Bathurst 1000: The Wildcard Rollercoaster
They claim many of the headlines heading into the Great Race – and over the past 14 years, the Bathurst 1000 wildcard fleet has experienced a rollercoaster ride on track.
The 2009 edition of the Great Race marked the first time since 2004 that entries outside of the regular championship runners were accepted into the Bathurst 1000.
Since then, there have been many interesting attempts, some with considerable fanfare and high expectations, others with solid results after 161 laps.
Clearly, Triple Eight Race Engineering has a firm handle on the concept of running extra cars; however, there are two sound challengers from Shell V-Power Racing and the Blanchard Racing Team are joining the party in 2023.
Here is our comprehensive rundown of the wildcard entries from the modern Bathurst 1000.
Damian Assaillit/Brad Lowe – MW Motorsport
With all six wildcard drivers making their Bathurst debuts, it was the MW Motorsport duo of Damian Assaillit and Brad Lowe who were the only pairing of the three to make the chequered flag, albeit ten laps adrift of the leaders in 22nd.
Interestingly, only Assaillit and Douglas would return in future Bathurst 1000s.
Sam Walter/Taz Douglas – Greg Murphy Racing
The event kicked off with an inauspicious start for the Greg Murphy Racing combination of Sam Walter and Taz Douglas, with the above incident on Saturday morning on Mountain Straight.
For his part in the confusion, Mark Winterbottom was fined $15,000, while Walter suffered a broken toe.
Race day would see Walter come to grief at the same portion of the track after 84 circuits.
David Sieders/Andrew Fisher – Sieders Racing Team
It was also a tough initiation for the Jesus Racing ex-Triple Eight Falcon of David Sieders and Andrew Fisher, which found the Reid Park fence during Friday practice.
Come race day, engine issues would sideline the car at Hell Corner on lap 30.
Geoff Emery/Marcus Zukanovic/Rod Salmon – Greg Murphy Racing
After driving the car at Phillip Island 500, Marcus Zukanovic was initially replaced by Rod Salmon for Bathurst.
Salmon, though, struggled for pace before crashing on Thursday morning, with Zukanovic subsequently finding himself back in the car for the remainder of the weekend.
The outfit went on to qualify 29th in the 31-car field, before finishing 24th in the race, some five laps back from the leaders.
Damien Assaillit/Ant Pedersen – MW Motorsport
For Ant Pedersen, the 2010 Great Race marked his Bathurst debut, while for Assaillit, it was his final attempt at the 1000.
Subsequent to being disqualified from qualifying, the pair were the last registered finisher in 26th, some eight laps behind the race winners.
Grant Denyer/Cameron Waters – Kelly Racing
When reality TV came to Bathurst.
Fresh from claiming the Australian Formula Ford Championship, Cameron Waters also chalked up a win in the Shannons Supercar Showdown, with his prize being a drive in the Bathurst 1000 alongside Channel 7 personality Grant Denyer.
In starting the race, Waters became its youngest ever participant, at the age of 17 years, 2 months and 6 days, knocking Paul Dumbrell from the record book.
The car survived a lurid practice spin at McPhillamy Park on a wet track, before qualifying 29th.
Race day would be curtailed following an accident after 95 laps.
Cameron Waters/Jesse Dixon – Kelly Racing/Minda Motorsport
Following a monster truck stunt gone wrong, Denyer was replaced late in the Shannons Insurance-backed machine by Waters, who lined up alongside competition winner Jesse Dixon.
Aged 18 and 19, the duo became the youngest combination to ever attempt the race.
After qualifying at the tail of the 29-car field, the pair went on to finish in 20th, the first car off the lead lap.
Interestingly, for the Kelly Racing side of the equation, the number 23 would later adorn the sides of Michael Caruso’s Nissan Altima, while associate sponsor Carsales.com.au went on to back Todd Kelly.
Andy Priaulx/Mattias Ekström – Triple Eight Race Engineering
The breakthrough for the wildcard concept – this Triple Eight entered, Xbox One backed, Ludo Lacroix engineered, Andy Priaulx/Mattias Ekström driven Holden Commodore, was a genuine chance at winning the race.
A glimpse of the car’s pace came in the Friday morning co-driver-only session, when Ekström registered the third fastest time.
Qualifying netted the team 18th on the grid, with the pair of international aces working through the field on race day, leading a total of 17 circuits between laps 104 to 134, as the trimmed-out car proved to be a rocket on Conrod Straight.
Unfortunately, strategy went against the team, with a final stop for fuel on lap 139 relegating the team to a 10th-place finish.
Andre Heimgartner/Ant Pedersen – Super Black Racing
While Dragon Motor Racing was also originally down to make a start, the lone wildcard in 2014 belonged to Andre Heimgartner and Ant Pedersen in the Super Black Racing Falcon out of the Prodrive Racing stables, with the entry a prelude to their full championship assault the following year.
After qualifying 23rd in the 26-car field, an incredible 161 laps ensued, with the Kiwis running as high as second.
The team were set to finish sixth, until a roll of the dice on fuel strategy failed to pay off late, with the car pitting on the penultimate circuit, before being classified 11th.
Aaren Russell/Drew Russell – Novocastrian Motorsport
Dragon Motor Racing made it onto the grid in a roundabout way in 2015, with one of their cars taking the start under the Novocastrian Motorsport banner for brothers Aaren and Drew Russell.
After qualifying 24th, the pair ran as high as third in the mid-race pit stop shuffle, before fading to 17th at the chequered flag, edging out the Jamie Whincup/Paul Dumbrell car on the lead lap.
Renee Gracie/Simona de Silvestro – Prodrive Racing Australia
The second Prodrive prepared wildcard in as many years, the Harvey Norman Supergirls entry made plenty of headlines pre-event, with Dunlop Series racer Renee Gracie joined by Indycar and Formula E driver Simona de Silvestro.
More headlines were created pre-race when Prodrive stablemate David Reynolds blurted out his “pussy wagon” quip in the Thursday press conference, earning a $25,000 fine.
After qualifying 25th, Gracie found the Forrest’s Elbow wall early, before finishing 21st, some 40 laps off the race winner.
Simona de Silvestro/Renee Gracie – Nissan Motorsport
The Harvey Norman Supergirls returned for a second year, although the program had moved to an Altima out of the Nissan Motorsport camp.
The start for de Silvestro came following the announcement of her three-year deal with the category to be a full-time competitor, starting in 2017.
After de Silvestro beached the car in the Chase during qualifying, the pair had a clean run on race day to finish 14th, two laps off the race winners.
Alexander Rossi/James Hinchcliffe – Walkinshaw Andretti United
An interesting extension of the Walkinshaw Andretti United family, with Indycar stars Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe made their Bathurst debuts, although Hinchliffe had experienced Supercars previously on the Gold Coast.
The pair did the job that was expected of them, although a late race bunkering at the final turn caused a high level of drama elsewhere on the track, when one of the leading cars was notified of “debriss”…
Brodie Kostecki/Jake Kostecki – Kostecki Brothers Racing
The more favoured of the two wildcard entries was from Kostecki Brothers Racing, which had a wild first main game hit out on The Mountain.
With cousins Brodie and Jake behind the wheel, the pair had multiple pre-race meetings with the wall, with the entry delaying the race start after a faulty dry ice system stopped the car and driver on the warm-up lap.
The squad’s day ended after 111 circuits in the Reid Park fence.
Tyler Everingham/Jayden Ojeda – Garry Rogers Motorsport
The 2020 GRM wildcard proved to be another wildcard that spent a sub-optimal period wedged in the scenery, while also being the focal point of pre-race controversy.
With Nathan Herne requiring a super license dispensation, messy scenes played out in the media, and nearly in the courtroom as he was knocked back.
Last-minute replacement Jayden Ojeda had a tough run through the weekend – after crashing twice at The Cutting on Friday, once in his Super2 machine, and once in the GRM main game car, he also found the wall again in the race exiting The Chase, with the repairs dropping the car many laps off the leaders.
Russell Ingall/Broc Feeney – Triple Eight Race Engineering
The Enforcer and The Kid. Broc Feeney was paired with veteran Russell Ingall, giving previous event naming rights sponsor Supercheap Auto a significant presence in the race.
Feeney was born five days after Ingall’s last Bathurst 1000 podium in 2002, and led the team through race week, before ultimately replacing Jamie Whincup in the main Triple Eight squad for 2022.
Feeney had the car running inside the top ten following the final round of pit stops, before crashing on top of the hill.
As per previous wildcard tilts, there was plenty of drama and intrigue leading into last year’s event.
Originally, there were slated to be four wildcard entries, with Michal Anderson acquiring an ex-DJR Mustang to be run by his privateer Bathurst squad.
After initially being granted a super licence waiver, clerical issues seemingly scuttled the project, and with the car ultimately a non-starter.
Craig Lowndes/Declan Fraser – Triple Eight Race Engineering
It was a long time between top-tens for the Wildcards, and it took a little Craig Lowndes magic to get the job done.
After surviving the above water hazard on Friday, the seven-time Bathurst champ paired with last year’s Super2 Champion Declan Fraser to put in a solid effort, which showed a lot of guru full-time teams how it is done.
Greg Murphy/Richie Stanaway – Erebus Motorsport
The Erebus-prepared Boost Mobile backed entry of Greg Murphy and Richie Stanaway was for a time looking in limbo, following a hefty shunt for Will Brown in New Zealand which significantly shortened his regular steed.
However, that car was ultimately salvageable, giving Murphy one final crack at The Mountain, some eight years on from his most recent attempt, and Stanaway a second chance, which he has ultimately converted into a full-time 2024 seat.
Stanaway absolutely wheeled the car to fifth in the wet Friday qualifying, ahead of the two other Erebus cars, and held station when the top-ten shootout was abandoned due to flooding.
They continued being solid on race day, falling just short of the top ten in 11th overall.
Matt Chahda/Jay Robotham – Caltex Young Stars
The final wildcard was a proper privateer effort, with Super2 squad Matt Chahda Motorsport acquiring an ex-Walkinshaw Andretti United Commodore for the event.
Chahda was joined by fellow Great Race debutant Jaylyn Robotham, with the combination putting in a spirited performance on race day.
Mixing it with the sport’s elite, ultimately, a slow brake change put paid to their challenge, with the team finishing in 18th and on the lead lap.
Once again, three wildcards will front the starter this year, although two were participants in the Sandown 500, and have some decent miles on the board.
One entry belongs to the expanded Blanchard Racing Team, as piloted by West Aussies Aaron Love and Jake Kostecki, while Craig Lowndes returns for his second wildcard tilt, this time paired with Zane Goddard, a combo that picked up a tenth-place result from Sandown.
In a quirk of pit lane running order, the Triple Eight Camaro will share a pit boom with the Dick Johnson Racing wildcard Mustang of Super2 young gun Kai Allen, and returning international ace Simona de Silvestro for her third wildcard appearance.
That third pairing faces an uphill battle, having skipped Sandown, while their testing prep was interrupted when de Silvestro had her appendix removed.
How will the wildcard class of 2023 go? Hit us up on the socials @theracetorque with your hot take!