Opinion: Was 2019's Bathurst 1000 the best yet?
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This motorsport weekend is almost like the calm after the storm.
The storm was Typhoon Hagibis which swept the paddock, people and teams at the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix at Suzuka into a night and day of frantic activity last weekend.
The tumultuous start to the race on track settled into a calm progression with an eventual expected conclusion, another Mercedes win.
The storm in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, was a different affair.
The Great Race that came to Bathurst for the 59th time last weekend fully lived up to its grand title. It is one that will endure in our memories, not least because the Kiwi driver Scott McLaughlin won, in the process fighting off yet another Kiwi driver, Shane van Gisbergen, but for the sheer drama that unfolded over most of the six hours and 27 minutes of racing.
Many people deride the Supercars series as a silhouette series, an artificially managed series or even a fake and over-regulated series with bias shown to almost every other team than the one a person supports.
None of that bothers me.
Call it what you will, but the one thing the series does do well is race.
Close racing, pure and simple.
What was on display at the Bathurst 1000 was a serious motor race, on one of the world’s most demanding circuits, that also happened to be entertaining in the extreme, unpredictable, with drama from beginning to end and continuing controversy.
Isn’t that exactly what motor racing should be? Isn’t that what is missing from so many other series?
The drama, the pure theatre, is what Formula 1 desperately needs instead of compressing its own form of drama into the first few laps.
The display that McLaughlin, van Gisbergen, Jamie Whincup and all the other 49 drivers involved in the race put on was lauded by perhaps the world’s foremost team owner in Roger Penske, and he has seen a race or two in his time.
Perhaps Penske has a vested interest but he, among all of the other international team owners and drivers, would not support the series if it were not a valid and strong form of competitive motor sport — especially at a track such as Bathurst. They know what they are seeing and they like it.
After the extreme pressures and ultimate collapse of his championship hopes in the 2017 finale, I believe that McLaughlin showed a mental strength to win the race that finally has banished the ghosts.
Penske indicated greater things may lie ahead within the Penske Racing organisation for McLaughlin. Few would not wish him well, sad as it may be to see him leave the Supercars competition.
With Bathurst followed by the Japanese Grand Prix at the incomparable Suzuka circuit, it was a wonderful day’s TV motorsport viewing.
It was enhanced by Formula 1 having to hold its qualifying sessions on the same day as the race — another good argument for a shortened race weekend.
The TV production of Bathurst was world class with some extraordinary camera angles, some excellent commentary and pit lane reporting and I doubt that Mark Larkham, with his down-to-earth way of explaining the most intricate details of the sport, could be voted anything less than the off-track star of the show.
Formula 1 is a completely different animal with a major event every two weeks or so around the globe, 20-plus times a year to boot. Still, there must be some good ideas the world’s premier series can take from the Supercars events. Perhaps getting some Kiwi drivers involved would be a good start.
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