Bathurst Is Weird

Bathurst Is Weird

Mount Panorama has never been like it is today.

All the grass is freshly mowed, the signs are brightly painted, the cameras are in place and the flag marshals and all the other officials are on the job.

The Supercars are also rampaging around the mountain, even if it’s a little later than usual in October for the 2020 running of The Great Race.

But there are plenty of things that are not remotely normal.

When the track action slows, I can hear the birds. There are babies cheeping to be fed along Pit Straight, crows barking behind the pits, and magpies flying and fighting at The Cutting with no fear of being cleaned-up by a racing car.

A brown snake was not so lucky yesterday.

“It came out of one of the drains and went onto the track. It got hit – a lot,” says Keith, the sector marshal in charge of the closest post.

“We had to scrape it up after the session. It was a big brown, we think. Not much left.”

There are lots of kangaroos around, too, although there is special fencing around Bathurst these days to stop a skippy from bouncing onto the track. Mostly.

And spectators?

There are none.

Supercars says it has permission for 4000 fans, and there are fold-up seats on the mounds along Pit Straight, all suitably distanced for Covid-19.

But it looks more like the roll-up for the Under 14 footie, there are hardly any cars in the parking areas, and no-one – truly no-one – is walking the back of the garages in the hope of spotting a driver or snagging an autograph or selfie.

You must have a (very) special pass to get anywhere near the Supercars paddock.

It looks weird and it feels even more weird.

It’s almost post apocalyptic. Not even mid-Covid.

There is no buzz and no excitement, although Scott McLaughlin manages to spark a reaction when he tags the wall at The Elbow.

There is laughter when one of the young rookies in Garry Roger’s Commodore hits the wall. It’s not malicious, just people in the press room having some fun after predicting when and where it was (inevitably) going to happen.

The people having the most fun at Mount Panorama this weekend are the weekend warriors who have rolled their moth-balled race-cars out of the garage, thrown them in the truck and are having rare track laps at Australia’s best circuit. There no-one from Victoria, of course …

Then there is a gap in the program, and Mount Panorama looks and feels more like a derelict old airfield or a piece of outback grazing land than the hot beating heart of Australian motorsport.

This year, Supercars is on life support through the coronavirus and it’s amazing that the Bathurst 1000 is actually happening.

The race itself promises to be a cracker, with a half-dozen serious contenders and the weather gurus predicting sprinkles and showers – at least – on Sunday.

But, standing at my very special place on the magic mountain, where the fans usually camp and then crowd the fences, it is just me and a single photographer who is back for his 61st pilgrimage to Mount Panorama.

It’s weird.

And sad.

We can all hope it never happens again.

But then, thankfully, Keith the marshal walks up again and lightens the mood with a gag.

“So, Jack Smith and Jack Perkins are sharing a car, right?”, he asks.

“Well, you know what beats two Jacks? A concrete wall,” he laughs as he waves us goodbye.