What a crazy, exciting, fast & weird Bathurst it was this year.
I was really pumped this year in the lead up and more focused than ever. Everyone wants to be on that top step come Sunday but this year I wanted it more than ever and was confident that we had the team and driver combination to do it. We came so close in 2012 and last year we were perfectly placed for the podium until a mistake during a pitstop put us out of the race.
This year would be the third year Dave Reynolds and I had driven together and although we may seem like clowns off track, we are all business on track. This year marked my 16th start – twice as many as Dave – but with the resurfacing of the track since the last Bathurst 1000, we would both be starting fresh again as we learnt the grip level of the new surface.
We had a relatively relaxing start to the week with the autograph session in town & a few sponsor appearances. We hit the track Thursday with the first practice session as a “Main Driver Only” session and Dave had the #55 car in 5th. Practice 2 was my first time on the track along with all of the other co-drivers in the first “Co-Driver Only” session. Usually I don’t push too hard in practice sessions but this year I was changing my approach. I ended the session in 4th. Practice 3 was all about Dave and one for the record books when he set a new lap record. We ended the day all smiles. It was a promising start & we were pumped for the remainder of the weekend.
Friday started with another “Co-Driver Only” session & for this session, I had some really good tyres. I ended the session 5th fastest and achieved my fastest ever lap around Bathurst. The next session was for Dave to do some qualifying simulations. He ended the session in 4th and it was smiles all round as we knew we could make the shootout comfortably.
Qualifying was on Friday afternoon and, for us, it was over as quickly as it began. Watching the telecast I saw a wheel rolling down the road clearly from someone having a big crash. That’s when I realised – the wheel was gold – it was from our car. The camera panned around to show Car #55 badly damaged. On replay, we saw Dave had to go a little wide to pass a slower car which put him on the dirty part of the road. The car slid wide and put him into the concrete wall.
Seeing this image on the television, I suddenly felt a huge amount of emotion. The car looked very badly damaged which potentially meant we wouldn’t be starting the race on Sunday. It also meant that even if we were to start the race, we would be starting last. With the competition so fierce these days, I thought it would be almost impossible to win from there. I had to retreat to the motorhome. Luckily I had my wife there for support because the emotion became to much and it brought me to tears.
As soon as the car arrived back at the garage, the boys began inspecting the damage and decided they were going to have a go at fixing it. I knew it would be a long night for the boys so, being a qualified panel beater, I soon had my gloves on, tools in hand and was helping out as much as I could.
The boys did an unbelievable job and by 1:30am they called it a night and left with only a fews things to finish off after some sleep.
It was decided that I would start off the Saturday practice session because of my mechanical knowledge & background. After 2 slow paced laps, the car felt good and I pushed for a timed lap. We immediately jumped to the top of the time sheet but soon came across some fuel pressure problems & the car was back in the pits to investigate. It turned out it wasn’t an easy fix so we couldn’t take any further part in practice. It was a little concerning not being able to do many laps after a major rebuild but in my few laps, it had felt as though the car was back to its earlier form.
Early Sunday morning, we had the 20 minute warm up which was our chance for one more check of the cars performance on both light & heavy tanks. Everything felt fine and we ended warm up in 4th feeling confident about the race ahead.
I was chosen to start the race as it would give us more options for strategy but I have started a few times before at Bathurst and it didn’t worry me at all. I think there were some nervous people in the garage though, including my wife! Pulling up on the grid, I realised I couldn’t actually see the start lights so I knew I wasn’t going to have a great start. I had to rely on my engineer, Ozzie, calling lights out. I got the call and the race was underway. Despite not being able to see the lights, I managed a good launch and had made a few spots before the first corner.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about the in-between parts of the race. We progressed through what was one of the weirdest Bathurst’s ever. Yellow flags, red flags, crashes, footballs, kangaroos – 2014 had it all!
Our strategy was working and we had the pace and by lap 114 we were in the lead. On lap 116, the safety car was out again and we pitted, along with most of the field. We were on a great strategy – possibly the best in the field at that point but as soon as the car left the pits we knew there was a problem. The battery had stopped charging at about lap 109. The boys tried to rectify it during the pit stop but there was nothing they could do. The alternator had died and on lap 118, the car stopped. Our race was over.
After the car stopped, I immediately began to tear up. It had been an emotional & draining week. We had gone from the high of a lap record to crashing out of qualifying, to having the pace & position during the race to win and then having it all disappear. Dave and I had driven a faultless race & the pit crew had been seamless all day. The only thing out of control, was what ended our day. It all hit me like a brick. It was my 16th Bathurst and it goes without saying – it never gets any easier.
But I have to look forward now. Bring on the Gold Coast! Dave and I will be reunited with our Gold Coast winning car from last year as the Bathurst car will be back in the workshop getting repaired properly. Hopefully it can bring us a little bit of luck & we’ll be taking home back to back surfboards.