#968. 12 hours at Bathurst

By John Shingleton | Travel Photography

Feb 19

 I just spent a very hot weekend at Bathurst for the 12 hour GT race which is held on the Mount Panorama road circuit widely recognised as one of the great motor racing circuits of the world up there with Spa-Francorchamps and the Nordschleife Nurburgring. 

Saturday morning was spent travelling to Bathurst over the Blue Mountains-a 245km drive from home on the Central Coast. Well, the mountains were once blue but now they are black . Kilometre after kilometre after kilometre of burnt out world heritage listed national park and a few burnt out buildings and some homes which had been saved in the midst of the devastation by the extraordinary efforts of the firefighters. It was a very depressing drive. The fires had been so intense even the metal road signs had melted.

As friend Warren and I were approaching the  Mount Panorama circuit the car’s external thermometer was showing 39ºC so we decided to eat lunch under a tree on the approach road to the circuit rather than in the shade free car park. After we had parked at the circuit we found that although we had pre-purchased tickets to collect them we had to queue up with those who were waiting to buy tickets. There were only two ticket windows open. We had to stand in the open sun for 35 minutes. It was hell. Big black mark to the race promoters.

To cut a long story short the heat was impossible on Saturday afternoon and after a walk along the pit complex and catching up with a few Porsche and Alfa friends preparing to race in the historic Group S race we decided that the best place to be was in the bar of our hotel in the town of Orange 54kms away. We had to sit in the car with the aircon full blast for 5 or so minutes before setting off as the steering wheel was way too hot to hold. As we left the circuit at 3.30pm the car’s external thermometer was showing 43ºC. Little wonder that we could not take it. 

The good, fast road between Bathurst and Orange is through glorious open country and soon we were enjoying a beer in the bar followed by an excellent meal in the hotel restaurant. Even at 9.30pm the outside temperature was 36ºC. Many of the spectators were camping at the circuit. It would have been a very uncomfortable night for them.

 We were up at 4.00am Sunday to head back to Bathurst in time for the 5.45am start. It’s one of the greatest sights in motor racing to see the full field of GT sports cars heading up and over Mount Panorama in the dark. It’s even better than Le Mans and having been to Le Mans many times I can say that with authority.

Sunday was cooler than Saturday but it was relative. It “only” reached 38ºC mid afternoon so we were  swilling down the bottled water at a very rapid rate. A big dust storm came in late afternoon but the wind was strong and there was lot of dust swirling around all day. Not ideal conditions for photography. Rain and a thunderstorm was forecast from mid afternoon but it held off until just as the race was finishing so no need for all those wet tyres they had ready.

The race was a good race as usual but not it did not go right down to the wire as it had done in 2018 and 2019 although the first 7 cars finished the race on the same lap. The race was won by the Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT #7 photographed above coming over Skyline at the top of the mountain. Second place was taken by the McLaren 720 S of 59Racing/EMARacing-pictured below.

Sadly Porsche did not make the podium this year but took out 4th place. We were hoping for a repeat of the 2019 Porsche victory but it was not to be. Bentley were at the 12 hours for the 5th successive year. They had been very close to winning in 2018 and so would have been delighted with their win this year particularly given the conditions.

 There were a few very disappointed teams. Audis always turn out in force for the race supported by a big corporate promotion and although the cars are always reliable they just did not have the pace this year. The new spec Aston Martin Vantages GT3s with their AMG Mercedes motors were way off the pace. They would have been very disappointed with their showing.

The heat and dust were getting to us mid afternoon so Warren and I decided to head back to our hotel to watch the end of the race on TV with a cold beer int hand. Unfortunately about 45mins from the finish a big storm came through Orange and there was a power cut. The best laid plans and all that but I quickly managed to get the TV broadcast streaming on my iPhone but it had very little battery so we ended up watching the finish on the phone plugged into the charger sitting in my car. Strange days indeed.

The rest of my photos from the race are below. Because of the very hot and very dusty conditions I  left my Leicas at home and only took my Fuji X-E2 and the plastic Fuji 50-230mm lens. An outfit which had only cost me A$650. And even carrying that very basic outfit in the heat was a chore. I did not envy the enthusiasts carrying their full frame Canons and Nikons and their big heavy lenses. 

 

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  • philberphoto says:

    Lovely reportage, John! The heat, the noise, the smell are all there in your post. And the heat. What an event! It must have been exceptionnally tough for drivers, in their layers of fireprooff clothing, and the radiated heat from the massive engines… Wow! is all I can say. And thank you for sharing this (heat) with us.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    John, what a wonderful post – even if the weather was foul. I think your choice of gear was very wise – I rarely take my Nikons out if I don’t like the look of the weather.

    Since VW group is actually part of the Porsche holding company’s assets, and owns the Porsche car division, I don’t think it matters much if their Bentley division beat their Porsche division. You don’t have to scratch you head to work out why they didn’t enter one of the cars from their Bugatti division, or their Lamborghini division, either. 🙂

    Anyway, historically Bentley used to be a force to be reckoned with, in the car racing industry. Dark green [?? – wasn’t that British green?], with a great leather strap to hold the bonnet onto the car – roaring like a demented elephant as it tore around the track. Glad to seeVW has revived a fine tradition! And their design is much more appealing than BMW’s idea of a Rolls-Royce; I think their cars just look ugly, now – sadly.

    And there’s a black Bentley open topper a couple of blocks from my house – I have to confess that I think it is a seriously beautiful automobile – I can’t say I’m envious (I’ve always preferred smaller cars), but I have to say I admire it, whenever he and his partner stop near my house, for a meal at one of the local restaurants. There’s not a thing I’d change, if it was in my power to do so – unlike what I think of the modern “Rollers”.

    You didn’t mention where no. 20 placed. A race like that must have been gruelling for a little champ like that.

    How did you get into the Bentley team’s pit stop? And why weren’t they better organised that that? – changing wheels in a car race these days is supposed to take less than 3 seconds, and that way of doing it would NEVER get the car out on the track again, quickly enough. There’s not even any sign of the corresponding wheel for the other side of the car. Was this all before they got started, or something? Even worse at McLaren – four wheels missing and no sign of anyone doing a thing about it! Maybe both photos were on the previous day, and nothing to do with the race.

    Events like this are something I am happy to leave to others. Watching something going around and around in circles for 12 hours would stretch my patience beyond its elastic limit. So I appreciate your kindness in sparing me, and sharing your photos instead. 🙂 But then I suppose there are people who are happy to go and watch a cricket match for 5 days, even when it ends in a draw. So it’s another example of “each to their own”, I guess.

    • Jean Pierre, thanks for your kind comments. The Bentley and McLaren pit photos were both taken on the Saturday afternoon and not during the race. The race pitstops are all action and very quick although I tried a few photos from the back of the pits during race stops they are not good enough. The Porsche teams even managed to change the brake rotors as well as the brake pads in a couple of minutes in some pit stops.
      There were in fact 4 Lamborghinis in the race but only one finished in 14th place.

      • jean pierre guaron says:

        Maybe they should have entered a Tesla – they apparently beat Lambo on the Nürburgring !

        (Just kidding! – no charging stations on Panorama!)

  • Christopher Kemp says:

    Love the ‘motor’ bike in the last photograph. I want one.

  • Patrick says:

    Hot days, hot cars…..and vividly hot memories. Thanks for sharing, John.

    Porsches (the 911) and the McLaren (street car) are my top dream-toys.

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