What To Watch At Bathurst

What To Watch At Bathurst

Mount Panorama explodes this morning as the battle for the biggest prize in Australian motorsport begins.

The race for the Bathurst 1000 crown, and the Peter Brock Trophy, opens from the first lap in the opening practice session at 9.30am.

When the co-drivers get their first solo laps, from 12.45pm, the overall picture will become much clearer.

And once the first crash happens, and it will, some crucial pieces of the jigsaw puzzle for 2020 will drop into place with answers to some of the big questions.

Those questions include whose car is quick and stable, which drivers are confident and quick, and which teams are on the ball.

Things can change as the weekend accelerates towards the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon, and luck always plays a part, but by Sunday morning the contenders and pretenders will be exposed.

As always, there is lots to see at Bathurst – even without the spectators – and here are 10 keys to the shape of the race and what we all see on the television.

There are always co-drivers in new suits, led this year by Will Davison in the green-slashed black of Monster Energy after starting the year in the red-and-white of Milwaukee tools.

Cars, took, can take on a new look and the most obvious changelings for 2020 are the bright yellow Commodore of Todd Hazelwood, as Brad Jones Racing switches sponsors (again) for The Great Race, and the Aussie-themed Commodores from Penrite and Erebus.

There is also a ’Thanks Holden Fans’ line down the sides of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodores, but it’s hard to pick if you don’t know where to look.

None of the co-drivers have had much track time in the build-up to Bathurst, although a few cut laps at The Bend last month and all the top teams have had their Number 2s deeply into their simulator programs.

Luke Youlden showed last year that even the best co-drivers can make a mistake if the car is too edgy or unpredictable in the early practice laps, and it’s even tougher for drivers back in the pack or making their first start at Bathurst.

The real interest, once everyone settles down, is the pecking order for the serious contenders. But it can be tough to get a real read without knowing the tyre condition for each driver, and what they are contributing to the pre-race testing and development.

The ones to watch closely today and tomorrow are Tim Slade, Craig Lowndes, Will Davison and Garth Tander, as they are likely to be doing some of the heavy lifting for the race favourites.

The little team from Albury does some of the slickest work in the Supercars pitlane.

Brad Jones Racing has consistently done the quickest tyre stops through this year’s new-look Supercars championship and has a proven track record after tight fights with the heavyweights from DJR Team Penske for the pitstop prize in recent seasons.

But quick stops are not the only thing to watch.

There has been no refuelling this year so the pitstops crews will be bigger and less experienced this time around, and that can lead to mistakes and mishaps like the error that cost Jamie Whincup so badly when he snagged an air line at The Bend.

Bathurst also means brake changes and teams must do it absolutely right, and at the right time, to stay in contention.

The Dunlop tyres through the 2020 season, both soft and hard compound, carry distinctive coloured markings on their sideways.

It’s white for soft and yellow for hard.

But things change at Bathurst as there will be pink branding on all the Dunlop rubber on race day to recognise the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Where things get complicated is the different batches of tyres, since the Bathurst tyres did not arrive in time, and so teams will be given seven sets of yellow-marked tyres for use in the seven practice sessions and morning warm-up, with 10 sets of ‘Pinks’ for qualifying, the Top 10 shootout and the race.

Tander looks like the key co-driver. He is smart and tough and he knows his two jobs are doing fast and keeping Shane van Gisbergen happy and focussed.

Tim Slade has Scott McLaughlin and the Shell Mustang, and Craig Lowndes still has a big bag of natural talent, and Will Davison has more desire than anyone as he works for a third Bathurst win.

But if Tander gets everything right, and he has won before, he could be holding one side of the Peter Brock trophy on Sunday.

Love him or hate him, it’s impossible to ignore the Dude and his racing brain.

When he talks on the TV, it’s always worth listening. He is one of the best at predicting how a race will run, and how things are changing through the day.

When you see him talking to the drivers – which could mean Broc Feeney, or Brodie Kosteki or Will Brown or a bunch of others – it means he has something important to say.

He’s not know as the ‘Driver Whisperer’ for nothing.

If you want to know how a Supercar works, Larkham can tell you.

He has the sharpest eyes in the pitlane and can spot things that wear, and break, and are adjusted for speed.

Through the Bathurst weekend he will be the best gauge of how the cars are going and how the tactics will play out.

Running at the front is one of the keys to winning Bathurst.

It gives a driver confidence in the early hours, allows vital cooling for the car through the mid-section of the race, and opens the options for the tacticians in the fight to the flag.

It’s often been proven that it is easier to defend than attack at Bathurst, particularly with the cars so even in the Supercars era.

Even a slower car on the straights can be impossible to pass if the leader is quick across the top of the mountain and gets good exits from the critical Hell Corner onto Mountain Straight.

Anyone who wants to win Bathurst needs to earn a ticket to the final shootout.

If happens in the final hour, after the last safety car, when the Mount Panorama enduro turns into a knock-down, drag-out sprint to the finish.

Skaife always knew to tune his car to match the track in the dying laps, while Lowndes was able to drive around problems – and rivals – when the going got tough.

There have also been heartbreak stories in the final hour, and the closing laps are never short of drama.

Scotty Mac is heading to America and IndyCar, and will want to leave something special behind from Bathurst 2020.

That is most likely to be a very special lap in the Top 10 shootout, without the worries about fuel economy, tyre life, co-driver performance and all the other little boxes that need to be ticked in the race.

It’s the one time when he will have everything to himself, for himself, and the chance to make history.