Bathurst 1000: 2014 – The Worst & Greatest Race
It was the greatest race, and it was the worst race.
WORDS & IMAGES: Mark Walker HEADER IMAGE: Nissan Motorsport/Dirk Klysmith
And at seven hours, fifty-eight minutes, 53.2052sec, it was the longest 1000 in the 52 years of the Bathurst Enduro.
Below reads the diary of the event from the perspective of a tortured PR bloke – a standard Bathurst week is the longest and toughest on the calendar, the 2014 edition felt like it would never end…
Getting to Bathurst in style is kind of a big deal.
The Kelly Brothers had over the years grown a cult following for their road trip exploits, from clapped-out limos to classic Holdens.
In 2013, the crew’s first Bathurst foray with Nissan, saw the lads select a heritage G60 Patrol for the occasion, which was suitably backed up by a new Y62 model, with a sizable entourage in tow.
For the 2014 pilgrimage, the tour party was somewhat pared back.
With Brit, and Bathurst 1000 debutant Alex Buncombe finding his own way to the Mountain to partner up with Todd, the road trip consisted of Rick and Todd, as well as Rick’s co-driver Dave Russell… and the Jack Daniel’s PR bloke, who absolutely did not contribute to the chore of driving at all, but he did handball his phone around the cabin as a cavalcade of radio stations phoned in for updates.
Credit where it’s due to everyone who had played a part in the previous road trips: it had become a pretty big deal.
The pre-trip announcement was seemingly well received along the route, judging by the number of honks, waves, and media enquiries during the journey.
The weapon of choice for the trip was a 1982 Nissan Bluebird TRX, one of six such machines specially constructed by Nissan Australia as a promo vehicle.
In a tie-in with the race weekend festivities, the car was decorated in the same fashion as the number 36 Michael Caruso/Dean Fiore Altima, whose heritage hues were actually a tribute to George Fury’s Bluebird from 1984, which happened to set a record shootout lap time.
Farmer George would be at the circuit over the weekend, participating in autograph signings and other promo work, with his famed 30-year-old racer also heavily involved in the festivities.
One such activity was the launch of the Nissan Pulsar SSS Heritage Edition, a limited build of 40 hatchbacks fully stickered up like a 1984 racer. Or an ’82 road trip car.
Other livery tweaks for the event included the addition of ShuRoo to Todd’s number 7 machine, with the backing coming 12 months after a stray skippy sidelined TK’s car after a territory disagreement at The Cutting early in the race.
The road trip itself kicked off on Monday morning, and with Dave picked up from a Moorabbin hotel, with Albury the target for lunch.
Legend has it that Glenn Seton, who drove his last 1000 for the Kelly’s in 2010, always stopped at the Albury RSL for a shandy on his trek to The Mountain – it never really worked for him, but maybe 2014 would be the year of the lucky beer cocktail?
The final destination on day one was the Hilltops Retreat Motor Inn, just outside of Young, two hours short of Bathurst.
Scenes as drivers attempt to figure out a jammed door. Also, nice mullet.
Years of experience had taught the boys that if they were to be the first drivers to roll into Bathurst, they would get all of the opening day media, as those who would roll in after lunch on Tuesday would miss the early deadline for the various forms of media.
Everything worked a treat, although the gathered media were somewhat entertained when one of the car doors failed to open upon arrival in pit lane, forcing a trapped driver to escape from a window.
A clockwise cold lap of the track followed with suitable photo ops taken, with lunch in town followed by a spot of Op Shopping, because you never know what you might find.
The day ended with a two-hour-long radio outside broadcast and public appearance at a downtown Liquorland.
With hotel accommodation hard to find and typically cost prohibitive, the teams tend to hire out local homes for race week, with the regular tenants taking their annual holidays elsewhere.
For 2014, Nissan Motorsport picked up the keys to 13 houses, which accommodated at least 55 people during the race event.
I found myself with some other legends from the corporate team bunked in a rather swish abode situated a couple of roads over, and parallel to Conrod Straight.
Finding myself in the room of the little boy of the house, I was entirely unsure what the etiquette was with regard to feeding his fish… For the record, I did it, and the fish didn’t perish, thankfully.
Wednesday was rather full on, with media commitments kicking off at 8:30am, which were interrupted by the transporter parade, with Todd down to drive the JD rig, before the all-in autograph session at Kings Park.
The track walk followed, then pit stop practice and briefings, with the drivers ending their day with a visit to the local Nissan dealership until 7:30pm.
Knackered. When can we go racing?
The Red Bulls were loose, top right was where Luff and Lowndes went in.
Outside of a swag of media commitments, and Ricko’s participation in the junior press conference, the drivers actually got to drive around the race track on Thursday, day four of the Bathurst adventure.
From the three practice sessions, both of the JD Nissans reported some minor misfires and electrical gremlins, although the feeling was overwhelmingly positive – there was time to be found, but they were in the ballpark.
Overall for the day, the FPR cars of Dave Reynolds and Mark Winterbottom were quickest, while the favoured Red Bull cars looked loose.
There was plenty of drama elsewhere, with David Wall, Cameron Waters, Robert Dahlgren and Garth Tander all coming to grief at various stages. There was much more to come…
The day ended with Rick and Todd corralled into making an appearance at a Jack Daniel’s media function at The Church Bar, a converted, umm, Church, which, for the evening, served up bottomless cocktails and pizza.
It was great, although I now wish I knew what the secret ingredients that went into the Gentleman Jack/apple concoction. I’m guessing it was sugar.
Friday saw a stack more media, more autograph signings and corporate visits. Plus two practice sessions and 40 minutes of qualifying.
Ash Walsh made the fence in practice on Friday morning, although that was nothing compared to the efforts of some of the big guns coming unstuck in qualifying.
Firstly, Reynolds had a massive off at The Grate, after going ever so slightly off line to pass the slower-moving TK.
Todd returned to the pits visibly shaken – he had a close quarter’s view of the hit, and it made him feel sick. He thought Dave had to be hurt from the impact.
Jamie Whincup would later fence himself at The Cutting, and amongst the red flags, Chaz Mostert completed an overtaking move, with the subsequent penalty sending that car to the rear of grid on Sunday morning.
You could scratch those two as contenders, surely.
The JD cars finished 13th and 16th on the grid after being in the top ten at various stages during the stop-start session, with all four Nissans struggling for speed on the straights.
Is that Tim Cindric, top left?
The day didn’t end until 7pm, with the Friday Night Live broadcast, which included in its festivities an esky race involving the Nissan squad.
Although Saturday only featured a lone 50 minutes of practice, there was still plenty going on, including more media, promos to be shot for TV, merchandise signings, corporate visits, the driver’s briefing and an engineering meeting.
Elsewhere on track there were plenty of talking points, with Warren Luff’s brake-less HRT car clobbering Craig Lowndes at Griffins Bend, which ultimately saw car 2 sidelined for the weekend, creating a top-nine shootout.
This caused some angst in the pits when the second HRT car wasn’t elevated into the made-for-TV spectacle.
SVG ultimately slammed his Commodore onto pole position, and it would be a quick car on race day…
One Long Ass Day
Up at 5am, 6:10am breakfast, joy of joys!
James Moffat’s co-driver Taz Douglas was way too chipper in the catering tent – but who was to know the rollercoaster ride he was about to take?
The warm-up went cordially enough, followed by the driver’s parade, and a distinct lack of media.
By this stage of the ball game, the drivers had already spoken to everyone with a media ticket in Bathurst – it was time to focus on the big show.
The pre-race grid contained the typical chaos, although a nice touch was the Virgin Boeing 737 cutting laps overhead.
Absolute high, and low flying.
The first high-stress moment of the day occurred at the commencement of the warm-up lap – TK didn’t take off with the field… could you imagine all of this effort not to even see the lights go out?
Fortunately, the starter motor eventually kicked over, and from the race start proper, he worked his way up into the top ten. Nice.
With Grant Rowley covering the PR side of things from the pits, I went wandering with the camera, running my standard race day program of the time: take in the race start from Murray’s Corner.
Why? With every other photographer in Bathurst parked at turn one, I figured I would have the last turn all to myself in case anything ever went wrong down there.
Outside of Fabian Coulthard clipping a car off the start of the 2010 race (and subsequent dust cloud from The Chase), my ambitious (but rubbish) plan to secure an exclusive pic almost always came to naught, with five years of that program ending that day.
Catching the media shuttle bus to the top of the hill, I headed off to Forrest’s Elbow, where I caught a glimpse of Taz’s heavily smoking Hornet after being fenced at turn two. Oh well, they’re done.
Others would follow, including Paul Morris, Scott Pye, and Taz again.
With the race under safety car, I had worked my way back to Reid Park, and taking a break from the action, I headed over to the back of the campground to check out the remnants of carnage from the previous week.
It was amazing – I was blown away by how quiet and peaceful the area was – you would never know that there was a race ongoing a couple of hundred metres away…
The serenity of the top & bottom of the Mountain, 10 minutes apart.
By this stage, the race was indeed red-flagged, a fact that had become apparent the moment I stepped on board the punter’s bus to return to the bottom of the hill, which had B Rock FM blaring over the stereo.
The great news was Dave was sitting there on the pit straight at the head of the queue – you beauty, call the race off, we’ve seen enough!
Ricko had the car running up inside the top-six prior to the stoppage, and things were looking promising.
Of course, at the restart, Dave, being the first explorer to cover the patchwork repairs at turn two, had a massive understeer and dropped down the order.
Not long after, TK was dumped into a spin by Whincup exiting The Chase, with both of those cars seemingly in serious trouble, yet mobile.
TK wasn’t finished with the strife there – later on, Russell Ingall had a massive dive up the inside at Griffin’s, only to spear into Lee Holdsworth, who met the fence and inverted. A bullet narrowly dodged.
Prior to the final stop, the number 7 car was up there in the top five, but it was a battle – the Nissans were getting hosed down the straights.
The other car meanwhile ran as high as second but went thoroughly backwards following a double stack in the pits, and lost more time with a persistent misfire.
During the day, Dale Wood, Steven Johnson, Pye, Tim Slade, Tim Blanchard, Robert Dahlgren, and Scott McLaughlin all shunted, while Reynolds suffered a mechanical drama under safety car, and SVG’s car failed to re-fire after stalling at the final stop.
This was the race that will never end… there were a total of 10 safety car interventions for 26 laps, hell, they nearly called a safety car for an errant football on Conrod!
By the closing laps, I was busy doing PR things, getting releases written, sorting photos and social media out.
Bang! Lowndes clobbered Winterbottom at turn one, those two were toast, and somehow Moffat had ragged his banana into third. What. On. Earth?
I made my way to the garage to grab a Red Bull to sharpen myself up for the post-race writing chores, and also catch up with the team – but they were stressed.
What? Whincup is running out of fuel? You’re joking…
Everyone in the pits was stunned, the crowd went absolutely nuts.
Moff is on here!
As the cars filed down Conrod for the last tour, I remember barking at a few of the lads to get to the effing fence; they were genuinely confused by the situation – this was just not normal. Things didn’t compute.
Garage stress, Terry Morris, and podium fun.
Chaz first, Moff second, the crowd and crew went off – unreal! Although I was somewhat taken aback by the cars flying over the finish line straight at some cars parked celebrating slightly upstream.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a long hike to the podium from our peasant’s end of the pits. Convenient.
There were a couple of indelible memories from here – one was the Walkinshaw crew all arrived – ok, I’m not sure why… and secondly, Terry Morris was standing a couple of people north from me in tears. I guessed he had backed Chaz over the years, or something.
Neither of these things made any sense whatsoever in my stunned little mind until Nick Percat and Oliver Gavin walked onto the podium, followed a minute later by Paul Bloody Morris.
Oh shit, Paul Morris had just won Bathurst!
Following the podium, we escaped the masses via parc ferme and inspected the mess of a second-place car – somehow, many rolls of race tape had improved the aerodynamics of the number 360 Altima…
Earlier in the weekend, I was told that I was going to have to drive the Bluebird back to Melbourne, to which I replied they should seek the services of a new PR person for the Gold Coast.
Subsequently, I was given a spare seat on TK’s plane for the Sunday night flight home.
Bathurst Airport isn’t big – the only other person there was Neil Crompton, who was commuting back to Bankstown.
With the reddest eyes I had ever seen, Neil was spent.
We all were.
It was the longest non-12-hour race at Bathurst ever.
Ricko looked disappointed – but c’mon, you got three cars home in the top ten, with the JD cars in seventh and eighth; that’s not bad!
“But of all the years, anyone could have won that, it should have been us.”
Hitting your own pillow at 10:30pm on Bathurst Sunday night was different, but bizarre things were par for the course at this stage.
After all, it was the best and worst ever Bathurst 1000 all rolled into one.
Hey, wasn’t that me with the blonde wig? Thanks Stonie!