A broken car, a cheeky ‘bribe’ and a Bathurst record
AARON McGill’s Bathurst record might not include many overall wins, however in 2017 the well-traveled privateer played a pivotal role in making a small piece of Bathurst history – even if it took a ‘bribe’ to make it happen.
“MATE, I think my engine is shagged. I’m out.”
THE man conveying bad news down the phone was Aaron McGill and he was gutted.
The Sunday morning warm-up session prior to the 2017 Bathurst 6 Hour had exposed a somewhat serious issue in the powerplant of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution that basically guaranteed he would battle to make two minutes of the race, let alone six hours.
To be fair to Aaron, it had already been a shocker of a weekend for he, co-driver Aaron Tebb and his little team. They’d only completed two of the three practice sessions on Friday before a crash at the dipper left the car battered and bruised, and facing an all-night – or potentially longer – repair.
Despite that, they worked throughout the weekend to repair the Lancer: driving back to Sydney to secure spares, including a replacement engine, before throwing things in the car to be ready for the Sunday warm-up.
While it would mean they would start 57th on the 64-car grid come Sunday; in the truest example of the Bathurst ‘Privateer’ spirit, at least they were there.
And then more issues in the final pre-race systems check looked to put paid to their efforts anyway.
I felt for Aaron: He always put his heart and soul into his racing projects with as much passion as anyone and the six-hour was a chance for him to have a decent weekend while not spending Supercar-level budgets to tackle Mount Panorama.
He was also keen to do what he could to help promote the event which was always appreciated.
Of course, with my event PR cap on a nagging secondary issue also sprung into my brain when Aaron conveyed his bad news: if he didn’t start, we’d be missing the chance to create a little piece of our own Bathurst history.
You see, to that point there had been 75 major Bathurst endurance races – be they 1000km, 6, 12 or 24 Hours or otherwise – on the Mountain and the largest recorded starting grid for any of them was 63 cars.
Sure, more cars had entered, practiced and even qualified however attrition had always ensured that when the flag dropped or the lights went out, only 63 had ever been classified as having actually started the race.
Somehow, our enormous 66-car entry list for the 2017 6-Hour translated into 64 cars actually turning up and somewhat miraculously, every single one of them made it through five hours of practice and qualifying – some in varying states of repair or preparedness – to make the race.
It was going to be a record – except for the fact that it wasn’t because here was Aaron telling me he was done. Out. Going home. Aaron was crushed because he’d miss out on racing – but also on servicing his sponsors and partners who had helped get him there.
I was disappointed we’d miss a rare chance to add something unique to the lengthy Bathurst record books – not something that comes along every day.
There was mutual determination to try and salvage something for both of us.
“Mate,” I asked Aaron, “Is your car actually properly buggered, or does it still run?”
“It’s not healthy – it runs but there’s no point racing because It will be lucky to last a lap, maybe two,” he replied, resigned to his fate.
Now, and I tell you this with hand on heart, there is no way I would have gone through with what I said next if I did not believe it would truly benefit both parties. I’m no way near the best media guy in the world, but I know enough about PR that my brain was starting to tick over with the genesis of an idea that could just turn a loose-loose into a win-win for both of us.
“Start the race,” I told him. “Start from pit lane if you have to. Do the first lap, retire and I’ll make sure our TV guys are on the scene. We’ll interview you about what happened, you can get some sponsor plugs into the broadcast and give them some love they wouldn’t otherwise get.
“You’ll be a legend because you’ll help us get a Bathurst record.”
As someone who always worked so hard on selling his sponsorship deals and subsequently on rebuilding his battered and bruised Lancer, my recall is that he took about five seconds to agree. There was much more value for his backers in getting some TV and telling the Bathurst heartbreak story than there was putting his car on the trailer and going home.
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Aaron started the race, retired on the end of the opening lap and made a show of expressing crushing disappointment for his apparently surprising early non-finish, when interviewed in the lane.
It was classic Bathurst TV and we eulogised afterwards in commentary how he’d helped create a bit of Bathurst history and made it to the start, in the best traditions of the Mountain.
Thus, the Bathurst 6 Hour, having started 64 cars, etched itself into the annuals of Bathurst history as having the largest ever starting grid for a Bathurst enduro which I am thrilled to report remains a record to this day.
And while I am sure Aaron would have rather completed more than 6.213km, between us we were able to conjure up a win-win scenario out of the opposite that Easter Sunday in 2017.