THE LEAD UP to the 2019 running of the event simply known as ‘The Great Race’ has seen a significant amount of media coverage devoted to the 40th anniversary of the stunning, six-lap win by Peter Brock and Jim Richards in the 1979 Bathurst 1000.
However there’s another Bathurst 40th that came and went last year, missed by the motorsport media but just as, if not more, significant as the famous Holden Dealer Team trouncing a year later.
1978 saw the introduction of ‘Hardies Heroes’, the made-for-TV qualifying concept that would pit the 10 fastest cars against the clock to determine the first five rows of the Bathurst grid.
What started that year set the tone for one of the most popular elements of the Bathurst weekend and has become an iconic part of Mount Panorama. Single-car qualifying wasn’t a new thing – NASCAR and IndyCar racing in the ‘states had been doing it for years – but the innovation by Channel 7 that year on the Mountain would evolve and grow way beyond just Bathurst to become a part of racing everywhere.
But at it’s core lies an hour on Saturday where 10 drivers have their only chance of the year to tackle Mount Panorama at 10/10ths and see what comes out of it.
There’s so many reasons why the shootout works better at Bathurst than anywhere else.
There’s nothing like Mount Panorama itself, of course, for drama: the undulation, the danger and the sheer speed of the place make it totally unique.
And then there’s the fact that it’s a circuit where the actual lap time matters. No one is particularly fussed if on a 68-second lap someone cracks it into the 67s. But on a lap time that is nearly doubled and on a circuit so challenging, every slight improvement in lap time is amplified and becomes ever more significant.
That first shootout in ’78 was headed by Brock, who punched out a 2m20.006s lap in his Marlboro Holden Dealer Team Torana A9X. He was eight-tenths quicker than Colin Bond in one of Allan Moffat’s Falcons and Brock’s time wouldn’t be toppled for nearly five years.
That lap, in 1982, was set by Allan Grice – who also became the first person to lap Bathurst at an average speed of over 100 miles per hour thanks to him 2m17.5-second lap.
Gricey’s benchmark wouldn’t stand for long, because in 1984 a turbocharged Nissan set a benchmark that wouldn’t be toppled for some time to come. With single-digit ambient temperatures and snow in the area, George Fury wound up the turbo boost on his Bluebird Turbo and became the first driver into the 2m13s in Bathurst history – and the first Japanese car on pole, too.
Group A came the following year, 1985, with the leading Walkinshaw Jag some five seconds slower in Hardies Heroes than the Group C monsters a year before.
The addition of the extra 400 meters that made up The Chase came in 1987, but the World Touring Car Championship field weren’t slowed that much: Klaus Ludwig’s 2m16.96s flyer quicker than Gary Scott’s pole in the Nissan a year earlier, pre-Chase.
1989 was significant for being the first time that the entire Shootout was shown on TV; previously it was just highlights. Brock’s 2m15.80s best in of all things a Ford Sierra – much to the dismay of the Red Army – was another benchmark but still short of Fury’s ’84 best.
Fury was finally toppled a year in 1991, Mark Skaife’s 2m12.63s effort leading a Nissan Skyline GTR 1-2 in what was now called the Tooheys Top-10 in deference to the race’s beer sponsor.
The next major shootout milestone came in 1998 – thanks again to Mark Skaife. In an era where there were two Bathurst 1000 events, and the Super Tourers were doing 2m16’s, Mark Skaife was the first ever to lap under 2m10 seconds in the one-lap dash.
It must be said, however, that Rickard Rydell’s pole lap in the 1998 Super Touring Bathurst event was one of the best ever. 2m14.92 was miles faster than anyone – and miles quicker than even he had gone before. It stands up as one of the great Bathurst qualifying efforts.
But boy, there were many more to come.
By 2003 the benchmark time for a Supercar at Bathurst was somewhere in the low 2m08-second range – at least until the shootout that year. When John Bowe punched out a 2m07.9s best in his BJR Falcon most thought it to be a near-on unbeatable time, given it was just about the fastest ever lap of the place to that point.
However, then there became Greg Murphy. In front of a live TV audience and a massive crowd what will forever be remembered as the ‘Lap of the Gods’ played out. 0.4s up at Reid Park. 0.7s up at the Elbow and 1.1 at the line – his 2m06.8594s epic was rewarded with a standing ovation from every team in pit lane and in terms of drama and theatre, is yet to be beaten for it didn’t just move the benchmark to a new level, it re-set it to a standard so high that it wouldn’t be beaten in a shootout for eleven years.
And even then, that was thanks in part to a total track re-surface in time for the 2014 event.
And then came 2017. David Reynolds had gone quicker than anyone ever in a Bathurst shootout thanks to his 2m04.8312 best and had looked set for pole – that was, until Scott McLaughlin wound up Car 17 and achieved something almost Murphy-like. The first into the threes, his 2m03.8312s lap was just about the most intense two minutes most had watched on the Mountain – the Red Falcon dancing on the very edge of the limit there. Truly, special.
People have gone quicker at Bathurst. GT cars are a couple of seconds up the road, on average, and demonstrations have been even faster. But for drama, theatre and meaning in qualifying, nothing matches a Bathurst Shootout on a Saturday afternoon in October. It’s one of the best hours of motorsport you’ll see all year.