Probably a bit esoteric, this one. Nonetheless.
The race that has become the Bathurst 1000 (neglecting the evolution of venue, format, and sponsor naming-rights over the years for simplicity) has been iconic in this country for most of its 50-year history. It’s certainly a big circle on my calendar, and I am aggrieved if ever I am caused to miss one. Yet I speak to an increasing number of people who have utterly lost interest in it. To me this is fairly heinous, although I acknowledge my several biases that predispose me to this – I’m a Ford man, into cars generally, and do what I can to maintain statutory levels of yobbism;rising above ones origins being, ideologically at least, a general no-no. Please forgive my heavy use of jargon. I grew up watching Bathurst, and it has always been close to being the best 6 hours of my year, akin to an all-day footy grand final.
And yet, and yet, even I have started to ponder….is the Bathurst I grew up with dead? It’s a horrible thought, one almost unable to be contemplated by the 10-year-old in me. The below is a discussion of the factors affecting the current incarnation (no pun intended) of the race.
- The current formula is a bit barren. AVESCO rely way too heavily on the Ford v Holden thing, which, whilst it’s enjoyed a fairly central role in the race since about 1967, it was never meant to be the sole attraction. Bathurst was always fascinating because of the variety of cars that used to run in it. Now that it’s a two-horse race, the interest amongst genuine car people is proportionately reduced. I’m as one-eyed a Ford man as you can get, but I still want to see other cars going around. Never was it so good as when we had a 55-car starting grid ranging right down to Corollas. This is a true price of allowing AVESCO to run it.
- The safety car has killed the character of the race. Every time the safety car is deployed the field closes up and the leaders’ efforts to garner a lead are nullified. It’s a diabolical penalty for no justifiable reason. Yes, obviously safety has to be the top priority, but that doesn’t mean a satisfactory mechanism can’t be employed that also preserves the character of the race. For example, if the track was divided into 1km sectors, and if the sector in which an incident occurs, plus the sector immediately before the affected sector, are flagged as yellow, and some form of speed-limiting is employed, a-la pit lane, then the imperatives of safety would be served, and racing margins would be preserved. The technology exists to do this, and do it cheaply.
Moreover, there are those that contend that the close racing that this engenders is good for the race. But the fact of the matter is that close racing has never been what Bathurst was about., It has always been an extreme enduro, and the object was to finish.
- Another issue that the current formula brings is the relative lack of risk of failure. Certainly, there are cars that fail to finish the race for mechanical reasons. But these cars are purpose-built racers, and the teams involved have adequate budget to build cars that will go the distance with ease. This removes a certain amount of tension from the race. And it is against the original spirit of the race.
- The other consideration that results from the considerable budget is that the barriers to entry are quite high.
- Tied to some preceding points is the fact that the current formula only pays lip-service to the marques it purports to represent. It is in fact a shadow-formula, with more or less standard, prescribed cars for everyone, with panels and engines the only differentiations. This removes much of the spirit of the race for those that know precisely what they are looking at. I’m not advocating a return to production racing as such – the expectations of the public have surpassed that which production racing can provide, even if, frankly, I personally would rather watch a production car race than the current formula.
I’m an advocate for getting rid of the safety car in favour of a system that is just as safe but which preserves racing margins; of going back to a motorsport formula more akin to genuine modified production, not unlike the old Group C formula, even if it is defunct elsewhere in the world, which should consequently bring many other marques into the race; and of restricting team budgets per car to reduce barriers to entry and to maximise the effectiveness of the available sponsorship dollars.
I’ll still continue to watch Bathurst irrespective of what form it takes(although I confess I didn’t bother with the super-tourer years – they were an abomination), but if they bring back a decent range of cars that genuinely represent those which are on our roads, then I’ll be cheering that much louder.