When Scott McLaughlin ripped over the finish line in the 2019 Bathurst 1000, I think I had been holding my breath for the entire lap. Dick Johnson’s entire team deserved that win. They really did.
Scott had driven like a man possessed all year. The engineering team had those Mustangs singing like a canary in the spring sunshine. Their pit crew are simply unbelievable. Am I the only one who thinks the winner’s pit crew should be on the podium too?
What a weekend they had. McLaughlin posted the fastest lap time ever in qualifying, beat his own personal best twice in one weekend and had a flawless first and second start from pole.
He is also known as a really nice bloke – something that is startlingly rare in elite sports.
Then there is the track. The Mount Panorama racetrack is like no other on the planet.
It fascinates me that it’s a public road the rest of the year and you can just rock up there and drive around it anytime you like. Then you realise how steep and winding Forest Elbow really is and how narrow the track gets in places. Conrod Straight is so cool and the starting grid looks like a freaking airport runway when it’s empty. Dunlop Bridge is so famous it is Bathurst’s coat hanger and you can drive straight through Pit Lane.
It defies gravity that anyone could possibly drive around the Mount Panorama track at over 250 kms per hour. How do they not fly clean off the side of the mountain into thin air? Yet there they were in their growling V8s, lap after lap, crash after crash, pit stop after pit stop, putting the pedal to the metal and screaming around that mountain at warp speed. Talk about drive it like it’s stolen.
Naturally enough things got broken. There were rollovers, breakdowns, blowouts, crashes and even a case of carbon monoxide poisoning (carbon filter failure in the helmet). There were so many dramas even Neil Crompton was having a meltdown.
Car racing is a dangerous, expensive, risky business, especially at Bathurst. Even the best drivers in the world with the best pit crew and the best car still need the best of luck to win the 1000. It only takes one kangaroo or one stray shopping bag in a radiator to throw the entire multi million dollar race into utter chaos.
Dick Johnson has won Bathurst a number of times, three of them as driver. He has been cheated out of many more by everything from falling rocks to finish-line mechanical failures. He has had more starts than Phar Lap and more heartbreak than just about anyone else on the grid. Moments after Scott McLaughlin brought the Mustang home to take 2019, a sportscaster asked him what was going through his head right now? In true laconic Aussie fashion Dick replied “25 years!”
Anyone who follows motor racing in Australia immediately knew exactly what he meant in those few iconic words.
Twenty five years of tears, triumphs and failures. Twenty five years of being in the garage until five am with written off cars and mangled gear boxes. Of massive financial and personal risk. Of having his heart in his throat either behind the wheel or behind the monitor in pit lane. Twenty five years of ploughing into the kitty litter, smashing into tyre barriers, surviving total write offs and almost going bankrupt (twice). A lifetime of throwing absolutely everything he ever had at that mountain to try and win the thing just one more time.
Twenty five years of holding his breath.
When you get to the top of Mount Panorama, the view is literally gobsmacking. It is spectacular and the air is sweet, clear, breathtaking. It feels like you are standing on top of the world, in silent command of the universe. The thinner air makes you feel just a little bit high.
When Scott McLaughlin stood on the roof of his car after he won the 2019 Bathurst 1000, no doubt the view from there felt very much the same.