Bathurst blog: flaring tempers and shiny cars
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The final breather before the 1000 truly kicks off
The most underrated day of the Bathurst 1000 week has got to be Wednesday.
Part of that probably has to do with the fact Wednesday isn't listed in any event programme or TV guide, but bear with me because there's a point of substance in here somewhere.
Wednesday is the last day in the week where things aren't taken seriously. It's the calm before the storm, and a very enjoyable calm at that.
The day starts with the team hauler parade through the heart of Bathurst. It seems like a bit of a mundane concept really; that people would flock out in their thousands to watch trucks saunter up a street. In this day and age you would think that the trucks would really need to be on fire or shooting t-shirts out of guns or be rolling Pokémon Go gyms to attract any interest from anyone.
But here we are, the sun's out, it's lunchtime, and I'm five-deep and gasping for breath just to be able to get a decent picture of these things.
The subsequent signing session that was to follow wasn't much different, with a solid block of human beings cramming into a tiny space to get their favourite driver's signature.
The huge mass of people helps put this whole caper into perspective; when one minute a driver is standing there chewing the fat with you and the next they're out there, waving to legions of fans who have waited over an hour to see them. That's pretty cool.
Wednesday is nice because you see the connection between fan and driver at its strongest. At a rugby match you see the dudes in black run out onto the field, then they run off the field half-way through into a private wee bunker, then they run back on, end the game, and leave again.
In racing, you as a fan can engage with these drivers on any day, anywhere, any time. Though things can get a bit different once someone goes from being a fan to part of the media set.
The relationship between the professional motorsportists and the mediaists who stalk them ebbs and flows more frequently than the state of service at any given McDonalds.
I like to think that Simon and I get on reasonably well with most who've met us. There's a few here and there who seem to have chips on their shoulders, but I like to think that they're just crappy people.
And while we had an enjoyable morning, punctuated by the beautifully brilliant twirly fried potato contraption we all devoured for lunch, things took a bit of a turn when we journeyed to pit-lane to observe and shoot the teams setting-up.
The dynamic of accredited photographers shooting in pit lane for any big championship is an odd one. Imagine that you're in your lounge at home, sipping a coffee while reading a book or watching Netflix or crying into a pillow because the Warriors have lost again, and a stranger walks in. That's what it's often like, particularly during set-up day when you can hear a pin drop.
While normally it's fine; we walk into pit stalls, keep out of everyone's way, and snap away, today was a little different. Today we breached an embargo.
Embargos, like rules, are normally made to be broken. But this was something a little different.
Strolling down the rows, we walked into the Prodrive Racing camp to spot Mark Winterbottom's Bottle-O Falcon. Only, it looks a bit different. Instead of its usual hue of bright green the car is matte black and chrome green — this is a brand new livery not yet seen by the public. And it's just sitting here, in full view of passersby and us.
The natural reflex is to walk up and take snaps — hell, we've taken snaps of everyone else on the grid. There were no neon signs saying ‘Photographers, go away’, instead there were a few crew members to the side working on their own jobs.
Unaware of the new livery because everything that isn't a Honda looks the same to him, Simon strolls in and snaps away. He then gets a tap on the shoulder.
Hey mate, whatcha doin’?
... Just taking photos. Has ... has this not been released yet?
They chat for a little longer, and things are resolved amicably with a smile from both parties. That was until a more senior member of the team walked in.
What do you think you're doing?
Memory of exact words is fuzzy, but the gist of it was that this gentleman was thoroughly unimpressed with Simon. I seemed to get out unscathed, strolling around the car, cameras in hand, pretending that I wasn't mentally writing my own will.
Would you like me to leave?
We left, tails between our legs, Simon having agreed that the photos wouldn't see the light of day until the car's launch.
We don't blame the guy of course. This is the most stressed weekend of the whole season for everyone in the paddock; for some of them their entire livelihood depends on the next four days, and in those instances it's easy to snap at people.
Especially when those people are a teenager and a fat man.
Over the next four days, we're likely to go the same way — stripping away the happy-go-lucky chats between home base and the track and replacing them with droning technical discussions about who's interviewing who for who.
The calm before the storm ends tonight.
Driven's Matthew Hansen is blogging every day about the highs and lows of reporting on the Bathurst 1000. Click here to read part one of his six-part account.