I just spent a very hot weekend at Bathurst for the 12-hour GT race. Saturday morning was spent travelling to Bathurst over the Blue Mountains — a 245km drive from home on the Central Coast. Well, the mountains were once blue but now they are black.
Kilometre after kilometre after kilometre of burnt-out, world heritage-listed national park and a few destroyed buildings and some homes which had been saved in the midst of the devastation by the extraordinary efforts of the firefighters. It was a very depressing drive. The fires had been so intense, even the metal road signs had melted.
In the shade of a tree
When friend Warren and I were approaching the Bathurst Mount Panorama circuit, the car’s external thermometer was showing 39ºC. Wisely, we decided to eat lunch under a tree on the approach road to the circuit rather than in the shade-free car park. Later, after parking at the circuit, we found that although we had pre-purchased tickets we had to queue to collect them. There were only two ticket windows open and we had to stand in the open sun for 35 minutes. It was hell. Big black mark to the race promoters.
To cut a long story short, the heat was impossible on Saturday afternoon and, after a walk along the pit complex and catching up with a few Porsche and Alfa friends preparing to race in the historic Group S race, we decided that the best place to be was in the bar of our hotel in the town of Orange 54km away.
Too hot to handle
We had to sit in the car with the aircon full blast for five or so minutes before setting off because the steering wheel was way too hot to hold at first. As we left the circuit at 3.30 pm, the car’s thermometer was showing 43ºC. Little wonder that we poor mortals couldn’t take it.
The good fast road between Bathurst and Orange is through glorious open country and soon we were enjoying a beer in the bar followed by an excellent meal in the hotel restaurant. Even at 9.30 pm, the outside temperature was 36ºC. Many of the spectators were camping at the circuit. It must have been a very uncomfortable night for them.
Better than Le Mans
We were up at 4 am on Sunday to head back to Bathurst in time for the 5.45 am start. It’s one of the greatest sights in motor racing to see the full field of GT sports cars heading up and over Mount Panorama in the dark. It’s even better than Le Mans and, having been to Le Mans many times, I can say that with authority.
Sunday was cooler than Saturday but this was very relative. It reached “only” 38ºC mid-afternoon, so we were swilling down the bottled water at a very rapid rate. A big dust storm came in later in the afternoon but the wind was strong and there was a lot of dust swirling around all day. Not ideal conditions for photography. Rain and a thunderstorm were forecast from mid-afternoon but the weather held off until just as the race was finishing — so no need for all those wet tyres they had ready.
To the wire
The race was a good spectacle as usual but it did not go right down to the wire as it had done in 2018 and 2019. That said, the first seven cars finished the race on the same lap. The race was won by the Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT #7, photographed at the top of this article, coming over Skyline at the top of the mountain. Second place was taken by the McLaren 720 S of 59Racing/EMARacing-pictured above.
Sadly, Porsche did not make the podium this year but took out fourth place. We were hoping for a repeat of the 2019 Porsche victory but it was not to be. Bentley were at the 12 hours for the fifth successive year. They had been very close to winning in 2018 and so would have been delighted with their win this year, particularly given the conditions.
There were a few very disappointed teams. Audis always turn out in force for the race, supported by a big corporate promotion and, although the cars are always reliable, they just did not have the pace this year. The new spec Aston Martin Vantage GT3s with their AMG Mercedes motors were way off the pace. They would have been very disappointed with their showing.
Best laid plans
The heat and dust was getting to us by mid-afternoon so Warren and I decided to head back to our hotel to watch the end of the race on TV — a cold beer in hand. Unfortunately, about 45mins from the finish a big storm came through Orange and there was a power cut. The best-laid plans and all that but I quickly managed to get the TV broadcast streaming on my iPhone. Unfortunately, it had very little battery so we ended up watching the finish on the phone plugged into the charger sitting in my car. Strange days indeed.
Because of the very hot and very dusty conditions I left my Leicas at home and only took my Fuji X-E2 and just the plastic Fuji 50-230mm lens. An outfit which had only cost me A$650. and even carrying that very basic outfit in the heat was a chore. I did not envy all the enthusiasts with their full-frame Canons and Nikons and their big heavy lenses.