Bathurst 24 Hour Race
Racing around the clock is the ultimate test for a driver and car. The event is special for everyone involved as the drama unfolds before them. Changes in weather and light conditions, mechanical problems, accidents and physical tiredness all play a part not to mention the un-expected. Needless to say a good result at the end of 24 Hours racing is very special indeed. Also very special is the buzz that is generated by this type of event and the opportunity for drivers and sponsors to have a special affinity with the spectators. There really is nothing else like it.
BATHURST 24 HOUR RACE
Bathurst 24 Hour Race November 15 - 17 2002
(Photo Stuart Scott)
First in class and fifth outright was a pretty satisfying result for the Sterling Motorsport Team and rightly so. Months of meticulous planning and preparation had gone into this effort, a good reliable car and a well drilled pit crew made the job of driving the BMW Z3 M-Coupe seem easy. In typical racing driver fashion though when reflecting on the race I can't help thinking about what might have been. I shared the car in the race with the cars owner VJ Angelo, Ric Shaw and Mathew Marsh.
Although I had hoped to drive the M-Coupe before arriving at Bathurst I was un-able to do so which meant my first taste of the car was in qualifying on the Friday morning before the race. Neither VJ, Mathew or myself had driven at Bathurst before although they had at least driven the car prior to the event. The plan for qualifying was simple, we would use the first qualifying session to familiarise ourselves with the circuit and complete the minimum 3 flying laps each driver needs to do to qualify for the race. In the second session Ric would take the car out first and use his track knowledge to bag a quick lap time to ensure a decent spot on the grid prior to the Bathurst virgins taking to the track again. The night qualifying would see each of us doing five laps in the dark. By this stage we would have all had sufficient time to be comfortable enough to jump in the car on race day and go hard at it.
My first run in qualifying (which was to be the only qualifying run for us) went well. I would normally like to go much harder after a few laps but Bathurst is a very unforgiving place. The bumps and camber changes over the top of the mountain are particularly tricky and one mistake and you are into the concrete wall. It is fast over the top so the damage is not going to be light as Porsche driver Peter Fitzgerald found out right in front of me. He slipped on a bit of gravel that had found its way on to the track and went straight into the wall at the esses. His Porsche GT3 RS was favoured as an outright winner but now it was so severely damaged that it would not even take part. So as tempting as these corners are, and they can be taken very fast, there was a long weekend of driving to get through so a bit of restraint was essential. I felt reasonably comfortable after the session and it is always good to get out of the car for a while, have a think about things and then get back in again. Unfortunately this was not to be.
Ric was first out in the second session but only managed one flying lap before disaster struck. He radioed from the top of the mountain saying that there had been a large mechanical noise before the engine stopped. A bolt inside the engine had broken and caused a catastrophic engine failure. Our qualifying was over.
The team spent the night installing a new engine, which meant very little sleep for them. On our arrival at the circuit the car was sitting in the pit lane ready for the morning warm up as if nothing had happened. Ric drove the car in the warm up and we were all crossing our fingers and hoping that everything would be ok. Everything was but Ric was a bit concerned about the power steering. It felt a bit strange in some of the corners. To eliminate any doubt the team set to the car again and swapped the power steering pump and pipe work from the broken engine back in to the car so that we were running all the power steering components that had been on the car the previous day. This was no small task and the guys were working flat out on the car right up to the time we were called up to starting grid!
(Photo Stuart Scott)
Compared to qualifying the race was pretty un-eventful for us. We were happy from the times Ric was doing in the warm up that the car was capable of running in the top ten on speed alone and if the car was reliable then we would be in a good result. Ric started the race and quickly got the car up to ninth position. His first stint was a conservative one and a half-hour because we had not had the chance to calculate fuel consumption properly because of our qualifying problems. From there on the stints were to be two hours and ten minutes. VJ, Mathew and myself all suffered at the beginning of our first stints because we hadn't really learnt the track properly. I think I did about eight laps in qualifying all together. Just to make it more interesting my first stint in the car was to be in the dark! This was probably the most difficult time I have ever had in a car. I was still a little bit unsure of the location of some of the switches in the car and I had to get some guidance over the radio and wait until I went under one of the light towers to have a quick look around for the differential cooler switch! The light towers were also a little distracting at first. With light coming at you in different directions they could be confused with headlights from another car. After a few laps things were fine but it was frustrating.
We gradually picked off a few places as the race progressed as the car continued to run like clockwork and the crew performed immaculate pit stops every time. By daybreak the car was still running strong but there was still a long way to go.
I was in the car at about 8 30 in the morning for a stint of two and a quarter hours and during this stint I came across a lot of slower cars going up and across the mountain. Mindful of the good job everyone had done to get the car to the position we were in I was keen not to loose too much time and had to adopt a more aggressive stance toward passing the slower cars which made for quite an exciting ride! There is a very fine line between taking risks and ending up in the concrete wall at Bathurst but it is satisfying to push it and get away unscathed. For several laps I was loosing time to the leading Cirteck Porsche GT3R across the mountain before it would disappear down Conrod Straight. I would then not see it again until we were back at the top of the mountain where it would hold me up again. There was little I could do about this but wait for the Porsche to pit which it did.
A class win and fifth outright was a good result. Although on reflection it was obvious that we had lost time at the beginning of the race because we hadn't had enough time in the car during qualifying. This certainly cost us forth place and possibly even third. We were however the third non GT car and the Duller BMW M3s that finished in front of us have won many endurance races in Europe so I guess we shouldn't beat ourselves up too much about it.
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