Why Bathurst is Australia’s most epic race track

"Crikey!" is normally the first words out of someone who has driven the 6.2km-long Mount Panorama road circuit at race speed. If you've SEEN THE LATEST EPISODE you'll have seen MOOG's eyes go dinner plate-wide as he hot-laps his Lotus Exige S240 around the famously terrifying circuit. So why does it make so much poo come out of grown-up humans?

One serious factor is the elevation: like at Spa, Nurburgring or Laguna Seca, Bathurst is a mixed bag of massive elevation changes as racers literally climb and then fall down the side of a seriously steep bit of western NSW. There is 174m (571ft) elevation difference between its highest and lowest points, and some parts of the track are as steep as a 1:6.13 gradient - almost too steep to walk up!

Since the 1930s Bathurst has hosted racing events, but it really found fame in the early 1960s when touring car racers moved their 500-mile endurance test for production cars to Mount Panorama.

While it looks calm, Bathurst is a mix of long straights, fast, undulating corners, and desperately tricky climbs and descents. Racers actually climb up hill at the start line, running into a 90-degree left-hander known as "Hell Corner".

Racers then face the high-speed climb up Mountain Straight, where the fastest GT and V8 Supercars will hit over 200km/h. Street cars can get scarily light over the hump mid-way up the straight, as they don't have any crazy aerodynamic assistance to keep them planted. The photo below, from the start of the 1970 Bathurst 500*, shows why Hell Corner was named so, as a field of touring cars tripped over each other trying to get to Mountain Straight...

*before Australia switched to metric system the race was a 500-mile one, known as the Bathurst 500

Cars round the off-camber, up-hill right-hander at Griffins Bend, as the climb steepens on the run into the first-gear Cutting. This is super-tight-radius uphill corner is nearly a switch-back and very narrow, now bodered on both sides by concrete. 

You may think drivers get to relax, but the work is only just beginning as the road threads its way across the top of the U-shaped Mount Panorama circuit, running in an undulating, high-speed circuit through Sulman, Reid and McPhillamy Parks. Drivers can be lulled into a false sense of security from how calm it can appear here...

Plenty of Australia's top drivers have got it wrong up here, BADLY. One of the most famous is Bill Brown who lost a tyre coming into McPhillamy Park in the early 1970s - watch THIS video of the craziest accident anyone has walked away from at Mount Panorama.

The run from Reid Park into Sulman Park, across the top of the mountain, is an area that loads and unloads the cars as they come through at over 100km/h. For the 1000km V8 Supercar race this area is traditionally wall-to-wall people with over 100,000 punters coming to watch the Aussie Indy 500.

Following Sulman Park drivers dive into McPhillamy Park - all these areas are named after grassy areas spectators camp and hang out in, off the track. McPhillamy has been host to some of the biggest crashes in Bathurst's history and, years before the trees grew up, it offered breathtaking views down the valley and back to the pits. 

Back in the day there were no barriers, so people had to literally mind they didn't overcook it at McPhillamy, or they'd be facing a very short trip back to the pits... and most likely the Bathurst morgue.

One of the most-fearsome sections of the track follows the short straight at McPhillamy Park. Brock's Skyline is the "horizon pool" MOOG talked about, as the approach is 100% completely blind and cars like the Exige will approach here in excess of 100km/h.

Through Skyline and the racers start their long descent, through a tight, winding section that starts with The Esses, then runs through The Dipper (a tight, steep drop-off), before running down into the multi-apex Forest Elbow and onto Con Rod Straight. The photos don't convey just how steep it is here, and it was a struggle to walk cleanly down this hill to take this picture.

Con Rod Straight used to be one of the longest in Australia, featuring a pair of hills that proved fatal more than once in their long history. Cars that ran side-by-side, or were passing each other, down Con Rod would sometimes lift off the ground due to air pressure differences, which led to monumental crashes that unfortunately killed drivers, including Bevan Gibson and Mike Burgmann.

 

Below you can see the original 2km-long Con Rod Straight, pre-Chase. 

  

The Chase was added to Con Rod Straight for the 1987 race, due to FIA requirements to cut straights of over 1-mile in length. Now the fastest corner in Australian motorsport, V8 Supercars hit the right-hand turn at 300km/h. 

Once through the secondary part, involving a left-right combo chicane, it's the final run down to Murray's Corner and the run up onto the finish line. If you get the chance, visit Bathust and walk around the track. The views alone are worth it!

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