SUNDAY'S Bathurst 1000 was a lesson in how to lose Australia's toughest race. Big names including Shane van Gisbergen, Garth Tander, Mark Winterbottom, Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin all threw away a chance of victory at Australian motorsport's most coveted trophy.
The bigger names in the field either made mistakes or blew up during another mainly wet and memorable Bathurst 1000, but David Reynolds and Luke Youlden survived the usual twists and turns encountered in every Great Race, taking a well-deserved 4.0sec victory for the small and colourful Erebus Holden team.
On an always challenging and often treacherous surface that forced most of the stars into errors – some leading to crash-related retirements – Reynolds and experienced part-time co-driver Luke Youlden kept the mistakes to a minimum in their Penrite Racing Commodore.
And in the closing laps, when it mattered most, Reynolds answered his team’s call to produce six of his best laps in the sprint to the chequer, delivering an emotional, giant-killing win for flamboyant team owner Betty Klimenko after a crazy, rain-drenched races with so many head-shaking moments.
“The last couple of laps I had to fight back the tears,” said Reynolds as he celebrated his first Bathurst 1000 victory. "I've got nothing left to give," Reynolds said. “"I am absolutely spent. This bloke [co-driver Youlden] drove unbelievably all day. My crew was faultless. Man, it was just a perfect day. It was so good."
“It’s taken my 18 years [starting in the Bathurst 1000] to do it and now I know what it feels like. Grouse!” exclaimed Youlden.
Reynolds, 32, and Mount Panorama have had a patchy relationship. The popular driver had to settle for a photo-finish second to Jamie Whincup in 2012, when he was driving a Ford. Many say it’s a race he should have won.
Then in 2015, the joker of the Supercars pack was slammed with a fine of $25,000 for a sexist slur against a a rival Bathurst all-female crew.
This year though, the giant-killing winning pair topped a podium shared with unfancied yet impressive Mobil 1 HSV Racing’s Scott Pye and Warren Luff second, and Fabian Coulthard third with his teammate Tony D’Alberto in the Shell V-Power Falcon.
That Reynolds and Youlden prevailed really should be no great shock, especially after the regular Erebus driver led the Holden pack throughout practice and then delivered a great Top 10 Shootout lap to nail down the front-row starting spot alongside pole winner Scott McLaughlin and his French co-driver Alex Premat.
But McLaughlin’s blinding pace through the lead-up attracted the lion’s share of the spotlight and overshadowed the likes of Reynolds/Youlden.
Rain just before the start for the first time during the race carnival threw the form guide out the back door and sent the teams scurrying to fit wet-weather rubber.
In the steady rain, the grip-challenged cars were around 30 secs slower than their qualifying pace.
Teams became amateur weather experts as they scanned the radar for future rain patterns that would help decide when to expose co-drivers to the elements.
It would be a race of making strategy on the fly as the opening 76 laps went uninterrupted by safety cars, the first coming when championship leader, DJR Team Penske Ford young gun Scott McLaughlin’s Falcon coasted to a halt with terminal engine failure.
Reynolds and Youlden were never far from the lead in this year’s chaotic 161 lapper but safety car interventions and different fuel strategies left the outcome in the balance throughout.
The last 80 laps though were intriguing, the appearance of a thrill-seeking kangaroo and then a wayward rock at Skyline prompting safety cars and closing up the field at key times.
When the rain eased, and lap times dropped, teams were left contemplating when they should switch to slicks. A few, including Percat, di Silvestro and Caruso, rolled the dice on lap 123 but their slicks took an eternity to heat up. By lap 135, all the serious contenders were on slicks with the imperative to stay on the emerging dry line.
James Courtney, fuelled up to get to lap 161, crashed out of contention on lap 140 as the intensity rose among the fighters up front.
A turning point came on lap 146, when the speedy, ever-threatening Shane van Gisbergen botched a re-start and dropped many places.
BJR’s Nick Percat immediately slipped through to lead, with Reynolds pressing, ahead of Pye, Dale Wood in the second Erebus Commodore, and Coulthard.
Moments later, three potential winners got together uncomfortably in a frenzied scramble exiting Hell Corner. The melee left the Prodrive Falcons of Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert – both of which had led the race at different times – with serious damage and hopes in tatters. GRM’s Garth Tander was also involved. He continued but slammed the wall at the Cutting a few laps later, finishing 18th. It was a rough weekend for GRM; the team’s other Holden of James Moffat, heroic early, also crashed heavily late in the race.
With 16 laps to glory – or disappointment – Reynolds hit the front followed by Pye with the recovering and very fast van Gisbergen back up to fourth.
Van Gisbergen looked to be the one driver who could worry Reynolds but the Kiwi flew off the track in the Chase, blew a tyre and his chances were toast, although he bounced back to take fifth.
Mostert, so quick in parts of the race, managed to take 10th.
After leading for slabs of the race the strong Cameron Waters/Richie Stanaway combo fell to 16th after the Monster Ford damaged its rear wing trying to avoid Tander in that late-race all-star contretemps.
Mark Winterbottom was never right on the pace but was fifth on the penultimate lap, when he crashed when pressured by the resurgent van Gisbergen.
Tim Slade and Andre Heimgartner salvaged ninth for the bruised BJR squad, the Kiwi forced back in the Holden for the final few laps to take over from a clearly distressed and dehydrated Slade, battling without a drink bottle.
Simona di Silvestro’s solid Bathurst 1000 came up sadly short when she spun her Nissan into a barrier on the pit straight wile just inside the top 10, triggering the final safety car.
This left Reynolds facing a six-lap sprint to the end. He cleverly managed the re-start and took off in the direction of the Peter Brock Trophy, winning by a few seconds from Pye – his best Bathurst finish – and Coulthard, who moved to third when Percat threw away a podium result when he went wide at the Chase.
Like last year, won by Tekno, this too was the year a small team got the win, made sweeter by Wood and Chris Pither taking fourth in the second team car. It was also the year the mega teams – Prodrive, Triple Eight and DJR-Penske got bloodied noses.
The race took a marathon 7h 11m 45s to complete. Incidentally, just who was the genius who decreed the 1000km enduro should start at a late 11.10am? Any more lengthy stoppages and it would have been murky out there on lap 161.
Coulthard has regained the championship lead by 91 points to Whincup, who sat in the pits for many laps after engine problems, but then re-joined in his patched-up Holden late to wobble to the line in 20th place, collecting 90 valuable points.
Third-placed McLaughlin has dropped to 97 points behind Coulthard with Mostert in fourth and van Gisbergen in fifth heading into the Gold Coast 600. All in the top five have a mathematical shot at the title.
2017 Bathurst 1000 results
1 – Reynolds/Youlden - Holden
2 – Pye/Luff - Holden
3 – Coulthard/D'Alberto - Ford
4 – Wood/Pither- Holden
5 – Van Gisbergen/Campbell - Holden
6 – Caruso/Fiore - Nissan
7 – T. Kelly/Le Brocq - Nissan
8 – Bright/Jacobson - Ford
9 – Slade/Heimgartner - Holden
10 – Mostert/Owen - Ford
Friday quali and Shootout action
Fords dominated the all-in qualifying with DJR- Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin heading the pack and then, on Saturday evening, producing an unforgettable Top 10 Shootout lap to bag pole with the fastest-ever Supercar lap of Mount Panorama, 2m 03.831s. The effervescent Kiwi was in tears behind the wheel as he achieved his life-long ambition to start from the box seat on the grid in the Bathurst 1000. He not only bettered his Friday record, he smashed it.
“I dreamt of doing this since I was a kid,” the 24-year-old blurted out afterwards.
“I knew we could do that,” McLaughlin added. “My god, I am over the moon, my god. I could hear the crowd, they were crazy. That was the most incredible moment of my life.”
Maybe he has never had sex…
What a collection of fastest times McLaughlin is gathering. This was his 14th pole of 2017 and 31st of his Supercars career.
McLaughlin eclipsed the impressive Erebus Holden standout and 2015 pole winner David Reynolds by 0.44s – a big margin even at Bathurst. Falcon driver Mark Winterbottom was third quickest, just ahead of Chaz Mostert; the PRA pair claiming the second row.
Red Bull’s Shane van Gisbergen recovered from a Thursday wall-banger to make the Shootout and grabbing the inside of row three, with Sandown 500 winner and the rival Monster Energy drink Ford of Cam Waters alongside. It was Waters first Shootout start in the 1000.
The rest of the Top 10 grid was filled by Fabian Coulthard (seventh) Jason Bright (eighth), Tander (ninth) and James Courtney (10th).
While all six Falcons on the entry list made it into the Shootout (along with four Commodores), none of the four Nissans had the pace when it mattered, although they did better on Sunday.
Triple Eight stars Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup, who have 10 Bathurst wins between them, missed the shootout again. Though Whincup admitted he simply lacked car pace in the lead-up, no-one was brave enough to suggest Sunday wouldn’t see he and Lowndes in contention. It was the first year both Lowndes and Whincup missed the top 10. Whincup qualified 11th and Lowndes back in position 19.
Unlucky too in Friday’s regular qualifying was GRM’s James Moffat who crashed in the closing moments of the session and was thus removed from ninth back to 22nd for causing a red flag stoppage. His misfortune benefitted his teammate Garth Tander, who moved from 11th to 10th and into the Shootout.
After Tim Slade became the first of several crashers on Thursday’s opening day of practice, the Freightliner Racing crew worked through the night to prepare the seriously damaged Commodore for Friday’s all-important qualifying. That wasn’t the end of the squad’s concerns though; co-driver Ash Walsh was forced to relinquish his seat after suffering debilitating pain from a rib injury. Andre Heimgartner was conscripted to take the job alongside Slade. The pair’s Holden started 18th.
But all of the 52 drivers went to bed on Saturday night wondering what the Bathurst weather gods would bring…