When it comes to flexing the ability of a car - or driver - mount panorama proves the ultimate test.
Most of the time Mount Panorama, snaking up above the town of Bathurst, is just another road. There are, however, a few times a year where the 6.2km stretch is home to some of the fiercest racing in the country, most famously the Bathurst 1000 and the Bathurst 12 Hour. Blind, tight and fast, the mountain suffers no fools. To spectators, witnessing a race here is the pinnacle of turbo-charged emotion; to drivers, it’s terrifying.
“There’s a real mystique of the place,” says John Smith, a retired racing driver with multiple podiums in both the Bathurst 12 Hour and 1000. “You head over the top of the hill and you’re looking straight over the mountainside. In the 12 Hour, you start in the dark and the sun rises over you and if you’re driving on a full moon, it’s below you – it’s incredible.” This circuit is dicey at best – no gravel traps, no run-off, no room to move up the top – just walls. “You really gotta tighten up the seatbelts going across the top and just hang on! It’s incredibly dangerous.” He laughs, “So you see the overseas guys rock up and shit themselves.” Current Bathurst 1000 Champion and an instructor with Audi Sports Driving
Experience Luke Youlden agrees, hailing it as one of the most renowned circuits in the world.
“If you’ve never been there before, it’s scary,” he says. “It’s very narrow. The walls are right on the track and it has a huge amount of undulation. And every corner’s blind, so you have to drive a lot off memory.”
Witnessing a race at Mount Panorama is an Australian motorsport rite of passage; especially sitting at the top of the hill, where the tales are legendary (yes, everything you’ve heard about punters burying booze in the ground ahead of the race back in the day is true). But also when it comes to the 12 Hour, what you see, is often what you can buy. Though modified slightly, the GT3s are, essentially, straight-outta- the showroom. “In Audi’s case, they use as many stock cars as possible,” says Youlden. “It just goes to show, particularly with something like an R8, how cool these cars can be off the showroom floor, and with some minimal modifications, they can be the fastest cars on the mountain.”
“You really do get to see what the car can do,” says Smith. “With controls, engine management, gearbox management, traction control – all that stuff – you can get in and go flat out into a corner and with the antilock brakes, the car says, ‘Don’t worry, mate, I’ve got this’. It will close the throttle, adapt the traction and let the car settle. Whereas the V8 supercars say, ‘Good luck, we’re gonna crash!’ It covers a up a lot of inadequacies with some of the drivers, and the hotshot drivers don’t have the advantage of their natural ability that they would have taking this track in a supercar. But because of this circuit it does show you what you can buy these days. There’s just nowhere like it. When you see that Mount Panorama sign, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck just stand up.” audidrivingexperience.com.au