With the footy finals now decided in Australia, the Virgin Australia Supercars championship will have an unchallenged ratings bonanza when the Bathurst 1000 gets underway. The biggest motorsport race in Australia is anticipated to be one of the most hotly contested in years if the competitiveness shown so far this season carries over to the 1000km classic at Mount Panorama.
As the field gets ready to take on the Mountain, Jordan Mulach picks his Bathurst 1000 contenders for this year’s annual endurance fixture.
With the series reverting to the 2016 Dunlop rubber after blowouts hampered the field at the high speed tracks earlier this year, teams will have to adapt to a major tyre change. But while the long-form nature of the Bathurst 1000 means a shock result can’t be discounted, it’s never surprising to see the season’s top drivers leading the charge.
- Scott McLaughlin and Alex Prémat have a lot of weight on their collective shoulders, driving a car bearing one of the most famous numbers in Australian motorsports history. McLaughlin is a gun driver who is leading the Championship standings, revelling in his first year at the sport’s biggest team. With the Kiwi kid equalling Jamie Whincup’s pole record for the season already, he’s going to be the car to watch in the traditional top ten shootout on Saturday. He has a strong co-driver in Frenchman Alex Prémat, a man who is well and truly cementing his place as a solid B driver.
- Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell will have only one thing on their minds when they team up for the sixth time to take on Mount Panorama; redemption. After niggling mistakes have cost them the last three victories at the Mountain, and losing a sure victory at Sandown three weeks ago, the pair are surely going to keep their noses clean to secure an overdue win. A win together in 2012 is the only highlight for the pair thus far and with Whincup less than 100 points off the championship lead, both know that a solid haul of points will be critical in such a major race.
- Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen have felt the highs and lows of Bathurst in the recent past. Mostert won the race on his second attempt in 2014, a race which has been burnt into the memory of everyone on the Mountain that day. During qualifying in 2015, he smeared the PRA Falcon across the wall at the top of the Mountain, taking him out of the season and title contention. Owen scored second with Mostert’s team mate Mark Winterbottom in 2015, coming up shy of his first Bathurst win. A failure for the pair in last year’s race took them out of the fight. Being out of the title race and having genuine car speed will see the #55 car as a strong contender to back this time around.
- Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway are the young pairing who could see the end to the old guard’s rule over Mount Panorama. Travelling to Bathurst from cloud nine after winning the Sandown 500, the stars of the future showed their pole position for the race wasn’t a fluke. Patience, speed and strategy saw them win their first Supercars main game races. Waters suffered through a rough debut year in 2016, a highlight being fourth place at the Great Race. Stanaway has proved his worth for Prodrive, both in the endurance races and in his Super2 debut in August. These two drivers show you can have old heads on young shoulders.
- Shane van Gisbergen and Matt Campbell had the Sandown from hell but that will surely not deter the pair from showing up to the 1000km endurance classic with guns blazing. Recent years have shown Van Gisbergen miss out on an elusive Bathurst victory, first in 2014 when his starter motor packed up after he stalled in the pits, arguably in the best position to win the race. Last year, he had to settle for second behind Will Davison, driving for his old team, in a season where consistency saw him win the championship. Defending Carrera Cup Australia champion Campbell showed he’s good in more than the Euro cars with an impressive drive at Sandown, showing maturity which he’ll need to lean on in the year’s biggest race.
Though not mentioned, look out for Fabian Coulthard (paired with Tony D’Alberto) given his pace earlier this season and his ability to put in consistent lap times, especially at Bathurst. Dark horses like Tim Slade (with Ash Walsh) and David Reynolds (with Luke Youlden) will keep the leading bunch honest as they continue to punch above their respective weights. As always, never write off the evergreen Craig Lowndes, again teaming up with Steven Richards. The seasoned duo are looking for their seventh and fifth 1000km victories respectively.
The action begins this Thursday with practice, Friday will see qualifying take place, Saturday plays host to the top ten shootout and then the feature race starts at 11am local time on Sunday.