It’s time for the V8 Supercar’s biggest race of the year, the SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
‘The Great Race’, as it is known to fans, is universally recognised as the premier race of the year. This 161 lap, 1000 kilometre epic takes the drivers up to, and sometimes over their mental and physical thresholds.
The Mt. Panorama circuit is stunningly picturesque yet unbelievably dangerous. Drivers are required to demonstrate extreme bravery, reaching speeds of 300 km/h down the famous Conrod Straight and through the Chase.
They race for the Peter Brock Trophy, named in 2006 after the late great who won the race nine times, and was appropiately dubbed ‘King of The Mountain’.
Here are my top five driver pairings for the 2011 SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000:
Far and away the two most credentialed drivers in the field.
By the end of the weekend these former Holden Racing Team teammates will have amassed 41 Bathurst starts between them (Skaife 25, Lowndes 16), added to their eight series titles (Skaife five, Lowndes three), and possibly another Bathurst win to further increase their tally of eleven (Skaife six, Lowndes five).
Lowndes, who has driven the winning entry in four of the last five Bathurst races, also holds the outright lap record at the track, at 2 minutes and 6.8012 seconds, which was set in practice last year.
Result: Lowndes and Skaife are yet to lose a race since they reunited at Phillip Island last year. The combination will be very hard to beat.
Former teammates at FPR, Mark ‘Frosty’ Winterbottom and Steven Richards are another combination that have a lot of experience racing alongside each other, having competed together three times before.
Frosty always qualifies well at Bathurst (first in 2007 and 2010, second in 2009, third in 2008). Co-driver Richards no longer races full time, but is very experienced, with two wins at Mount Panorama.
Despite being competitive, the duo has had bad luck, with mechanical problems in 2009 and a scary off track excursion ending their race in 2007.
Result: A tactically strong team, which has a proven record of efficient fuel economy throughout years. The Ford Performance Racing team will be amongst the race leaders.
Whincup goes into Bathurst leading the series standings, holding a 92 point advantage over teammate Lowndes. The two time champion and three time Bathurst winner is having another stellar year and looks set to reclaim his title as V8 Supercar Champion.
His teammate, Andrew Thompson, is relatively untried, however the young gun proved he can hold his own by driving with Whincup to a second place finish in last month’s L&H 500 at Phillip Island.
Result: The duo is the most well drilled team in the series, however, they will need Whincup to bear most of the workload throughout the race.
Last year’s series champion, James Courtney, has struggled this year, currently placed at a lowly seventeenth in the standings. However, he has an amazingly consistent record at Mount Panorama, only failing to finish once.
McConville, who retired from full-time driving in 2009, has a wealth of experience at ‘The Mountain’. He finished second with Craig Lowndes in 1999 before repeating the feat alongside Jason Richards in 2009.
Result: Another team that traditionally does well here, both experienced drivers. Excellent podium chance.
Despite being one of the lowest budget teams on the circuit, GRM always seem to be able to pull something out of the bag on the biggest weekend of the year. 28-year-old Lee Holdsworth is teamed with the experienced Greg Ritter for this year’s race.
The team won the race in 2000 with Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna behind the wheel and has since finished fourth in 2005, third in 2009 with Holdsworth and regular teammate Michael Caruso driving, before finishing seventh last year with Holdsworth teaming up with David Besnard.
Result: Holdsworth has started from fourth in the last two years so expect a strong qualifying performance. Good podium chance.
They’re the top contenders for the 2011 edition of ‘The Great Race’.
With so many variables and the unpredictable behaviour of drivers after six hours behind the wheel, anything can happen in 161 laps and 1000 kilometres of racing.
And that’s what makes Bathurst so great.