You keep telling yourself its the greatest track in the world, that it's great fun. But most times that doesn't work. There's very little place to go if anything happens.
You've basically got a choice of a mound or the open air. People tell us we have no problems at the end of ConRod because there's an escape road there. But at the speeds we're travelling you've got to be dammed good even to steer into the escape road.
The circuit has a mystique that grabs you. It's such an overpowering track and because we only
race on it once a year it's easy to get wound up. It's up to the driver to get the hang-ups out of his head. If you treat the circuit section by section, instead of worrying about it as a whole, it becomes manageable.
But some of the sections are getting mighty fast. Back in 1969 we were lapping in 2 min. 54 secs, and thinking it was the quickest we'd ever go. Now we're doing 20 sec a lap faster, and we're picking up most of the time in the high speed sections. The fastest corner on the circuit, McPhillamy Park used to be a 140 km/h desperado. We're now going through at 180 km/h.
The increased speeds increase the need for driver comfort. We're all sliding around inside the cars - no saloon car seats were ever meant for holding a driver in place at such consistantly high speeds. I have special supports on each side of my seat - the rules allow it. But they're not there so much to hold me in as to cushion my hip bones from the seat belt. The belts can chafe your thighs so badly you're tempted to lose concentration with the pain.
And concentration is what it's all about. It's a mind game. There's just no room for easing off at Bathurst... Certainly not as much as there used to be. A t the apex of Shell corner you're doing perhaps only 65 km/h and accelerating hard in second. You take the car right out to the fence and punch it hard up pit straight through third and into fourth cog. Back to second for Hell corner, apexing on the tree stump which has been there since the circuit opened and then power up Mountain straight. The car becomes light over the hump and then settles down, still accelerating up to 200 km/h at the hard uphill XL Bend. It's a more difficult corner than it looks because the exit lightens up and you have to be careful where you put the power on.
The climb up to the cutting is far faster than you think. You're going through the left hander, brushing the earth bank at more than 160 km/h. You can lose a lot of time in the Cutting. You're in second and you have to be terribly smooth, turning the approach and the exit into one smooth, flowing motion. You can't afford to be savage with the car and fishtail out of the corner because you'll both lose speed and stand the risk of clouting the bank.
There's a crest out of the Cutting and the Falcon leaps over it with your accelerator foot flat to the floor. The right hander before Reid Park used to be flat out, but no longer. The car wants to go through it flat, but it's not quite capable. The run across the Mountain is extremely fast and potentially dangerous. An inconsiderate slower car here can cost you a hell of a lot of time, or put you in a lot of danger. You're in top gear and hitting it, well over 175 km/h, and you just don't need a slower driver forcing you off line.
McPhillamy Park corner is the one which can individually make the best contribution to your lap time. It's the fastest corner on the track and the approach to it is blind. The flag marshall at the crest is the most important
flaggie on the track. He's got to be spot on, and thank God, he has been ever since I've been racing at Bathurst. In last year's final lap debacle he was almost climbing the fence to get me to slow down before I reached the crash scene.
Skyline is...... How can you describe it.
It's a case of recognising its dangers and just steeling yourself to do your very best. I brake hard before hand, take second right at the crest and do my Fred Astaire act down to the Dipper. I don't go for the hole at the dipper. The optimum line in which you fling the car into mid air over the dip, would do a lot towards destroying my car in ten laps. Besides wheel lifting will only flat spot the tyres.
Forest, Elbow is one of the most intricate corners on the track. Your approach has to be just right, otherwise you're a good chance of ending up as crepe suzette. The car is capable of going through the initial part of the corner faster than the last part - you have to be careful not to be sucked in.
Forest, Elbow is taken in second gear. By the time you reach the left hand kink a short way out of the Elbow you're already in top and going hard.
Conrod gives you the only real sensation of speed on the circuit. Cresting the first hump is like taking off in a Cape Kennedy rocket. Nonetheless the straight gives you something of a chance to relax. I'll even suck on a drink (I have a tube looped through my shoulder harness). But you have to be dammed careful to keep an eye on slower cars dicing in front of you. They just might think the blue flag applies to their own dice instead of the Roaring Fordy behind them.
Like I said, concentration is what it's all about. In the lead with the race almost over it'd be easy to lull into a state of shock. You just can't allow yourself the luxury of thinking you have the race won. Instead I think just the opposite.
I start to imagine things are going wrong with the car. Noises which were unintelligible a few 100 ks before now take on new proportions. I hear everything in that car, but the Pope praying. The Hardie-Ferodo imposes pressures like no other race in Australia.
To make it all worthwhile, you just have to win.