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Track Back - Mount Panorama in Bathurst - A new series looking at some of the best racing circuits

Published by Adam Burn

Track Back is my new series on the circuits I've loved over the years. This first article is about the track that hosts Australia's Great Race - Mount Panorama in Bathurst.

When you look at the Mount Panorama circuit from a map, it's surprising to see that it's actually upside down.

Bathurst 1000 Hell Corner 2010
Bathurst 1000 Hell Corner 2010Credit: Jon Baldock/ Creative Commons

As you approach from the Sydney side of Bathurst, you can see the large Mount Panorama sign just below "the top of the Mountain". It's always given me this feeling as if I'm getting close to the Holy Grail - I guess it wouldn't be unlike a movie buff driving into Hollywood and staring up towards the Hollywood sign!

My link to Bathurst started the day that I was born, so I guess it's the track that means most to me of any in the world. My mother would without fail remind me of how I stopped her watching the Great Race that year - I was born at 9:10am, just before the traditional race start at 10.

It's not just a coincidence of timing for me, but also it was my "local track" growing up. Well it was the closest to me anyhow. Our home town is only 160 kilometres away from the Mountain and I do remember Mum driving us around there one time in our family's station wagon. And that is one of the most interesting features of the circuit.

You don't just have to look at it from a distance in awe that this is Mount Panorama. Drive around it in your road car and you get a unique appreciation of just how amazing the track is. 6.2 kilometres of mountain magic!

Take William Street from the centre of the city of Bathurst, then follow that on as it changes into Panorama Avenue. When you're almost on the track, have a look to your left - that's the National Motor Racing Museum. Then turn right at the give way sign and you're beginning a lap, starting from the last turn - Murray's Corner.

Now you know you're on a racing circuit - ripple strips, sandtraps, concrete walls and the pits all ahead as you go down Pit Straight. Keep in mind two things for us mere mortals - this is a two way road, so stay left and the speed limit is 60km/h. It's slightly uphill to the finish line underneath the bridge and then slightly downhill towards pole position.

Let's pretend we're now in a racing car...

Turn 1 is your first test. Hell Corner is critical to get right, as it leads onto a long uphill straight. Little bit of helpful camber down low in this 90 degree left hander, but don't let it suck you in - if you're wide here, you'll be slow up the straight.

Now we're onto Mountain Straight, a long, very uphill drag. Get a better run than your opponent out of Hell Corner and you could have them on toast at Griffin's Bend (Turn 2). But not before you hit the hump...

Before the braking area into Turn 2, the Mountain Straight hump will give your engine a quick buzz - apparently in the era before modern aerodynamics it required a lift off the throttle to stop the car catching air.

Griffin's Bend, a sweeping right hander, is soon upon you. Brake later than you think because it's very uphill here. But be careful not to run too wide - as you cross the road camber on the exit, you'll get forced towards the wall. A good, clean exit required for another steep uphill section.

The next part of track, leap of faith required that it's clear, because if it's not there's nowhere to go. A short straight drag into a pair of left handers, The Cutting - named for obvious reasons. The first a quick sweep, the second a hard braking, much tighter, almost hairpin corner. Careful not to wheelspin on the exit!

Out of The Cutting, you come up to two fast right handers. The first is flat out and sets you up for the second at Griffin's Mount, again steeply uphill, slightly slower, with an unusual left flick just on the exit. Now we're at "The Top of the Mountain".

Here's where the circuit really starts to blow you away. A steep drop down into "The Grate", a drainage grate which has become probably the most famous in Australia. Then you flow into a rising left hand sweep at Sulman Park. Fast and furious here, particularly in qualifying where drivers typically have a "pointier" setup.

Get it wrong and you'll be spearing off into the large sandtrap in front of all the campers

Over the crest and into McPhillamy Park, downhill and blind on entry. Still fast and still a left hander, but get it wrong and you'll be spearing off into the large sandtrap in front of all the campers. Or spinning back across the circuit with only the wall to stop you tumbling down the hillside. A spectacular corner for V8's, hanging the tail loose at around 200 km/h.

A short straight takes us down to Brock's Skyline, a steep downhill right hand kink where we start the descent from the top. You'll see Bathurst over to your left, but don't look! You need to focus on the road ahead - get Skyline wrong and it could be ugly. At the very least, you'll be out of position for the start of the Esses.

Starting from Skyline, The Esses are a breathless series of corners. Right, left, right, left (The Dipper), right, left, right, left (Forrest's Elbow). It's narrow, so you can't afford to get it wrong.

The Dipper is an amazing, sharp left hand downhill plunge where the V8's generate some spectacular images as the inside wheels briefly fly through the air.

Keep the car on line through to Forrest's Elbow, a slow downhill left hander. Just like Hell Corner, a long straight awaits so get a clean exit and power down as early as possible.

Long is something of an understatement to describe Conrod Straight. It's very much downhill so the cars will pick up extra speed. Even a V8 Supercar will reach just short of 300km/h after the crest, so be careful your gearing is correct. It was even longer prior to 1987 before The Chase was introduced...

I don't think of The Chase as a chicane, but I guess it is in a way. The Chase begins with a blinding flat out right hand kink, a favourite spot for the TV cameras to capture the speed. You get yourself ready for the slowish left hander by keeping to the right and braking through the hollow you're now in - first downhill and then uphill as you arrive at the corner. If you've got time, which I doubt you will, you'll see straight ahead the recently built Citigate Mount Panorama hotel, just on the other side of the fence. Get the right room during the Bathurst 1000 and you won't need a ticket...

Successfully negotiate the left hand part of The Chase (many don't) and you're straight into a faster, more flowing right hander which brings you over what used to be Conrod Straight's second crest and into the approach for the final corner.

Get a feeling of deja vu? Yes you've been here before - Murray's Corner. It's a downhill approach into this 90 degree left hander. A favourite spot for a late lap ambush if the car in front has had a poor run out of The Chase. The brakes are screaming with another big stop, you often see cars locking the rear brakes and spinning or not braking enough and ending up in the outside sand trap.

Survive Murray's Corner and you're back on the Pit Straight. If you're a V8 Supercar driver, there's still 160 laps to go...

A fast lap in qualifying for the V8 race will be around 2 minutes and 8 seconds. To put that into perspective, I've raced around Bathurst in an F1 car in a sim game and lapped somewhere around 1 minute 35, reaching around 330 km/h into The Chase as I recall!

The track itself is challenging but throw in Mother Nature and the elements that sometimes hit during the Bathurst 1000 and it can be a very wild ride. Hail at the top, dry down the bottom - rain in some parts and not in others. Late in the race, the sun becomes an issue up Mountain Straight. The wildlife can also play a part - kangaroos have made their presence felt in recent years. As any Aussie will tell you, you don't want to hit a roo at speed!

The Mountain is the Mecca of Australian motorsport, where fans make the annual pilgrimage - spending up to a week before the event camping at the top of the Mountain.

What I'll finish with might surprise you. I've never actually been to Bathurst for the Great Race - I get the feeling I'd miss too much of the action not watching it on TV!