Now, before I get lynched, let me qualify. The Great Race is still the most spectacular race in Australia, and worthy of its immense crowd sizes and coverage.
I adore the event, and will gladly set aside an entire weekend (plus Thursday and Friday) to watch the Bathurst 1000 in person or on my lounge every October. But for many, it is too expensive, too crowded, too rowdy, and too much of a hassle to attend.
But the allure of the Bathurst 12 Hour as an event cannot be ignored. Where the Great Race is the jewel in the crown, the 12 Hour is the diamond in the rough, ready to be refined and perfected. It’s time to get in on the ground level of one of the best motorsport events in Oz.
It should be noted before we go any further that Supercars Australia actually owns both races (more accurately, a 50-percent stake in the 12 Hour shared with Bathurst Council). That makes the events more like step-siblings than rivals. But since when has shared lineage stopped intra-family squabbling? The comments section of motorsport pages lights up with debate about superiority at the smallest provocation.
In a past job as a motorsport journalist, I wrote an op-ed claiming Supercars would never be overtaken by GT racing in Australia. From the online reaction, you would think I had thrown The Rock onto the track in 1980 myself. I still stand by this fact. Supercars is and will always be the pinnacle of Australian motorsport.
However, that’s over the course of a year-long season. When it comes to single events, the Great Race faces a serious challenger.
The start of the Bathurst 1000 is a spine-tingling experience, witnessing a field of almost 30 roaring V8 Supercars blasting across the top of The Mountain is something to relish. But the Bathurst 12 Hour counter-punches with a start that takes place in the haunting pre-dawn darkness of 6am. A 56-strong field takes its place on the grid under moonlight, before the frantic first laps open the race in darkness, illuminated only by glowing brake rotors and the headlights of exotic GT3-spec racers.
Then, the sunrise shatters the black curtain and some of the most beautiful racecars in the world are painted against a spectacular backdrop. The 12 Hour dwarfs the 1000 for on-track action, with almost double the amount of racing and some of the greatest drivers in the world coming Down Under for glory. International drivers are a rare thing at the Bathurst 1000, as many struggle to adapt to the unique characteristics of our hard-to-tame Supercars. But at the 12 Hour, international teams and drivers arrive in their droves, most with a serious chance of victory. Add to the mix local V8 Supercars heroes looking to demonstrate their skills in front of the international squads, and it makes for fascinating story lines.
Another element falling in the 12 Hour’s favour is the cars of its 50-plus grid, with GT3 machines at the tip of the spear. Here, the world’s most exotic brands bash carbon-fibre panels in the quest for victory – McLaren, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini – along with some more ‘accessible’ manufacturers like BMW, Audi and Nissan. Then you have the lower classes, Porsche GT3 cup cars and GT4-spec racers all taking part in the same 12 Hour slog-fest. The slower traffic becomes rolling chicanes for the top-flight cars to work around in a tactical dogfight.
Meanwhile, the 2018 Supercars grid will be made up of FG X Falcons and Nissan Altimas you can’t buy anymore, and a ZB Commodore shell with a 5.0-litre V8 heart that only appears in the Holden dealerships of our dreams.
Now is the perfect time to get on board with the Bathurst 12 Hour, while crowd numbers are still relatively tame you don’t have to compete against an immense throng of fans like the one that makes the migration every October for the 1000. It is also a great chance to camp. The campgrounds for the 12 Hour are nowhere near as crowded as the 1000, and have a great family-friendly atmosphere.
So if you only have time for one Bathurst trek this year, make it for the event in February. Trust us.