The United States has the Indianapolis 500. France has the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Australia has the Bathurst 1000.
While Bathurst may not have the global fame of the 500 or Le Mans, it has long been Australia's most significant and beloved race. It is an unconventional one, though; 1000 kilometers (620 miles) of endurance touring car racing with the big, RWD, V-8-powered Australian Supercars series cars that do not quite seem to fit on the semi-permanent Mount Panorama circuit. Races are highlighted by the difficulties of the track itself, particularly navigating the tight sections up and down the mountain that gives the circuit its name. Every few years, those difficulties include actual kangaroos hopping across the track.
As the Mount Panorama circuit has become a mainstay in games like Forza, Gran Turismo, and iRacing, the once-obscure track is becoming more familiar to international racing fans. It features 23 turns over less than 4 miles, but the real highlight is the way the circuit is actually laid out. The start/finish straight resembles any traditional racing circuit, with a right angle on either end and ample runoff areas. But, from Griffin's Bend (turn 2) on, the track becomes a narrow climb up and down a steep mountain, with elevation differences totaling 571 feet. Then, suddenly, the difficult corner exit at Forrest's Elbow (turn 18) leads down the Conrod Straight to a hard braking zone at the Chase (turns 20 through 22) and back to the start/finish line. It is a circuit of extreme contrast, one that is startlingly fast and unlike any other in professional racing.
It is the perfect stage for the race, which has since its inception been most famous as the home of a great rivalry between Holden and Ford. Ford closed their Australian operations all the way back in 2016 and General Motors closed the Australian-based Holden brand in 2020, but the series is not set to replace this generation of cars with new representatives from the company's American outlets until 2023, so that rivalry continues on track for the next two Bathursts. A Ford or Holden has won every race run at the track since the Australian Supercars series won a split battle for rights with more traditional touring car categories in the late 1990s; with all of Mercedes, Nissan, and Volvo having long since left the series, that streak will continue this year.
With 2018, 2019, and 2020 series champion Scott McLaughlin having left the Supercars series for IndyCar this past offseason, the pre-race favorite is recently-crowned 2021 series champion Shane van Gisbergen. He and co-driver Garth Tander may face their biggest threat from their teammates at Triple Eight Racing, the No. 88 of Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup. In the 2000s, the pair were considered the best drivers in the series and combined to win three Bathurst 1000s together while chasing championships separately. Now, Lowndes is long-since retired to just co-driving duties and Whincup is retiring from full-time competition to take over management of the Triple Eight Racing team. Their ride together in this Bathurst, their third since Lowndes retired, will be one to remember.
While Whincup has won the race four times, he has not won since 2012. In the 2014 race, he led exiting the mountain complex on the final lap before being passed by Chaz Mostert and, ultimately, running out of fuel. Any Bathurst win is meaningful, but a Bathurst win as a primary driver next to his long-time teammate Lowndes would represent a picture-perfect ending to one of the greatest careers in Australian racing history.
WHERE TO WATCH
Unfortunately, the Bathurst 1000 is not exactly on over-the-air television in America. Your best bet to watch the race is to subscribe to the Australian Supercars series streaming service, SuperView, for the weekend. This can be accessed through YouTube, which will in turn work with smart TVs. The race broadcast starts at 8:15 p.m. Eastern time and ends at a generous 3:00 a.m.