By Bruce Moxon.
A few weeks ago we saw the first modern iteration of the Bathurst 6 Hour race for Production Touring Cars. The first one ever, was in October 1962 and was for production touring and sports cars. History reports that brothers Leo and Ian Geoghegan won in a Daimler SP250. This time around, it was Nathan Morcomb and Chaz Mostert in a BMW 335.
As a race it was interesting, as long-distance races tend to be. There’s someone coming back from a drama, there’s someone going faster than everyone thinks is wise. There’s someone too stubborn to admit they should park the car and save themselves the trouble.
But for me, it felt like the Bathurst 1000 of the days of yore, when you could build a half-decent car in your shed and have a crack at a top-ten. When privateer teams, on the bones of their arse, could still be there, despite having no chance (and knowing it, but just needing to Be In It.)
You see, these days the Bathurst 1000 and 12 Hour are mostly about works teams and other teams that are very well-funded. And that’s mostly a good thing, but it takes away the stories. It takes away the spirit, the need to just have a go. This year this spirit was exemplified by Luke Searle’s team. They’d been fast in practice, but co-driver Barry Graham got sick and had to withdraw so Luke enlisted Paul Morris (let’s face it, a bloody good bench player). Then, in Saturday morning’s final practice session their only engine blew itself to bits.
They had to find another engine and put it in the car, finishing at 3AM Sunday and knowing they’d be starting at the back. But they’d bought a pup; the engine had no compression. Searle took the car out for the warm-up / formation lap but dumped all its water and it kept dying. Three hours into the race they were still trying to get it to go properly, pumping oil and water into it and driving it around the back of the pits to bleed the cooling and lubrication systems. To my untrained eye it looked like a blown head gasket. I couldn’t keep watching and walked away, but Luke Searle seems to have no quit in him.
I think there will likely be some manufacturer interest in this race in the next year or two. Car companies like Mitsubishi, Subaru and BMW that at present have no real presence in V8 Supercars or the GT3s that rule the roost in the 12 Hour can use this race to peddle their wares.
Private teams will be able to build a car at a reasonable cost. Sure, that’s still going to be six figures on top of the basic car, mostly probably, but at a rumoured $400,000, that’s cheaper than a Supercar, isn’t it?
In terms of spectator numbers, that might not be the point. The cars aren’t all that fast, restricted to minor modifications only to engines and drivelines. So they won’t attract many spectators and those will be the ‘die-hards’. But the racing will be as interesting as the old days of the Bathurst 500 and 1000 – with multiple classes, fast cars having to pick their way past slower cars and slower cars fighting their own battles.
This will be the race for the privateer, for the battler. For the good old ‘once a year drivers’ to strut their stuff at the best racetrack in the country. And alongside them, the up-and-coming youngsters looking to make a name for themselves, like Peter Brock did, like Allan Moffat did, like Colin Bond did.
Let’s not dumb it down too much. This year’s race had a compulsory number and duration of pit stops. I don’t like this. Mandate a maximum fuel tank size the same as the standard cars. If Car A can get to the end with one less stop, then it’s up to Car B’s team to either go enough faster to make up the difference. Not all cars are created equal. That’s why we race them.