Being the Numpty at a Dinner with Legends
I WILL never forget dinner on the evening of the ninth of February, 2014.
The venue was the Chicane Bar & Grill, the downstairs eatery at Rydges Mount Panorama Bathurst, and amongst those seated around the table were Formula One star Mika Salo, Australian motorsport royalty in Craig Lowndes and John Bowe, as well as a seriously astute businessman in Peter Edwards.
Together, they had just won the Bathurst 12 Hour, the first in the proud history of the Prancing Horse from Marenello in the event, and an achievement that suitably impressed those phoning in from the factory on the other side of the planet.
I wasn’t the only non-race winner at that table that was a tad fanboy about the whole situation.
I’m a nobody at the best of times, but in that company I was a complete and utter numpty.
The Maranello Motorsport equip had been there since the start of the GT3 inclusion in the 12 Hour, and were rightly always up there amongst the event favourites, however, they seemingly always fell short due to a variety of heartbreaks.
In 2011, equipped with a 430 GT3, the combination of Edwards, Bowe and Tim Leahey were out after 161 circuits with an engine failure, while in 2012, Edwards, Bowe, Domonik Farnbacher and Allan Simonsen made it to lap 114 before electrical dramas struck.
Their 2013 attempted ended hard into the McPhillamy Park wall, with the Edwards, Bowe, Simonsen and Salo entry only making it to lap 111.
Ferrari though always had strong showings at Bathurst previously, with the Clearwater Racing example as piloted by Craig Baird, Matt Griffin and Weng Sun Mok claiming third and second in the 2012 and ’13 events.
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By 2014 however, it all came together for the local squad.
The preliminaries passed cordially enough, placing sixth on the grid, some 2.5295sec off the pole time with a best qualifying effort of 2:06.3881sec wasn’t of great concern.
Lowndes took the pre-dawn stint, brutally making his intentions clear, quickly jumping into second place by the conclusion of the first tour.
Edwards and Bowe were solid in their stints, while Salo was a superstar when unleashing the 4,500cc V8 powering the F458 Italia GT3.
The car never made it into the lead until lap 197 of what became a race record duration of 296 circuits, despite the field being slowed nine times by safety car interventions.
The final stages were brilliant, absolute peak Bathurst, with Lowndes behind the wheel for the final stint.
Coming under fire from the AMG of Max Buhk, who enjoyed much better braking performance thanks to a late pad change, the then five-time Bathurst 1000 champ had to use all of his nous to place the car just perfectly to defend the advances of the clearly faster machine.
Backmarker obstacles on the final tours caused consternation for those in the Mararnello bunker, while a supreme exit from Forrest’s Elbow on the last lap ultimately sealed the deal for the red number 88.
After 1,839km of racing, the final margin of victory was a mere 0.4138sec.
Redemption for those years of effort, and also, a tribute to the team’s fallen member Simonsen, who passed at Le Mans the previous year.
Salo, a former Lotus, Tyrell, Arrows, BAR, Sauber and Toyota driver, and a substitute for Michael Schumacher at Ferrari after he smashed his leg at Silverstone, twice stood on the F1 podium.
Bowe, Australian Driver’s Champ, Australian Sports Car Champ, Australian Touring Car Champ, twice Bathurst 1000 Champ, and a winner in pretty much everything he ever drove.
Lowndes, burst onto the scene dicing with Bowe for the win in the 1994 Bathurst 1000, he later became the first driver to crack 100 V8 Supercar race wins, and is the undisputed most popular driver of his generation.
Edwards, a gentleman driver who could get the job done, but with some incredible stories from the world of business.
Mark Walker, had the steak, medium rare.