I write these words not from the comfort of the Wheels' office, but from a place dripping with adrenalin. A place as dark as it is bright, as cruel as it is kind. A 6.2km ribbon of road that, despite its fearsome reputation, is about to provide the realisation of a 20-year dream. I write these words from Mount Panorama.
First published in the March 2017 issue of Wheels Magazine.
I’m sitting in a suite at the pointy end of Pit Straight, and in spite of the room’s air-conditioned coolness, I’m sweating. Today I’m going to achieve something I’ve lusted after for as long as I can remember: I’m going to drive Australia’s fastest track. No speed limits. No lead car. No restrictions. Just a $300,000, 441kW/652Nm Nismo GT-R, and a blessing from Nissan to “go as fast as you dare.”
If I’m honest, it’s a level of freedom that’s equal parts exciting and terrifying. You see, I’m a Bathurst boy. I was born here and grew up in a house that, at the right time of day, sat in the shadow of this crucible of motorsport. My formative years were spent clinging to my father’s shoulders as we stood trackside and watched the likes of Seton, Johnson and Brock flash past, their V8s howling with shocking violence. I’ve seen the huge shunts; I know how hard this place can bite.
And yet my sharper memories of ‘The Mount’ occurred not on those October weekends, but when the track was deathly silent. When it was a two-way public road with a 60km/h speed limit. When I’d just passed the test for my provisional licence.
Having the freedom of your own licence, and a car full of petrol, is a heady feeling. Now imagine having one of the world’s best racing circuits in your backyard. A track that wasn’t locked up and out of bounds, but one that was open 24 hours. It was the ultimate tease, and one that I, and all of my car-loving friends, couldn’t resist.
Our plan was cunning. Hot-lapping the circuit during daylight hours screamed stupidity, so our runs were always held at night. Three cars were needed. One to complete a slow sighting lap to check for oncoming traffic and police, another to sit at the bottom, the spotter with walkie-talkie in hand, monitoring the circuit’s two entry points.
The risks were very real, of course. Rumour had it that if your car was loud enough, the police could hear you begin your lap and be waiting at the bottom by the time you finished. Unlikely, sure, but what was harder to ignore was seeing your friends nabbed by police lurking behind the Armco. They showed no mercy.
And if the coppers didn’t get you, it was likely your own incompetence would. One of my mates spat his car into the wall at Turn One. Another buried his dad’s brown VN Commodore in the sandpit at the bottom of The Chase so deeply we had to call his parents to help us extract it.
Hustling a box fresh, Nismo-tuned version of Godzilla means this time is different. And while the speeds up and down The Mountain are eye-opening (230km/h and 280 respectively), it’s across the top where my adrenalin gland is squeezed hardest.
Everyone knows Bathurst is steep. Even at 60km/h it feels daunting, but at triple-digit speeds it seems at least 20 percent steeper. And narrower. It’s easy to get sucked in by the rushing concrete walls, and the rollercoaster ride across McPhillamy Park, which is really one long lefthander, is mildly terrifying. My respect for the drivers who aren’t only on the edge through here, but are sometimes firmly beyond it, while racing other cars, triples.
The biggest ‘gulp’ moment is plunging over Skyline at the top of fourth gear, where the road falls away at an incredible rate to begin the dive into the famed Esses. It’s wild. It’s addictive. It’s everything I hoped it would be and more.
Roads, just like cars, are capable of shaping our individual motoring stories. Of leaving an indelible mark that you remember forever. So what’s your road? Is there a piece of tarmac, a section of national park, or even a local racing circuit that has played a pivotal role in your life? Or maybe you’re a Bathurst local too and have your own tales of driving the track. I want to hear from you. Share your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or on our Facebook page.