Wednesday October 3rd

I went to bed early on Tuesday evening, 8.15pm as I was meeting Barry at his house at 6.00am to Bathurst.

We drove the “back”way through Yarra Glen, Yea, Bonnie Doon to Benalla and on to the Hume.

First stop was Wangaratta Macca’s as Glenrowan was too busy. From there to Albury where we had morning tea with some very special supporters of our team, Jenny and Stephen Tanner from Stephen Tanner Automotive, a Volvo repair specialist. Stephen and Jenny began following us in 2014 when we raced Volvo’s and have stuck with us ever since. Thank you for your loyalty!

From Albury, Barry seemed in a rush and as I sat sit starving in the passenger seat I couldn’t wait any longer and I demanded that Barry stop at the Macca’s in Cowra and I grabbed a cheeseburger. While standing next to the car eating the burger (because Barry wouldn’t let me eaten the car!!) I noticed Barry talking to some people and before I knew it they were sitting in the ZB Calais that Holden generously loaned us to drive to Bathurst with Barry giving them the full on sales run through of the car.

We only stopped for 7 minutes and away we went. I really enjoy taking the time in the passenger’s seat to admire our wonderful countryside and as we rounded the final corner in to Bathurst the site of The Mountain gave me goosebumps!

We quickly unpacked, Barry went for a run and I had a “nanna nap”. At 5.30 we went to Bathurst Mazda which is owned by John Davis and his family. We met the Davis’s back in the Volvo days courtesy of their Volvo franchise in Orange (NSW) and have since built a friendship. We really enjoy talking Motor Racing to people who are interested and the Davis’s always have a group of customers who enjoy a few of our stories.

From Bathurst Mazda to the Bathurst Harness racing where we have Kindly been invited the past two years. Chances are we won’t be back next year as we had a win! In all honesty a night at the Harness Racing is entertaining, spectacular and fun and the Maryanne and the people at Bathurst Harness Racing Club put on a fantastic event. Thank you!

Thursday October 4th

For the past 25 years we have stayed at “Holmhurst”, an absolute superb 1800’s monastery and associated accomodation building. During the year the owner, Ramona utilises the facility for student accommodation but always makes space for our Team come Bathurst week. I slept like a log and awoke to Barry running up the stairs and into my room, you think kids would learn!

Barry instantly alerted me to the fact that it was raining and was going to probably do so all day. At his point it was only 6.00am, but my thought was we are not going to achieve too much today.

As it turned out it did rain all day and from a racing and set up point of view there was very little to be achieved. People ask “why is that?” And the simple answer is that the forecast is showing clear conditions for the weekend and the set up required for dry conditions is quite different than for wet conditions, so there is very little point in fine tuning the car to the wet track today when it is going to be dry for qualifying and racing.

But, in saying all of that we did spend some time during the 3x1hr practice sessions to find the set up required if rain did continue and we also spent time bedding brake pads and fine tuning our brake rotor changes. For the first time in many years the front brake rotors would be required to be changed during the race. In normal everyday circumstances this would be a minimum 30 minute job on the average family car, we needed to find a way to do this in a fuel stop window of 30 seconds. After many, many months of practice and fine tuning of techniques we have managed to do this change inside 20 seconds. Let’s hope this progress continues come race time.

During the day I also took some time to wander through the camp sites at the back of the pits. I was tremendously impressed with the effort that had been put into some of the setups. Let me tell you, the race weekend at Bathurst is fantastic, but nearly more so is witnessing the innovation of fellow Australians when it comes to camping.

Following dinner tonight I quite enjoyed sitting by the fire place at Holmhurst talking to some of the younger members of our Team and hopefully departing some wisdom on them as their youthful enthusiasm is departed on me.

I’m looking forward to Friday, goodnight!

Friday October 5th

A very eventful yet positive day unfolded for GRM. I was pleased to hear that when I woke the rain had finally stopped. But, it would return.
Barry and I arrived at the track at 7.30am and enjoyed the traditional toasted ham and cheese sandwiches that Dom prepares for Friday breakfast. I know that I am biassed but we honestly have the best chef in pit lane. Dom has travelled on and off for us since 2013, and we are very fortunate that in recent times it has been much more on than off. The only pitfall to Dom’s exceptional cooking skills is that some of the guys in the team return home after a race weekend and start telling their wives/girlfriends how to cook, this doesn’t go down to well and with my many years of experience I have had to counsel several of my staff on how to approach such a sensitive issue as home cooking.

As the day unfolded our Super 2 boys did a tremendous job with Chris Pither qualifying 4th and in only his second time to The Mountain Mason Barbara was exceptional in doing a 2.06 lap to make the Top 10. I’m certainly looking forward to the 250klm race tomorrow.

The qualifying session for the main game was the first time all week that the primary drivers had an opportunity to complete a lap on a slick tyre as the final practice session this morning was again a wet session as the rain returned. From a personal point of view I really enjoy moments like this as it really shows who’s on their game.

From a GRM point of view I was very happy with GT making the Top 10 and Bieb’s only just missing in 12th, but unfortunately was hampered with an engine issue in what appeared would have been his quickest lap.

Friday night and back to the Bathurst Harness Racing Club, I love the trots and again we had a lot of fun.

Saturday October 6th

Arriving at the track at 7.30, I couldn’t get over the masses of people that had descended on The Mountain. Bathurst (the event) is not unlike a religious pilgrimage. The only difference is the religion is Motor Racing. As I observed the crowd I couldn’t help but smile, as I imagined a television documentary in 100 years from now trying to explain and then analyse why people travelled for thousands and thousands of kilometres and in many instances over several days to watch machines they called “cars” race up and then down a mountain. I would love to be around to see it!

Today, we had the final 1 hour practice session and Top 10 shootout for the Virgin Supercar Championship cars and the biggest race of the year for the Dunlop Super 2 Championship.

Yet again it was raining during the Supercar practice session and with the exception of qualifying the only dry laps run on slick tyres was throughout part of P4 for co-drivers on Friday. From our point of view all of the drivers felt comfortable and confident with the cars and certainly looked forward to getting in to the action on Sunday. GT first had to do his bit in one of the most famous hours in Australian Motorsport, The Bathurst Top 10 Shootout. Having qualified 10th on Friday, Garth was the first car out in the reverse order sequence. The Bathurst shootout started (I think) in the mid 1970’s and was originally known as ‘Hardies Heroes” (after sponsor Hardie Ferodo). I remember watching them with excitement and throughout the late ’70’s and early 80’s was fortunate to take part in several of them. For a driver it is a very special time to be the only car on the mountain and as the fans roar as you scream across the top of the mountain you can feel the energy. As GT was first out he really had nothing to lose with regards to starting position as 10th was the worst he could qualify. But, at Bathurst there is always plenty to lose and I’m sure we all have memories of memorable crashes in shootouts and as much as you want your driver to give it everything, you also do not want to see a bent car at 6.00pm on Saturday. Garth has been around long enough to know the risk vs. reward scenario and as much as he drove hard, he also drove within himself and in the final standings ended where he started, 10th. The highlight for me was the performance of DePasquale (Erebus) who was second out after GT and sat at the top of the sheets until he was pipped by his teammate (Reynolds) who earned pole and Whincup (888).

Earlier, I was extremely happy with the performance of Mason Barbera and Chris Pither in the Super 2, 250klm race. The race was very exciting and to be honest the Super 2 races with the variation in driver and car level over the field often results in some spectacular racing and the race today was no exception. Chris looked like a winner at times and then looked like he might finish outside the top 5, but with a Safety Car period late that left one lap to race he did all sorts of tricks including a last corner move on Jacobson (Matt White Racing) that saw him finish 3rd by a mere 6/100ths of a second. Mason Barbera produced the best drive in the 18 months that he has been with GRM. Mason was calm and absorbed the early pressure from more experienced racers in the field and continued to make his way forward as the race progressed without making a single mistake over the 250klm. Well done on a tremendous 6th Mason!

The atmosphere and morale around the team was great and I was determined to maintain this mood as we led in to Sunday’s big race. During dinner I let the team know how proud I was of the job that they had done until now and promised them that if they all did their job to the best of their ability tomorrow then we would get the result that we deserved.

Sunday October 7th

After a couple of Jamo’s (Irish whiskey) on the couch in front of the fire at “Holmhurst” while Barry and I waffled away, I slept like an angel and only woke when Barry arrived back from his run and crashed his way in to my room looking for the Nivea cream (poor little diddums had dry skin!). I was excited, race day was here and the biggest day for our sport and all of hose involved especially the fans.

The build up when arriving a the track really does give you goosebumps over your body. Helicopters hovered, the sun was shining, people rushed about, drivers were spotted nervously waiting to get the show on the road and crews continued to tinker and polish the cars.

As the cars lined up on the starting grid masses of people walked in between them and what an opportunity it is for the many thousands who get to be so close to the action only minutes from race start. I cannot think of another sport in the world where the public in masses can be on the field of play with the players as the game is about to start. I am proud that our sport embraces the fans and allows so many to have this once in a lifetime opportunity.
James Reyne sang a very special rendition of the National Anthem, the Prime Minister was in attendance, the traditional high energy fly over had taken place and now it was time for the 161 laps (1000km) race to begin.

Off pole Reynolds led and GT made a flyer moving to P5 as the cars exited turn 1 to head up Mountain Straight, Bieb’s also was away and in 11th.
The race strategy is a constant moving equation, but the constants around many variables are that the co-driver must do a minimum of 54 laps, the front brake rotors MUST be changed during the race and under green racing a full tank of fuel will allow the car to complete 24 laps. Krusty, Manuel and Swenno along with the data engineers Skids and Jackie work back from lap 137 which is the earliest the last stop can be taken to make home to lap 161. As the race progresses Safety Car Periods, driver performance and weather amongst many other potential variables determine when pit stops are made.
We along with most teams started our primary drivers (#33 Garth #34 James) and after the race settled pitted both cars and Chris Pither #33 and Richard Muscat #34 got behind the wheel to complete between 35 and 40 of their required laps. In the “old” days Bathurst was more a race of reliability with speed as the added bonus, today it is all about speed and the race lap speed is a speed that we were qualifying in only a few years ago. Both of our cars were travelling nicely and most importantly our pit stop crew under the leadership of Stiffy (Stefan Millard - Team Mgr.) completed precise and speedy stops. This year with the added requirement of changing the front rotors added extra pressure and potential danger to all teams. Stiffy and the guys had been practicing diligently for this change and our engineers had designed some modifications to existing hardware to facilitate this change without having to remove the calliper. I must admit I was sceptical but extremely impressed about how our team went about this and the result was testament to the hard work the guys had put in. As the pit stops unfolded and those that did not encounter any unforeseen issues required 7 stops to complete the 161 laps, it was Dave Reynolds (Erebus) who had led from the start who still held the lead as the final one hour (28 laps) of racing arrived. GT and Bieb’s along with the efforts of Pither and Muscat had established themselves in the Top 10.

Throughout the day I really enjoy listening to the radio communication and particularly Gypsy’s (Jeff Marshall - Car Controller) schooling the driver as they approach the pit box. There are many instructions that must given, particularly when a driver change is occurring and Gypsy is so cool yet so precise in his instructions which gives everybody a lot of confidence with what they are doing.

With only 25 laps to home Dave Reynolds was suffering from cramps and Craig Lowndes (888) had been catching the Erebus car lap after lap and his tail was up. The pass came and 5 laps later when stopping for the final time Reynolds exhaustion led to the rear wheels of his car spinning while the car was in the air which is an automatic drive thru penalty and there day was unfortunately done. Lowndes had a commanding lead (6 seconds) over Pye (Walkinshaw) and McLaughlin (DJR) and Garth was 6th but catching Van Gisbergen (888) in front, with Bieber also finishing strong in 8th. That is how it finished and fitting on many fronts, yet devastating for the Betty Klimenko and the Erebus Team.

Lowndes, a legend of our sport and along with Steve Richards win their 3rd Bathurst 1000 together and Lowndes’ 7th (coincidentally joining Steve’s dad, Jim) and in his last Bathurst as a primary driver to win is something very special.

To my four drivers and all of our crew I could not be prouder with the manner in which you approached the week and executed your jobs. I said on Saturday night that if we all did our jobs properly we would get the result we deserved, well today we deserved and earned 6th and 8th. Sure, we all come here to win and that will never change but if as Team we have done the very best that we can and have executed without fault then we must be proud. Well done!

I can’t wait for the Gold Coast!

MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT - winning two trifectas at the trots, when I didn’t even know what one was.
MOMENT OF DISAPPOINTMENT - seeing the reaction of the Erebus crew when the race unfolded in the final hour, I know exactly the feeling.