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Watching Garth and Will win Bathurst from the safety of a lounge chair

By Peter McKay, 12 Oct 2009 Motorsport

Watching Garth and Will win Bathurst from the safety of a lounge chair

Warm, bogan-free, and well informed by the Seven cameras and commentary team, this was first race weekend since 1975 that McKay wasn't at Mount Panorama ...

"I love this part," Grant Denyer told viewers from the start grid before the start of the 2009 Bathurst 1000.

I always liked those tense few minutes too. As a competitor it was always a memorably twitchy, uptight time. In the years since I raced in the 1000, I wasn't anywhere near as edgy but I continued to empathise and get nervous for everyone involved - the drivers, the teams, the officials...

And so it was this year, even though I was sitting at home watching the race on Seven. While there is no experience to match Being There at the track, I could sense a number of positives about staying at home for the first time since '75.

In my living room, I avoided the bitter cold and damp Bathurst weather, show-boating politicians and braying, limelight-loving V8 supercar heavies.... and red- and blue-clad guys taking the 24-can max right to the limit.

Mercifully, I was 200km away, heater blazing, cuppa at my elbow, the big plasma tuned to Seven.

A pre-race Bathurst retrospective voiced beautifully by Russell Crowe hit the spot. The Seven Network and blokes like Neil Crompton and Saul Shtein understand that Bathurst didn't begin with V8 supercars in the early 1990s.

The national anthem sung by a couple of comely if frozen players from the stage show Wicked didn't come off. Sound issues didn't help.

Why, just before the start, when there must have been many more interesting people to talk to, or informative footage to show, did Seven interview the garrulous Tony Cochrane and his mate NSW pollie Ian Macdonald? The answer of course is that V8SA Television controls the content that Seven puts to air and these guys were hyping the Taxpayers'500 at Homebush. Thank heavens for the mute button.

A better choice might have been a chat with any of the 14 apprehensive race rookies. How were their heart rates?

Grand marshal this year - an excellent choice - was Allan George Moffat, who issued the command: "Drivers... let's go racing!"

And half an hour later than traditional 10 o'clock start (put back because of daylight saving), they did finally go racing. Actually, the race went green at 10.36. Six minutes late. Old Bathurst/ARDC boss Ivan Stibbard would never have brooked such tardiness.

The action lasted as far as first corner before the first safety car intervention. Negating Steve Richards great jack rabbit start from the second row past the pole-starting car of HRT's Will Davison, was an incident on the damp track involving Jason Bright.

When the racing resumed, Will Davison aggressively took charge on the slippery track as the pole sitters went about trying to convert their Saturday pole into Sunday glory.

There was Matt White perpetuating the myth that the cars are turning into the Chase at 300km/h. Not in the dry, they don't, and certainly not in the wet. According to Craig Lowndes, the Bathurst gearing works out at a theoretical top speed of 297-8km/h at 7500rpm - the rev limit. Yeah, I know... I'm a pedant.

The first impediment to Lowndes/Jamie Whincup's shot at four in a row came after eight laps when the #888 Team Vodafone Ford was released dangerously into the path of Richard's FPV Falcon. Steve avoided contact but it was enough to prevent the officials from issuing a drive-though edict to Lowndes. He fell to 19th.

Richards had his own early worries too, a failed alternator which meant the battery wasn't getting charged. FPV changed the battery at the first main stop but there were fingers crossed that the systems wouldn't drain it before the next scheduled stop.

Michael Caruso's spin coming up to the top of the mountain brought a major miracle as the little guy in the Garry Rogers Holden somehow missed contact with the wall.

At home watching the teev I mused that, at the track you don't get to see that great Seven under-car camera shots of the dancing diff and glowing brake rotors. Or Brad Jones's legs.

Unlike the folk at Mount Panorama, TV viewers also get Mark Larkham's informative and entertaining technical insights from the pits. It was he who after 30 laps alerted everyone to a potential tyre problem on the Holden of the Kelly brothers. After another stint cut short due to a tyre worn on the inner edge, Rick Kelly responded to a Seven's Mark Beretta's question about excessive camber: "We've got Jack Schitt camber," volunteered Rick.

At the two hour mark, one of the favourites - the FPV Falcon of Richo and Frosty Winterbottom looked like a discarded overdone dish from Masterchef. It arrived in the pits with flames licking out of the rear, and that meant Game Over. The culprit was a spare battery in the boot, which came loose, dislodging the fuel pipe and starting a fire.

Up front it was Garth Tander/Will Davison from the race's most experienced combination Greg Murphy/Mark Skaife but the weather was looking ordinary and poised to maybe influence the outcome...

Fuel efficiency was also emerging as a likely factor. The most economical was the #888, which Seven's Neil Crompton told us managed 27 laps of a tank of the less efficient E85 fuel blend. That's one lap more than the Stone Brothers Falcon of Alex Davison/Shane van Gisbergen. Most of the rest could only eke out 24-25 laps.

Into the second half of the 161-lap enduro, it got interesting as rain began to fall again, leaving the drivers to make the call whether to stay out and roll the dice on slicks, or switch to wets.

The #888 car, still playing catch up from the earlier pit lane indiscretion, went to pitlane first but the HRT #2 car of Davison/Tander, and the Murphy/Skaife Holden waited...and waited, and lost out when they ultimately had to make the change. They weren't down for long though...

In the confusion, rookie Troy Bayliss, in his first car race, slid wide into the wall. Who made the call that it would be a smart idea to put the world superbike champ into such a hard race on a demanding, at times perilous track with so little four-wheel experience?

But the lengthy wet sequence unearthed some surprises. We saw vision of Whincup in the 888 Falcon clearly unhappy in the slippery conditions and giving up positions to mid fielders.

Water in the distributor temporarily halted the James Courtney/Steve Johnson Ford #17, but it was soon running again but well back. Later it broke its front suspension, ending its day.

Conversely, at the pointy end, the Will Davison/Tander HRT car looked very comfortable in whatever weather tossed at them.

But there was always a feeling that this race could be decided by chance as much as pace.

Lap 109 on a drying track, Shane Van Gisbergen pitted from the lead for a driver, brake pad and rotor change, and a switch back to slicks. Aaaaagh! The Falcon wouldn't start, dumped a massive amount of time. Turns out someone had bumped the master switch.

Lap 122. Another safety car to retrieve the Fabian Coulthard/Michael Patrizi car, which had run in the top 10 but was now going nowhere with smoke emitting from up front.

Many chose the opportunity to charge in for fuel.

The defending winners, then back in ninth, decided to stay out and grab some track position and lead the motor race. But with one major stop to come, #888 would need a lengthy fuel stop ahead. HRT's Tander/Davo, well inside the top 10, was on a similar strategy.

Triple Eight's strategy suddenly became less relevant when Lowndes reported a clutch drama (soft pedal) and lost some spots
Lowndes quickly adjusted, and used his left foot to flip the pedal back up off the floor after every usage.

Importantly, Lowndes/Whincup managed their last stop without a drama, the clutch pedal working well enough to get the Falcon back out...

Setting up a nailbiter to the flag, Dean Canto came over Skyline a bit too hot and turned his FPR Falcon into a bouncing pinball. Out came the safety car one more time...

The losers: Sprint Gas's Murphy/Skaife and the valiant Valvoline Holden pair Greg Ritter/ David Besnard. If the race remained green, they would have been in the box seats. Instead they were forced to pit under the safety car, lost track position...and away went their chances.

Here then was the scenario...dry track, protagonists in a crocodile chain. A 20-lap sprint to the flag... Tander, Rick Kelly, Holdsworth, a rejuvenated Jason Bargwanna, Whincup, a lurking Jason Richards....

Kelly, with a bent rear wing fought like a mad dog to keep Holdsworth and the rest behind. But Tander took off and barring anything untoward, the race was his.

The heart rate monitor on Rick Kelly in the closing stages revealed the extent of his cockpit stress.

There was more evil for the mountain to dispense. The unfortunate Nathan Pretty found oil dumped on the track on the top of the mountain. He looped backwards into the wall. The leaders, forewarned, slithered through safely.

Ignoring the championship and chasing the best race result, Whincup stuck his nose under Bargs at Murrays, turning the Sprint Gas Holden driver into a spin. Will the stewards look unkindly upon Jamie's move? It was a marginal move.

With four laps remaining, another car landed in the kitty litter, triggering the last of seven safety car interventions.

Tander bolted again for a fine, deserved victory. His second and Davo's first there.

The podium scrap was a ripper. Kelly, so stoic for many laps, finally succumbed, and he was in quick succession shuffled back to eighth. His efforts deserved better.

Jason Richards and Cam McConville snatched a great second for Brad Jones Racing when the cheerful kiwi charged under Holdsworth near the end.

And Lee Holdsworth, sharing the GRM Holden with Michael Caruso, claimed third after Lee held off the fast-finishing Murph, who came from the clouds but missed the podium by .004sec.

Murph was very gracious afterwards, refusing to dwell on his bad luck while giving credit to the three pairings who stood on the podium.

The million dollar question now is: will Mark Skaife be back again? On the evidence of this race, he is driving as well as ever, despite having to deal with cobwebs this year.

This was a 1000 painted red. Whincup/Lowndes was the best performed Ford combo, but back in fifth.

Gee, we haven't even thought about the championship. Davison's win moves him closer to Whincup in the standings - 2383 points to 2476.

On family matters, Mrs Tander - Leanne - finished 18th in her first Bathurst 1000, sharing a Ford with David Wall.

Will's older brother Alex finished 13th in the Falcon he shared with Gis.

There were 24 finishers from 32 starters in a chaotic race that, conspiring with the weather gods, certainly kept this couch potato entertained for most of the day.

I'm not sure I would have been as comfortable nor as informed had I been sitting with the red and blue armies at Mount Panorama.

2009 Bathurst 1000 161 laps:

(1) Garth Tander/Will Davison
(2) Jason Richards/Cam McConville
(3) Lee Holdsworth/Michael Caruso
(4) Greg Murphy/Mark Skaife
(5) Craig Lowndes/Jamie Whincup
(6) Jason Bargwanna/Mark Noske
(7) Tim Slade/Paul Morris
(8) Todd Kelly/Rick Kelly
(9) Greg Ritter/David Besnard
(10) Tony D'Alberto/Andrew Thompson.