal down, work up through the gears to fifth, and try to take it all in. That’s the tough part, be­cause I’m us­ing all I have just to drive the car. How do rac­ers have time to talk tac­tics and wave to mum?

As I find some speed, things get eas­ier. I don’t no­tice the sti­fling heat, the vi­o­lence of the re­sponse or shat­ter­ing noise.

I can feel the gears drop­ping smoothly into place, en­joy the su­per-sharp re­sponse of the steer­ing, lux­u­ri­ate in power that seems un­lim­ited, and brakes that kill speed.

Now I can watch the gear change warn­ing lights flicker across the elec­tronic dash and even be­gin to push a tiny bit to­wards the car’s lim­its. It’s mov­ing around, squirm­ing as I un­leash the power, then pitch­ing and rolling through the cor­ners.

I’m keen to dis­cover more but I’m not re­motely fit and this is not easy. My chest is crushed by the cor­ner­ing forces, push­ing the brake pedal is like step­ping on a brick and I have to wait-wait-wait for the power if I don’t want to flick into a spin.

Not just that, but the Dun­lop rac­ing tyres are rub­bish. They have prob­a­bly done too many laps but they feel like gi­ant marsh­mal­lows at each cor­ner. I can’t get any sort of feel­ing of what’s hap­pen­ing and I know I could do more with bet­ter grip.

“Are you go­ing to print that?” one driver asks me later. “You should, be­cause we all agree about the tyres but we can’t say it.”

After a quick stop to catch my breath — and bab­ble to the crew about what I’ve learned — I re­turn to the track, only to be jumped by three of the se­ri­ous rac­ers as I’m head­ing to the fourth-gear left-hand sweeper. And I re­alise, in mere seconds, the dif­fer­ence be­tween a jour­nal­ist driver and a Bathurst racer. There is a blast of noise, a flash of colour and they’re gone.

I try to keep up for a cou­ple of cor­ners but I’m wheez­ing and cramp­ing from Slade’s seat, and I have no chance. So I stop.

Hours later, as I re­play the laps in my head, I think of all the things I coulda-shoulda-woulda done, and how much more I could have got from the car. But I also know I’m kid­ding my­self.

So, as I plonk down in front of my tele­vi­sion on Sun­day morn­ing for The Great Race, I will watch with ex­tra re­spect. And just a touch of pride. But I’m not kid­ding my­self. I know what it re­ally takes.

If you think you could be a con­tender at Bathurst, take it from me, a paid-up pre­tender, it’s never go­ing to hap­pen.

It’s scary. It’s un­com­fort­able, in­tim­i­dat­ing

and dif­fi­cult. Did I men­tion fast?

Who’s been sweat­ing in my seat? Driver Tim Slade briefs could­abeen Paul Gover in the V8 Su­per­car’s cramped cock­pit,

top; re­lieved all-round, left; Gover checks Slade’s teleme­try,

above; and Slade makes a blis­ter­ing en­try to the Winto track when clear of the pits.

Pic­tures: Mark Ste­wart

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