Ivy League East is dedicated to exposing the East Coast of the United States as the tuning and motoring epicenter it is, though sometimes overlooked in the grand scheme of the global arena. With that said – although this post covers an event on the opposite side of the globe in Australia, we’ll let it go on a technicality as it takes place on the East Coast of Australia.
The current chapter of my quarter-life crisis has seen me put my career on hold to travel Oceania. For one month I’ve been moving about Australia, incorporating some element of motorsports wherever I can. This past weekend brought me to a place I’ve long known about, but never dreamt of visiting in person.
Those of you who grew up playing racing video games such as Forza and Gran Turismo will recognize Bathurst as a track providing a eclectic mix of sweeping corners, drastic elevation changes and long straight-aways. Mount Panorama is actually the name of the circuit, and it’s legacy stretches far beyond your armchair racing career. Games, photos and videos do it no justice. You have to see it to believe it. It is by far the most awe-inspiring track I have ever been to, and it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery and a small town that is proud of it’s motorsports heritage.
The circuit is embedded in the culture of the city, and petrol practically pumps through the veins of it’s citizens. Most tracks I’ve been to up and down the East Coast of the US are considered a nuisance to the surrounding towns…bringing noise pollution, herds of unruly race fans and the traffic that comes with them to the dismay of residents. Upon arriving in Bathurst, I immediately knew this was going to be different. As soon as I got off the train from Sydney, I could hear the familiar roar of a flat-six racing around a track. The NSW Porsche Club was already at it, practicing for one of many events to come over the long holiday weekend.
The Bathurst Motor Festival has deep roots at Mount Panorama, taking place nearly every Easter weekend since 1938. That history was evident in the weekend’s race program, consisting of Group N, Production Sports, Production Touring, Club Racing and the aforementioned Porsche series, culminating in Round 3 of the Australian Formula 3 Championship.
The paddocks were lined with row upon row of eye candy, from the familiar site of modern American supercars to boyhood JDM dreams…all being driven like they were meant to be driven. Each category provided it’s own kind of excitement – from the slow but well-matched Suzuki Swifts to the thunder of domestic Australian V8′s full-on battling it out. I have never seen such a wide variety of cars and events strung into one weekend of motorsports glory.
Formula 3 provided the highlights of the weekend. It was a rough start during practice on Friday with multiple crashes and mechanical problems for some teams. Come race time, they pulled it together for a race that kept spectators on the edge of the grand stands. Determination saw dreams come true for one young driver – 18 year old Chris Anthony – who pulled the pole position in both Saturday and Sunday’s event…in addition to setting the all-time lap record during a race. Don’t be surprised to see him piloting a Formula One car soon. (Watch the video of the fastest lap in a race at Bathurst ever, set by Anthony on Sunday here.)
My weekend was predominately spent alternating between various spectator areas around the track, the paddock, and of course the trackside bar ever determined to show Aussies that their penchant for drinking is laughable compared to anyone who’s spent serious time hopping around Brooklyn bars till all hours of the morning.
At one point, I found myself in pit lane with some hospitable Aussies who happened to be competing in the longest race of the weekend, the NSW Production Touring Car Championship. It was the only event of the weekend that warranted a pit stop, providing me the opportunity to experience the action first hand.
My favorite event of the weekend however, hands down, was watching the Group N cars. Group N is a vintage class pitting classic domestic Australian production cars produced in 1972 and earlier, such as Holden – against other vintage imports raced in the era like Datsun, Porsche, Jaguar and even an original Mini Cooper or two for good measure. My first inclination upon hearing “Vintage Racing” was old men with their garage queens daintily cruising around the circuit for one or two laps before rushing back to their cushy RV’s and enclosed trailers. I could not have been more wrong. These guys flogged the classic memorabilia around so hard I felt bad for the screeching tires…gasping for grip around every corner. I can only hope that in my twilight years I’ll have the audacity to abuse the relics of my past like them.
All-in-all, my weekend in Bathurst is sure to be one of the most memorable events of my time here in Australia. I haven’t owned a car worth racing for more than two years, but after experiencing the excitement of a great track event like this, I found myself immediately texting my friends back home, formulating plans for the next track car.