Bob McMurray: Today’s is the only Great Race
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My personal motor racing odyssey of 2017 continued at a track new to me.
After the wonderful Formula 1 GP of Singapore — a trip I would recommend to anyone — the delights of a warm, pleasant English summer and a club event or two, and then the brutal heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur for the “Finale” F1GP there, my journey took a turn towards home, but with a few days stop for the 2017 Bathurst 1000.
I am a virgin when it comes to Bathurst and all its delights.
It was extremely dry there, with the surrounding area looking like Canterbury at summer’s end — a situation that was to change dramatically before the weekend was out.
My impression was this is a well organised event and a big place to have a motor race.
Bathurst, like the Supercars Championship, has plenty of armchair critics, with most of the comments in the realms of: “It was better in the old days”.
That may be but, like the arguments about who was the best Formula 1 driver, any opinions put forward are purely those of the person spouting them.
Fangio was the best driver some say. Was he? Perhaps he was, but I never saw him drive in his heyday so how can I, or any other who can only read about his exploits, say that as fact?
Likewise with “The Great Race” 2017 version.
I have seen endless footage of “the old days” with Minis racing against Toranas, Falcons and what have you, and interesting it all was, but my experience of this amazing circuit was with the current crop of Supercars.
Admittedly now it’s virtually a one-make series, with the cars representing different manufacturers by virtue of name only.
But I think the series is great.
It regularly brings about some exceptionally close racing and wins by the tiniest of margins — and that surely, is what motorsports entertainment is all about.
The standard of engineering is high and the margins are as close as in any form of racing. The cars sound like real racing cars should, they look like real racing sedans, they are fast and the skill level required to drive them on the ragged edge is of the highest order.
Scott McLaughlin (in wet conditions) at Mount Panorama. Photo / AAP
Yet, still, there are some who think the series is a farce.
Clearly the 200,000-plus crowd that descended on the place just a week ago, including the 56,000 there on race day alone — apparently close to the largest in the history of the Bathurst event — do not necessarily agree.
As so often seems to be the case at this unique track — a great big challenge of a track officially named the Mount Panorama Circuit — the race had almost every element needed to make a great race.
Rain before the start, the first to fall in the area for more than two months, apparently, a wet/dry race, the big names faltering, crashes and cars going off track at regular intervals then finally, and brilliantly, the underdogs coming through.
Add the new, young breed of drivers mixing it up with the established order — a bonus being that one of them was a Kiwi, Richie Stanaway, who drove arguably the best stint of any driver in the race — and what more could one ask for?
To get an appreciation of just how treacherous a place “The Mountain” can be, I was taken on a lap, albeit in a minibus.
I saw that — as at many tracks — the images you see on TV give little clue as to how steep the track is, how close the walls are, how tight the turns are and the precision needed to navigate all of this, lap after lap after lap, with extremely limited vision.
It’s driving a car on the edge of balance, with tyres on the edge of adhesion, like a ballerina’s pointe shoes.
The racing was exciting enough and the event was an assault on the senses. And then you have the many hundreds of campers in the various tent cities surrounding the track.
Those at the top of the mountain almost have their own subdivisions, and the spectator banks full of people braving the awful conditions that dominated the first part of the race.
It will take me some time to remember all of what I witnessed.
I get tired of the moaners telling all who would listen that the TV viewership is down, the racing is boring, the rules are wrong and all manner of complaints about the series.
If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. And don’t pontificate to the many, many fans who still love it.
Supercars is not the biggest thing in Australasian motor sport by accident, but because it still appeals to the fans.
From what I heard while walking among and talking to those fans at the weekend, there is no lack of enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, as with many single-seat formulae and other international race series, budgets and costs in this modern racing age dictate that the cars are as similar as possible, almost identical.
The upside is that it normally brings about closer racing.
If people want to see many different makes racing together, then head for club or historic racing and revel in “the good old days”.
Today’s racing will become “the good old days” in the years to come for young fans. And it is those young people that must be attracted to the sport — any sport in fact — for it to prosper.
People can moan, complain, criticise, pick holes and denigrate Supercars all they like. It is a right of free speech and I am sure it gives them, and their followers, great succour.
Instead of complaining, how about trying to suggest a viable alternative?
The “Great Race” at Bathurst was a bucket list event for me and it exceeded all my expectations.
What Supercars offers now is the best we are going to get.
I cannot wait to see the series in action once again at Pukekohe in early November.