Bathurst blog: from idiot drunkards to champagne showers
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Drawing everything to a close on the final day of Bathurst week
“Oi, you fat f***.”
I see him out of the corner of my eye as I walk from McPhillamy Park to Reid. He's with about five mates, all of them shirtless, around 25-years-old, holding beers, and laughing to themselves. I'm all alone, but on the other side of the fence that separates punter and photographer.
“Oi, photographer!” he repeats.
I'm not a fan of confrontation. Never really have been — don't know why really. What I do know is that in this instance it favours me. The instant I decide to respond to this gentleman, he wins. He's provoked a response, and the thousand-odd people in our immediate vicinity get their own little sideshow.
I walk on, because it's lap 38 of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and I'm not letting some alcohol-soaked loser with a single-digit iQ get in the way of enjoying today.
The race may only be a couple of hours into existence, but this is approaching hour seven of my day. It started with a wake-up call at 5am, then track arrival in the dark in preparation for snapping the Sunday sunrise shot as the cold frothy morning dusk was swept away by sunlight.
Some of this sounds like a hard slog, but it really isn't. Rarely will you find any of those in the media set yawning or cursing their way through a morning like this one. Days like these remind you why you do what you do; why your dreams growing up involved race cars instead of travelling to the moon or meeting Rachel Hunter.
It gets tiring sometimes, as weird as that sounds. Hopping from race track to race track, bumping into the same cars, seeing the same people — nothing sucks the love and the passion out of anything better than pure monotony.
But Bathurst is always a refresher because, without you even realizing it, it rekindles those childhood memories.
My eager 5am build up is really no different from what things were like when I was a kid on the day of the Great Race — waking up early in the day unable to sleep, then spending the morning cleaning my room and doing the dishes in a vain attempt to appease my parents before planting myself on the couch for an afternoon of motorsport worship.
On the morning of this particular great race I couldn't help but disconnect from the work and the world, putting down my gear and agendas to watch the final Porsche Carrera Cup race of the weekend from the media room balcony in pit-lane. Simon joins me, and together we just stand there and enjoy the moment.
Five-year-old me would be insanely jealous of 25-year-old me. That's something I sometimes have to remind myself.
Soon enough the pre-race festivities roll around and it's battle stations; grab your rations from the media centre, every bit of camera kit you can, and some empty memory cards — you're not going to see civilization for hours.
The Bathurst grid walk is the biggest orgy of people I have to deal with annually. It's nice to see people from the stands appreciating their chance to get up close and personal with drivers and fans, but it's almost impossible to get any halfway reasonable photos of anyone in this solid mass of people.
You never really know who's going to be on the start grid, whether it's going to be full of C-grade celebrities, team owners, or athletes from other codes. I feel a hand on my shoulder, then turn to see Roger Penske trying to scythe through the masses. I can only hope that the patch he gripped wasn't too sweaty and gross.
Soon enough all the drivers filter through from their teams and garages to line up at the head of the queue for the national anthem and a prayer from the event's chaplain as fighter jets circle overhead. It all reminds me of Nascar, but in a good way, as I leave the grid to set myself up at turn one — hat in hand.
The start of the race is still a fair few minutes away yet, but there's already a selection of photographers at turn one. I chose to shoot the start from the very bottom of the escape road; giving me a perfect square-on view of the cars on the grid. You really need to have at least a 400mm-long lens or a full-frame body to get the shot from down here, but it's the best angle to get it from.
As the clock winds down more and more shooters arrive at the scene. Some of them huddle at corner entry, while a couple take corner exit.
Equalish starts from Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin on the front row, but Jamie takes the lead by virtue of having the inside line. Scott settles for second and the balance of the field sort themselves out without much in the way of drama.
And that was really it from me and my race-brain from the first 90-odd laps. After about 10 laps the cars had fanned out, and after I had bussed to the top of the track the field just resembled a shuffled mish mash. Who held the lead, who the movers and shakers were was a bit of an unknown for most of it — though my gut was indicating that car #88 was still dominating.
My plan was a pretty simple one; shoot roughly the first half of the race, then retire to the media room to report for the second half — catching up on the morning's proceedings via a friend in Dunedin, funnily enough also named Simon, who had been plugging me with minor play-by-play updates.
The plan fell apart early, after I climbed a wire fence to get to a particular photography spot. My head told me that I'd cut my inner thigh while doing so, but I foolishly didn't think much more about it. Some two-hours after the fact, while walking to the buses while melting in the heat and dreaming about the endless supply of cold water in the media room, a man behind me piped up.
“Hey mate. You know you've ripped your shorts eh.”
Ripped I had. The tear spanned almost from the waist to the bottom of the leg, leaving very little to the imagination and unleashing more skin on the public than they could've possibly bargained for.
“Yeah mate, fair dinkum cobbler shrimp on the barbie,” I responded, deflecting any indication of lies with some traditional Australian banter.
Weighing up time, I decided to hot tail to Target (Australia's equivalent of Farmers) in the centre of town to hunt down a new pair of shorts.
Bathurst's main street, during the race itself, is somewhat predictably an absolute ghost town. It underlines just how invested the locals are in the event.
Once back at the track and in the media room, the task would be to collate all of the notes into something that kind of resembled a race report. It becomes clear that I haven't missed a lot; Whincup and Dumbrell have effectively led every lap thus far, and the race has only just had its first caution-flag period.
Little did we all know what the race had in store for us.
In 1999 Paul Radisich and Steve Ellery lead more than 100 laps and comfortably look to be the quickest pairing in the field. Four years prior Glenn Seton led with 10 laps to go, margin in hand. Brock in 1997, Lowndes in 2005, and so on and so on.
Bathurst has this cruel way of presenting us with an alternative reality then unapologetically snatching it away. Radisich and Ellery had an engine failure all those years ago, as did Seton. And in 2016's race, the dishonour was going to fall on car #88.
We all know what happened, we all clapped our hands to our mouths when Jamie, Garth Tander, and Scott McLaughlin became a rolling ven diagram, and we all scratched our heads when the 15-second penalty was called some laps later.
Morale in the media room was mixed. A group streaming radio on the other side of the room were going ballistic, while others displayed a silent disbelief.
10 laps later we had crowned a pair of winners; Tekno Autosports and Jonathon Webb taking their first wins on the mountain, while lead driver Will Davison took his second. However the stench of doubt still hung in the air over whether any repercussions would come from that fateful clash on lap 151.
With the podium situated on the other side of the media centre, post-race celebrations saw drivers filter through behind us. Those alert to their presence give them a hero's welcome. Will seemed particularly jovial, giving personal thanks to those applauding him as he left to prepare for the press conference.
And just like that, it was over. My race report went up on velocitynews.co.nz just as the winning car parked underneath me in the winner's circle. I recorded the press conference and sent it off to the NZ Herald for them to whip their magic. And that was it. Five days of work was done.
It's a bitter-sweet pill to swallow, to know that I've got to wait another 12 months to do it all again — to try and do it better.
Celebratory beers are handed out through the media centre, as people begin to pack up their things. None for me, thanks.
Something I do quite deliberately with these trips to Bathurst is travel with one free day either side of the event. It helps with perspective; allowing time on either side of the major dates to just relax a little and cleanse our mindsets.
The three of us drive from our base in Orange to Sydney the day after the race. There's a bit of irony in us choosing to spend our spiritual day off stopping at the Eastern Creek circuit (now known as Sydney Motorsport Park, but that's a stupid name so I'm calling it Eastern Creek).
We park up and explore the facility to find a whole swag of New Zealand–based cars, all ready and waiting for this weekend's World Time Attack Challenge event. Plus a couple of cars from Japan — Daigo Saito's famed Lamborghini and a fascinating little Suzuki Swift Sport.
Then we bump into South Auckland drifter Nico Reid and a quick decision is made after a few handshakes and some chit chat to do an interview and photoshoot then and there. Out comes the gear, out comes the recorder.
They say that journalism is a 24/7 job — one where you must always be thinking, creating. True down-time is never frequent, often overtaken by the need to meet the next deadline or craft the next exclusive scoop.
Some might think that sounds like hell, but I don't think I could have it any other way.
Driven's Matthew Hansen blogged every day about the highs and lows of reporting on the Bathurst 1000. He's now back in his cage at the NZME offices. Follow the links below to read parts one through five.