King of The Mountain

Driving fast at Bathurst

If you get yourself a CAMS licence and you belong to a club you can go racing at Bathurst. Lots of small car classes run hillclimb in the back sections (both directions) and the bigger clubs will lease the track for private events like Porsche Cup Racing.

Assuming you have an absolute ass load of money you can probably book the whole thing out for yourself to go racing your Aston Martin Vulcan on too.

The most accessible way for Joe Average to try it out is thanks to a crowd named Fastrackracing, two days a year non CAMS (Racing licence) holders can drive the track in warmed over domestics to get a taste of what it’s like barrelling a 5 litre silhouette racer “up the mountain.”

This year I had a day off work and a seat in one of the cars for a four lap drive with a paid racing driver sitting in the passenger seat providing guidance.

The format of the “race” is heavily moderated so idiots like me don’t go killing ourselves. 3 and 4th gear only, follow instructor directions at all times, stick to the markers on the track and if you misbehave there is a brake on the passenger side, presumably a kill switch too. The goal is to go fast though and like we were told in the briefing, if you show the trainer you’re capable they’ll help you go faster that you’d be able to on your own. I’ll get to it all in a minute, but yeah, my co-driver definitely helped me push the car at points I would never have believed it was capable of.  I did also pass a couple of slower drivers.

The cars

The cars themselves are factory Holden and Ford (showroom cars) a combination of Commodore VZ and VE commodores and BF Ford Falcons. Cosmetically they look like a V8Supercar of the same era. Inside they’re stripped out and have a spec roll cage, racing harness and seats for racing. No in car settings controls on the wheel or console (Brake bias, traction, power tune etc) but it’s not like you’re going to need them) and a pair of switches on the dashboard that my gut tells me might not be legit, but give the illusion of ceremony – fuel pump and then ignition power. The wheel is a Momo racing wheel.

According to Fastrack’s website the transmission is a Tremac aftermarket unit, but it’s still H pattern with a clutch. The engine claims to be a 450 horse V8, but the road going Commy and Falcon both have V8’s that fall well short of that number. I’m not calling bullshit, but if it’s a stock engine underneath it’s pushing around 330 horse in either car. Maybe a bump more because they have a totally not street legal but definitely rad looking sideflow exhaust and maybe some other tweaks under the bonnet. For comparison, a current V8SC spec car makes around 650 horse out of a custom 5 litre Naturally Aspirated unit.

Where the investment has been made is in sways, tires and brakes. Even if I am right about the motors, it doesn’t matter – the cars drive like they’re on glue and you can charge into any corner as fast as the car can go. They have massive slicks front and rear and the brakes are enormous, meaning that you can stop in a hurry if you need to.

If I’m not sounding complimentary of the cars at the moment it’s not on purpose, I just haven’t had my morning scotch. Even If you’re used to driving a regular domestic V8, these things are more than enough car for you on the track.

Driving Bathurst in anger

I mostly drive this on Forza 6. The Xbox does an okay job at the track, but of course there are nuances that a game controller can never replicate. If you’ve never even seen it before or not paid much attention driving it in a game, Mount Panorama is a couple of big straights, sharp, almost 90 degree turns and has a centrepiece up and then down hill section where it derives its name “The Mountain” from.

It’s an older track (1930’s) that hasn’t changed much since it was laid down originally sans a lot more safety changes. The biggest was that the Conrod Straight (the back straight) was deemed too long for international standards so it was sectioned in half via a sharp chicane towards the top. If you were building it today, you’d never pass safety regulations because of the amount of undulation, which starts on the first straight but really becomes apparent in the uphill phase.

The uphill section is tight, climbing over 150 meters in a very short distance. In competitive racing there’s little chance to pass on the uphill. Plenty of opportunity for a good crash though and if you watch the SuperCars series when they race there you can expect to see a reasonable number of jovial bumps and “assisted turns” in the sharp left hander at the middle section.

At the top the track there’s plenty of opportunity for speed, minimal braking and even less lifting if the driver has made the angles correctly. The top quickly turns into a downhill section which is where the attrition starts toward the end of the big races, as drivers fight for a solid run onto the straight they’ll bash each other pretty good trying to get into position.

Like the uphill, the downhill is also tight and doesn’t offer a lot of room to pass.

The real thrill of the downhill is The Dipper. This is a deep lefthander as you’ve crossed the peak of the top of the circuit. The first time I took this was in my MX5 at night and to be totally honest, it was fucking terrifying at speed in the dark the first time. Once I’d done it a couple of times it was a lot less intimidating, but it’s a quite a bit more of a drop in real life than it is on a game console.

The final lefthander, named Forrest Elbow is a complex, almost dual apex corner and you might find yourself sliding into on the brakes like I did a couple of times if you go too fast at the start. I later learned that the best way to take it was to enter the first part’s apex as straight as I could, slam the brake close to the wall and assume the car wasn’t going to lose its wing mirrors against the barrier. The second apex feels like it should be a lot tighter than it is, but again the professional advice was to be fast, straight and patient, then turn confidently.

Conrod straight

It’s called Conrod Straight because at full speed more than one car has blown rods through their block over the years. Conrod isn’t as long as Mulsanne at Le Sarthe, but it is (I think) longer than Kemmel at Spa. It’s also not flat, it actually undulates quite a lot. As per the comment earlier about the driver briefing, I start off trying to get a feel for the car and lift off quite a bit, but wanting to take advantage of tutelage from an expert I took the instructors advice and put the foot down all the way the first time I was on Conrod.

To be totally honest I almost wanted to close my eyes, shout “America!” and just see what happened. It really is something else, especially in a car that feels a bit floaty at speed. By the time I got to the chicane I could feel my left foot shaking with adrenaline and wedged so hard into the footrest that it was going cold from lack of bloodflow.

Part of the package I got data logging and recording. You can see the full drive below. I’m not going to come up with excuses for a 3+minutes lap time.  I can do a sub 2.30 time on the Xbox in a similar spec car and with the limited gears, but my blog is called writertravellerdriver not writertravellerthreetimesv8supercarschampionshipwinner.

I reckon in time though I could break the barrier, even under the same format. The total cost for all this was over a grand – 250 a lap plus the accommodation the night before. I’d definitely do it again though, just to chase the 3 minute mark and if I could casually afford to crash my own car I’d be doing club racing every opportunity I got.

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