Insight Motorsport News

INSIGHT: A STRANGE, STRANGE BATHURST..

THE FACT this is a very strange year for Australia’s Great Race has been well documented – but what is it like on the ground? Journalist Lewis Isaacs is there and reports that while it definitely is the Bathurst 1000, it certainly doesn’t feel like one.

WORDS: Lewis Isaacs

The year was always going to be an odd one. The curveballs thrown up in 2020 don’t need to be repeated here, we’re all living them. But sometimes, it all sinks in at once.

For years I’d picture a dream run into Bathurst. A year with no traffic. No queues anywhere and some peace and quiet to get work done. 

This weekend, I’ll stay in a reasonably priced room not far from the track. Any other year such a deal would be front page news. Not this one. It happened. 

And it sucks.

But first, let’s acknowledge the effort taken to get this show on the road. The staff, teams and drivers that have been on the road, working through the bureaucracy of borders and have been away from families, friends and homes for weeks at first. Then months.

It’s major achievement just to have a race this weekend.

And what a better place to sign off this minor miracle of a season than at Bathurst – a mountain that is fittingly, the peak location for racing in this country. Where people set up shop and live at the track for a few days every year, and where your achievements lapping the circuit can immortalise you into Australian motorsport history.

This year is different though. The hill on the main straight is host to hundreds of spectators, all of them sat equally far apart from each other. There’s a strong police presence that feels like it would be more appropriate at the nearby Oberon jail. The paddock is harder to get into than a posh Sydney nightclub when you’re not wearing shoes. The media centre is bereft of familiar faces.

For the most part, the mountain is empty.

Everyone coming here knew it was going to be the case. But when you’ve seen it heaving, smelt the smoke of campfires in the evening, hustled through the paddock to get into a garage and sat at the Chase during a shootout with mates, it’s hard to reconcile.

It’s a Bathurst 1000 – but it doesn’t feel like one.

“This place is pretty sterile without it being crammed with people,” says 2010 series champion James Courtney. 

He’s not being critical. Just forthright when asked about this weekend.

“It’s weird. When you go across the top of the hill in qualifying and stuff like yesterday afternoon … you would hear the guys. You could hear the people yelling and screaming,” he adds.

“Especially in the shootout when you drop into the Grate and the thing’s lighting it up with the steering, smoke’s coming off the bar, you’re up against the wall and you’re hitting your apex, but you can see some guys throwing beers at each other, or high-fiving. That’s what is missing.

And what a better place to sign off this minor miracle of a season than at Bathurst – a mountain that is fittingly, the peak location for racing in this country. Where people set up shop and live at the track for a few days every year, and where your achievements lapping the circuit can immortalise you into Australian motorsport history.

“This place is a cool place to drive around, but what makes Bathurst is the people and all that craziness. 

“For so many years, you’d pick out on the first lap, coming across the top, you’d see one. A couple of years ago I saw this big bloke sitting in his chair raising his beer and I sort of had a look. Next stint, jump back in and have a look, old mate has got his shirt off at this point. A couple of cans around him. By the end of the day, the guy was passed out, had a witch’s hat on and beers stacked up around him. That’s the passion.

“That commitment and passion is the best. It pays me, it pays you guys to sell magazines and websites.

“That’s what we need to get back to. We need those people here otherwise we’re going to slowly fade away.”

He’s right.

But at this stage there’s no point in laying blame or bemoaning the situation we’re in. It is what is it. Que sera sera, as they say.

However, come the race, there’s an optimism we’ll start to forget about all the weirdness. The people that aren’t here. The literal forced distance between the ones that are.

It’s different in 2020, but it’s still Bathurst. You can guarantee the 25 entries will be trying as hard as ever to win the thing. And that’s part of the cure for this race weekend at Mount Panorama that’s like no other before – or hopefully after it.

ABOUT: LEWIS ISAACS

Lewis Isaacs is a multimedia producer, editor, shooter and writer based in Sydney, Australia.

His media career began at ACP Magazines, writing for Auto Action, Rugby League Week, Top Gear and Motor. He has since developed as a digital and video producer, with his work featuring on The Guardian, SBS, The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, Fox Sports and more.

For more information, please check out his website here.