Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife   on the podium after winning at Bathurst in 2010. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty
Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife on the podium after winning at Bathurst in 2010. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty

Drivers and teams have a mountain to climb

THE first thing I do when I get to Bathurst each year is rent a car and do a lap of this amazing circuit.

From a driver's stand point, there are few places that give you the feeling Mount Panorama does. The legendary Peter Brock used to say "great racetracks have got consequences" - and this place has got consequences.

It's fast and it's unforgiving.

If you make a mistake anywhere in that top-of-the-hill section, you're going into the fence at 200kmh.

These are the racetracks that really stimulate the drivers, the ones we really enjoy.

It's a stop-the-nation day in Australian sport.

It's a bit like the Melbourne Cup, but for six and a half hours rather than three and a half minutes.

The traditions and the track itself, as we've seen with all the drama that has unfolded over the years, tend to heighten our expectation of all the weird and wonderful things that can happen in a big, long, 1000km, 161-lap race.

Winning there means you've been able to put the complete package together. The car preparation, the team preparation. The faultless execution of a plan - everything down to a driver change and brake-pad stops.

One end of the track it could be hailing, at the other end it could be dry. It's a mountain. It's so problematic.

I don't want it to sound like it's too daunting, but in some ways it is. It can be a cruel race.

It's very, very easy to lose, and very, very hard to win.

Peter Brock and Mark Skaife pictured in 1997.
Peter Brock and Mark Skaife pictured in 1997.

I recall driving with Brock in 1997. We were in the lead by a mile when the engine stopped.

The following year, Craig Lowndes and I were in control when we blew a front tyre in The Chase.

There always tends to be some sort of dramatic story that comes out of the meeting.

Current stars Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin's cars both stopped in the race last year with engine failures.

In turn, David Reynolds, who had the fastest Holden all weekend last year, was able to record a David versus Goliath win. That was an amazing effort.

When you add 300 points for the day, the extra connotations for the championship are massive.

Whincup's team managed to get the car back out to finish the race to be classified as a finisher last year.

They ran the car on seven cylinders.

But those points were critical. Whincup won the championship by 21 points from McLaughlin.

It's probably the best case in sport of having to think on your feet, figuratively speaking.

You've got all this stress and drama unfolding in the middle of a high-speed chess game.

Shane van Gisbergen (3054) currently leads the series from McLaughlin (2999), but lurking in third after his win at Sandown is seven-time title winner Whincup (2716).

He's got nothing to lose. He's had a bad run at Bathurst recently, but he will be rip, tear and bust to win the event.

He and co-driver Paul Dumbrell will probably shape as the favourites.

But then you've got a couple of hard-charging young Kiwis in van Gisbergen and McLaughlin, who have been the form drivers and teams all season.

You're watching a great Holden-Ford battle in DJR Team Penske versus Red Bull Holden Racing.

Does van Gisbergen win with Earl Bamber, who hasn't been to Bathurst before as a Supercars driver?

Or can McLaughlin win it with Alex Premat?

There is immense pressure on both international co-drivers, given the championship.

But that demand on everyone is massive.

It's set up for another great race.


Mark Skaife claimed six Bathurst titles throughout a decorated racing career. He will be behind the microphone for every Supercars session at Bathurst for Fox Sports. FOX SPORTS' dedicated 24/7 Bathurst will broadcast for the first time ever live in 4K and ad-break free