Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine myself being in the position I was last weekend, as a kid I had many hero’s, so did my dad, influenced by my parents love for the blue oval our family’s daily driver was a 351 V8 Ford Falcon XD, there was one weekend a year that we would sit down, forget everything and go racing with our hopes and dreams firmly rested on the shoulders of one man, my hero Dick Johnson.
Over the last couple of years I have had the TV on in the garage and witnessed the race from a far, but this weekend it would all change, I had tickets to the big race, but not just any old tickets, tickets with an all access pass to the Dick Johnson Racing Team garage, I was about to be surrounded by a group of men and women all selected to take on the role of conquering the mountain, Dick wasn’t alone in this quest, he now has the backing and cooperation of one very important man.
Roger Penske is a lot of things, when I found out I had the opportunity to meet Roger I was overcome by equal amounts of excitement and nerves, to give you a quick run down on Roger would be an insult, born in the late 1930’s Rogers father was a corporate executive for a metal fabrication company, in his teenage years Roger mixed business with automobiles, buying older cars, restoring them and selling them for a profit, it didnt take long for Roger to find himself in the drivers seat, racing in the late 50’s and early 60’s he turned down a lucritive drive at Indy to focus on business, that sets the scene for a long and succesfull mix of business and racing that lead him all the way to Australia and more importantly inside the same building as me.
I had never been to the great race, infact I have never been to a motorsport event quiet as big as this, the atmosphere was electric, the crowds were some of the most passionate punters I had ever experienced, many have been devoted to the one team, or manufacturer for their entire existence, this isn’t just a race its a part of many peoples lives.
The little town turns into a city for one weekend a year, the racetrack is infact a public road.
Which is difficult to imagine on the race weekend.
We had the chance to take it all in, get out on foot and check out all the attractions, its difficult to know where to start.
For me I always head straight to the pits.
This years event coincided with the 10 year anniversary of Peter Brocks passing, a line up of his old race-cars were on display and it was a chance to check out the one car that had him switch from the Red lion to the blue oval, the hero car of the Turbo era, the Ford Sierra 500.
Walking out into the infield pits you are met with a mix of machinery and its associated spares.
The touring car masters were running the mountain in their support category, these cars were the main attraction some 35 years ago.
With a lot of today’s technology creeping into the mix.
These are still raw race cars run by a crew of dedicated individuals all fighting for the win.
I cant imagine the amount of chassis flex that these cars had back in the day, it is well addressed now with comprehensive rollcages and gusseting throughout.
But all in all these are still raw race cars that require a lot of effort to drive.
The mix of noises and different manufactures are electric.
Other support categories also exist, the Porsche Carrera cup is a battle of the ever capable Porsche 911 GT3 a car that’s based on the 911 series production model.
They are powered by a 3.8-litre flat-six engine producing 338 kW.
That motor with the 6 speed sequential paddle shifted gearbox with auto down change throttle blip was music to my ears.
But enough of the distractions we were here for one team.
Entering the pit bay as a team member was a surreal feeling.
Taking in the atmosphere was one thing, being a part of it was another.
We were intoduced to Ryan Story, Managing Director and Team Principal of DJR. Now you would expect him to have a thorough understanding of everything but 10 seconds into a pit tour my brain was cooked. I was mesmerized by Ryan, he intrigued me, he spoke with so much passion that oozed brilliance, he is infact much more vital to the DJR Penske relationship than first thought, his technical brilliance seems to cross over into business, a theme that crosses between Roger Penske and Ryan Story, two very succesfull but humble people who are hugely active in their passions.
This entire pit setup fits into one truck and is transported, set up, relied upon and disassembled all over the country.
As the car sat idle it looked brilliant in its cleanly engineered pre race mode, fresh from Fridays practice session where Team DJR and its drivers battled the entire field to end up at the pointy end, ready for Saturdays top ten shootout.
I cant show you the whole car as the setup would be apparent and therefore restricted but I can show you a few things.
Looking under the car I was surprised at how light wight a lot of the components looked, suspension arms, their associated hardware, the aero ect was reminisant of an open wheeler, these cars have always been a heavy way to go racing but their refinement is surprising.
In the cabin was a different view to the last V8 supercar I saw 5 years ago, the new transaxle gearbox allows a more central seating position, this makes for a much safer car and that is something very important at Bathurst, with an average speed of over 170kmh with the majority of the hills corners being blind you have to trust the engineering gone into the cars construction. Looking at the dash and the construction of the switch gear made me a little (no A LOT) jealous after constructing my dash for the PS13.
The pedal setup looked incredibly tight as well, the more I looked around the car the more I was blown away, Ryan threw so many amazing statistics at me, I started to feel bad for not recording the conversation.
The afternoon started to approach us and the mood inside the pits started to intensify, the drivers had two jobs to do.
Before the top ten shootout we had some official business to attend to, Fabian Coulthard ran us through the teams mission for the weekend.
Supported by Luke Youlden as the co-driver, a hugely important role that includes a stack of pressure, they didn’t show it though.
Scott Pye drives the second car in the DJR paddock supported by.
Tony D’Alberto as a co driver, the team had both cars in the top ten shootout, an incredible effort by the entire team and one that I think everyone was thankful for judging by the added pressure from Roger Penske being at Bathurst for the first time.
As we made our way to the pits this F18 shot past.
I don’t know if it was the suprise that got me or the proximity but I was stunned by this.
The raw power of this fly by was incredible, how could this day get any better?
It was time for the Top Ten Shootout, an all out 1 lap battle against the clock to see who’s leading the big race on Sunday. That’s Tim Cindric with Dick Johnson, Tims the Team President at Team Penske Racing, he’s probably more at home at the Indy 500 than at Bathurst.
Strategy plays a huge role in this race, but for the shootout things are simplified, there is always time for more data aquesition though.
Ryan puts the final game plan in Fabians mind before its time to get strapped into the car.
While the co drivers look on with their fingers firmly crossed.
Scott heads out first and sets the pace for Fabian.
The data rolls in, nothing is left to chance, anything irregular with the car can still be gathered and changed before Sunday.
The communication stops as the lap starts. Its at this point their work is done, its left up to Scott to steer the hopes and dreams of the team.
The silence was split with gasps as every sector time appeared, any amount of oversteer or aggresive use of curbs resulted in a blink, but that was it, for just over two minutes the mountain had everybody on their feet.
This man understands more than anybody, he held the hopes and dreams of a nation many times, his success as a driver probably seems simple to him now he runs the team.
Scott comes in with his name second on the timing sheets, he immediately converses with his co-driver and the team about the cars reaction, always chasing a better setup for the Sunday.
Ryan patiently walks over and soaks up the information, I can hear his brain processing the changes he will make.
He attacked this lap like a mad man, he was fighting the mountain, the car looked unsettled but it was fast, his sector times were continuing to be on top of the table, it was a lap of a lifetime.
The last lap of the top ten signaled the end of our day, how did the Penske DJR Shell V Power Racing team go on Sunday? After a turbulent 161 laps the team came home in 5th and 6th place, a real credit to to the team to be in that mix at the very end of the race, if you know Bathurst then you know it can be anyone’s race, to be first, first you must finish.
I would like to thank those that made this opportunity a reality, Dean for helping me out with the photos, Dick, Rodger, Ryan and the drivers for taking the time out of their busy race weekend schedules to have a chat and educate me on the finer aspects of their business, it really is inspiring to be surrounded by such passionate and successful people.