Usually, when the Bathurst 1000 Supercars race finishes some time after 5 p.m., there is a stark contrast between the teams. One group, the winners, will be celebrating, hugging and backslapping as their drivers stand on the top step of the podium. The rest will, mostly, console each other for a minute, then get on with the job of ‘bumping out’ their cars at equipment, to prepare to get to the next Supercars round on the Gold Coast in 10 days’ time.
Like many things in life, all that changed in 2020. The next race is not the Gold Coast 600; in fact, there is no next race at all. The Bathurst 1000 is the final race of the season. And teams, rivals even, might just stay together for one more day, to celebrate getting through the toughest motorsport season ever seen in Australia.
Just getting to Bathurst, or anywhere else for that matter, has been a near-miracle. Like many — most? — championships around the world, a changing calendar in a fast-moving world has created pressures that the sport has never felt before.
Back-to-back races are rare in Supercars. This year they have been three of them; in Darwin (at the Hidden Valley circuit), Townsville (at the street circuit) and at The Bend in South Australia. At those tracks, and at Sydney Motorsport Park in New South Wales, variations in track layout and tire spec has at least added some variation to the racing, and there have been more first-time winners of sprint races than seen in previous years.
But that has not been the biggest challenge faced by Supercars. That came away from the tracks, on July 6, the day that Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the state of Victoria in Australia’s south, announced that the borders with other states would close — at midnight.
With more than half Supercars’ grid based in Melbourne, teams had to scramble. Quickly they assembled at their HQs to determine what, and who, was needed to keep racing. Some team members could not make the trip for family reasons. Most did. The question would be, for how long?
The answer, in many cases, was more than 100 days. As I write this, Melbourne is still effectively locked down. Travel is restricted to 5km (3 miles) from home; most retail outlets are shut.
But Supercars teams have remained on the road, with whatever they could grab in those few hours before making a 200-mile dash to the border. In the case of Erebus Motorsport’s David Reynolds, it was a few bags and his partner Tanny, who is expecting their first child in February. She had to figure out how to pack a computer workstation in their car, to be able to operate her business remotely from parts at that stage unknown.
For Brad Jones Racing’s Nick Percat, it was his racing gear, personal belongings and his dog, Nelson. (Yes, 1980s Formula 1 fans, there is a dog named ‘Nelson Percat’)
That everyone made it out of Victoria it is quite something. To put things in perspective; over the days following July 6 one of Melbourne’s best-funded AFL football teams managed to not get their players and coaches out of the state not once but twice – and football teams usually do not have things like 450lb engines, 40 wheels and tires and half-rebuilt racing cars to pack.
And what; finely-tuned athletes could not drive a car for four hours?
While all that was going on, a calendar had to be redrawn on the run; quarantine protocols, different in each state, had to be implemented. Suppliers had to have equipment moved around the country; Dunlop had to figure out how many tires had to go where, and how quickly, so that the racing could continue.
Drivers had to find gyms and, in some cases, buy bikes on which to train. Small things; if you are on the road away from home for three months, who cuts your hair? Which doctor do you see?
And Supercars had to continue to operate its business. Its naming-rights sponsorship deal was in its final season in 2020 and, just to make things truly challenging, it was with an airline, Virgin Australia, that went into voluntary administration (the Australian version of Chapter 7) in April. So too was its sponsorship deal for the Bathurst 1000 – and its broadcasting deal.
All three deals have been done, with new backers, during the pandemic. That compares very favorably with a sport like Rugby Australia, which currently has no major sponsor or broadcast deal, and cricket, which is currently in dispute with one of its broadcasters over its compromised season.
Also, Supercars has managed just this week to unveil some details on its new ‘Gen 3’ car, that will race from 2022. A prototype, based around a Chevrolet Camaro, will be built and will be seen publicly, probably, in Q2 of next year. It is a vital part of the sport’s future, and moving that project forward has been a considerable achievement.
Winning at Bathurst is a big deal. It’s Australia’s Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500; the whole country watches. Winners make history.
In 2020, much history has already been made by the men and women behind the scenes. Doubtless, at some time they will enjoy looking back on what, collectively, they have all done this year.
But for right now, I would suggest, they just want to stop racing, and go home and see their families.