How the Indy 500 can fix Bathurst’s Soft tyre issue
HERE’S HOPING that Sunday was the last time the use of Dunlop’s Softest compound Sport Maxx tyre is made mandatory in Bathurst’s Great Race.
This isn’t a black mark on Dunlop, Kevin Fitzsimmons and his hard-working team or even the tyre itself – just a commentary on the fact that the race would have been better without it.
Supercars opted to run the soft tyre this year because – and let’s be honest here – they were concerned that on the harder compound tyre the new Gen 3 cars would be too slow.
And ultimately, it worked.
Brodie Kostecki’s 2m04.2719s flyer in Saturday’s brilliant Top 10 shootout was the sixth-quickest pole lap in Bathurst 1000 history. It was awesome and as teams sort these cars, they’ll only go quicker.
However, the high levels of degradation meant drivers spent much of the race tippy toing around much, much slower than the ultimate speed potential of the modern Supercar.
The top three all set their PBs on the fourth lap of 161, as did Will Brown who set the quickest lap of the race at 2m07.5431.
Race pace was in the high-eights or low nines range but if you were a team like David Reynolds and Garth Tander, trying to save fuel and eek your range out to 30 laps in a bid to get a result on strategy alone, you were in the 10s.
Furthermore, the incredible buildup of rubber made Mount Panorama a single-lane circuit before mid-race and caused the additional issues of the ‘football sized’ chunks of rubber teams would remove from their cars at every stop.
It’s the same thing that has made Formula One so frustrating to watch of late with drivers unable to push as hard as they can thanks to a sub optimal tyre that degrades rapidly.
In some ways, the push to mandate three stops in the Qatar race on Monday morning was a godsend because it meant the field could go relatively flat out; safe in the knowledge they would be rid of Tyres sooner rather than later without the associated impact on race strategy.
Now, I’m not advocating that Bathurst should go back to a set number of compulsory stops – the added strategic intrigue of Sunday’s race was a genuine highlight and probably saved it from being a total snooze.
But the soft tyre must go from the race itself.
There is, however, a way for Supercars to have their cake and stuff their face with it as well and it is in a lesson learned at another iconic race – the Indianapolis 500.
Few races in the world, Bathurst being one of them, put so much emphasis and impact on grid determination as the ‘500 does.
It’s why when it comes to qualifying and pole day at the Speedway, IndyCar cranks up the turbo boost available to the entire field to allow them to go much, much quicker.
It adds to the show, it allows chat of record lap times (or in this case, speed) and builds the theatre of hanging it all on the line for a spot on the famous three-wide Indy front row at 230 miles per hour.
Absolutely no one cares how quick the IndyCars go in the ‘500 itself, they just want it to be a good race.
But they absolutely want the pole speed to be north of that magic 370 km/hr average benchmark.
Does that sound familiar?
In our part of the world, all the lap time talk at Bathurst is centered on the shootout; be it Murphy’s lap of the gods, Scotty’s benchmark-shifting 2m03.8 in 2017 or Chaz’ even better 2m03.37 in 2021.
On Sunday there was zero talk of Chaz Mostert’s race lap record of 2m04.76s from 2019.
I’d be surprised if more than the hardest of hard-core fans could even tell you the number – yet most can recite the Lap of the Gods benchmark to the fourth decimal place.
Turns out, Bathurst is so incredibly similar to the Indy 500.
Like Indy, at Bathurst qualifying speed is everything and having drivers race absolutely flat out is everything.
The two are not necessarily related, so something needs to be done to ensure both can occur when Gen 3 returns in 2024.
But really, the solution is easy: Throw the field on the soft tyre for qualifying on Friday night and then the Shootout on Saturday.
There’s six hours of practice before qualifying so if they wanted one full session on the soft as well then they could have that too – but surely, qualifying would be enough.
That way we get the sexy lap time and all the superb, magical Bathurst theatre that comes with it.
Then make the field run the race on the Hard tyre, allowing the drivers to push all the way and removing some of the build-up on the circuit and in the cars themselves in the process.
No one will care if the lap times are slower – because they already were on Sunday this year, just for a different reason.
But it will improve the show, improve the conditions and because they’ll last longer, probably throw even more strategy intrigue into the mix as well.
If the same concept works for a race heading into its 108th race, surely it can work for one heading into year number 61..