October 10, 2015

Horse 2004 - The Bathurst 1000km Closed Shop

Once upon a time in the days when motor racing at Bathurst was still largely amateur, apart from the teams with massive budgets running cars which were far superior to the others, there was a whole host of privateer teams running single car teams and on shoestring budgets. The week before the 1000km motor race was always heralded not only by the rumble of articulated trucks but also station wagons hauling trailers with race cars on the back. Teams with exotically local sounding names like Lansvale Smash Repairs, Cleanaway Bins and Norton's Plumbing would be seen alongside the names of multinational electrical corporations, petrochemical companies and in the "bad" old days, the tobacco companies.
This meant that in that race in October, there would be as many as 56 cars in the race and starting fields which stretched so far around the corner that they couldn't even see when the lights had gone green and had to rely on the cars in front of them to start moving. Of course most of them never stood a chance in winning the race (the last time that it happened was a chicken farmer in 1986) but for them, merely finishing the 1000km torture test was an achievement and making it into the top ten was a ticket to becoming a legend in one's own lunch box.
In the 2015 Bathurst 1000, there are only 27 entrants; 26 now that Chaz Mostert has destroyed his Falcon and I think that such a small number is paltry, sad and un-Australian.

We have two sets of eligible race cars running to the same regulations in this country. There is the top level V8Supercars championship and then there is the Dunlop Development Series which has another 30 cars. If both sets of cars were allowed to compete, then there'd be 57 cars in total and something of the magic of oh so long ago might be brought back.

There is an argument that says that having so called "amateur" drivers out on the circuit is a hindrance to professional motor racers but this is clearly a load of nonsense. For a start, drivers in lesser categories usually have far more of their own money invested in the car than a paid driver and so they are far more careful than someone who is going absolutely flat out in search of those extra tenths of a second. Also, if speed is really an issue, then something like the 107% from Formula One could be implemented, where to qualify drivers would need to attain a time within 107% of the pole sitter. For last year's race when the Coulthard/Youlden car achieved a time of 2m05.6080s, then 107% of that would be 2m14.4005s. This is more than achievable considering that last year, Phil Woodbury who drove for the Pacific Hoists team qualified 21st with a time of 2m13.8944s.
Lack of speed is not the issue and to say that it is, is dishonest.

We have this persistent myth in Australia of the "fair go". This is supposed to imply that anyone can throw their hat into the ring and in theory have a shot at greatness. In practice though, the only sport in Australia which actually achieves this is football, which through the FFA Cup means that the very smallest of minnows can have their day in the sun if they can play well enough. 
All other major professional sports in Australia are very much closed shops. Rugby League, Australian Rules, Rugby, Cricket and the V8Supercars championship all operate with licences and or franchise systems; so that the only way in is to either but an existing licence or to convince existing licence and franchise holders that you should be admitted.
In the days before the V8Supercars organisation, the Touring Car Entrant's Group and IMG sports management decided to close the shop, all one needed to do was to apply for a permit through the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport and build a car which met the regulations. It was precisely because of this sort of environment that privateers could even exist but those days have sadly gone. All that remains is a second tier development series; provided you can buy old machinery from an existing franchise holder. 

For the fans who want to see big fields at the premier race on the calendar, they are being horribly short changed. It's especially disappointing when you consider that a lot of the legends of the sport like Peter Brock, Alan Moffat, Dick Johnson, Jim Richards, Alan Grice, Greg Murphy all raced in privateer cars on the mountain; now in a professional series that trades upon its history as part of the mythos, it has deliberately pulled the ladder up behind it.
The 1000km race at Bathurst is worse off for not allowing "the little guy" to have a tilt at glory. The minor legends are not being written any more and that's just bad.

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