On a clear day flying into Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport you might just be lucky enough to get a good, long, panoramic look at one of the world’s most iconic city-scapes; a visual treat after the rigors of round the world travel. Make no mistake, whether you are flying from the UK, or from North America, the leg to Sydney is a long flight – but strap yourself in, watch as many movies as you like, and get some rest because trust me, Australia is worth the effort. If you are flying all this way then you will, surely, have made plans beyond a mere motor race – but, as we’ll see, the Bathurst 12 Hours is anything but a ‘mere’ motor race!
From Sydney it is around a three and a half hour drive to Bathurst; the longest established inland settlement in Australia. To get there the drive takes you on one of two different routes; over and around the beautiful Blue Mountains. Take the Great Western Highway out of town, and try to navigate your route to take in a crossing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Take your time, and view a couple of the more touristy sights – they’re worth it. The Three Sisters is a stone cold world class sight – a rocky outcrop overlooking the majestic Blue Mountains – astonishing scenery. Then on the way back to Sydney, by the way, take the other road by turning left at Lithgow. It may be a more circuitous route, but it is on a driving road that you’ll not forget!
An hour further on from Lithgow, and across the Bathurst Plains, past road signs urging caution for carelessly crossing kangaroos and wombats (no really!) and you’ll see – up on the left hand side in the distance, one of the most famous sights in motorsport, the painted sign that confirms that you are getting closer to Mount Panorama. Nothing honestly prepares you for the reality of driving (it’s a public road), or even walking (it’s a heck of a climb!) to the top of the Mount Panorama Circuit. It’s oh so familiar to followers of the iconic Bathurst 100 as well as the more recent 12 Hour GT race, but while every inch is familiar, it’s somehow steeper, narrower, the concrete walls bigger and closer than TV can possibly depict.
This circuit is a monster, rewarding perfection, punishing anything even marginally less. Happily the grid is stacked with names for whom perfection (and perfection at blinding speed) is an area on their record with an A* marking! And when the track, and it’s challengers and their chosen weapons, combine, be prepared for a spectacle that few other events can match. There are faster tracks, and faster cars – but the combination here, with the GT3 cars that are faster than literally anything else permitted to race here, negotiating slower cup cars and specials, it is spectacular.
Trackside viewing is astonishing too, with so many spectator banks and vantage points. Listen to the advice from the locals and stay away from the long grass at the top of the mountain though! Stay to the well-trodden paths, and find the best viewing spots and you will remember this place always.
Add in the remarkably open paddock, chock full of GT3s superstars and V8 Supercars megastars. Add a support programme that delights, from Aussie Combined Sedans (think Trans-Am meets V8 Supercars and Time Attack), through historic GTs and others and fans that bring the party right along with them and you’ll have a racing weekend that blends the best of Europe and the USA with something very different, and very special. And while you’re here find the time to take in the circuit museum – there is no better collection of V8 Supercars anywhere, and get a pie and a pint in the historic downtown at Jack Duggan’s – another Bathurst institution.
Travel Destinations make things easy for you. They have comfortable hotel accommodation or simple apartments reserved in downtown Bathurst. You can walk to the circuit if you want to, but lets face it most people will still take their car. Adding to the comfort is the hospitality at the track. Yes you will want to go to the top of the mountain and view from different places around this great track, but it is likely to be hot, maybe very hot and having somewhere to rest and re-hydrate is so important. The 12 hours Club is an air-conditioned marquee located on the very top of the garages and pit lane. From here you can eat, drink and be merry, whilst never missing a moment of the on-track action. It is an ideal venue for enjoying the Bathurst 12 Hours long-weekend.
Take the plunge, contact Travel Destinations, make the trip & you won’t regret it. The Bathurst 12 Hours is, without doubt, the world’s newest, truly classic, endurance race.
Written by Graham Goodwin
Photography by Dailysportscar