WPS Bathurst 12-hour Showroom Enduro
6 – 8 April 2007
I was first approached to be involved in Holden’s all-girl assault on the Bathurst 12 hour late in 2006. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity for some laps around Bathurst (it’s been about 3 years since I last raced there) and to do something a bit different, as most of my races are no more than 30 minutes long! Joining me in the pink (I never thought I would race a pink car!!) Bendon Lingerie Astra CDTi Diesel Hatch would be Samantha Reid, Lauren Gray and Christina Orr, all great drivers.
Having only driven the car a few times around the Holden Performance Driving Centre at Norwell, QLD, it was hard to tell how the Astra would go around the challenging Mt Panorama circuit. Our first practice was a 50 minute session on Friday morning in which only myself and Christina drove. With our car expected to run close to 3 minute lap times, we decided to have only two drivers per session and lessen the amount of time spent in the pits for driver changes. I got only three flying laps in before it was time to jump out and give Christina a drive. I was fairly happy with my time of 2:55.14 and I felt the car handled really well and still had a few more seconds in it so I was eager to get back out there and try again.
I had to wait until Saturday, however, as there was only one more practice session on Friday and, as Christina and I had driven in the morning session, it was Samantha’s and Lauren’s turn in the afternoon.
As I left the pits on Saturday morning for my couple of laps, I realised the engine would not rev over 3000rpm and I was struggling to make it up Mountain Straight. I brought the car straight back in to the pits where the guys fixed the computer problem quite easily. I went back out but, as this was also only a 50 minute session, I only got one flying lap before I once again had to return to the pits and give the other girls a drive. That is the one frustrating thing about Mount Panorama – the laps are so long that you don’t have a chance to get into a rhythm and set some good lap times. Still, we were there to finish a 12-hour race, not set the lap record!
I was very fortunate, however, as I was given the opportunity to qualify the car on Saturday afternoon. The session was scheduled to run for an hour but the team didn’t want to wear the car out by pounding around for the whole session so I went out to just do a couple of laps and see what the Astra Diesel could do. My first flying lap was the quickest I had been all weekend at 2:54.19 and the second was even quicker, a 2:52.65. My third flyer was the best, however, at 2:51.91. Jim radioed to me that I could have another go if I thought I could get another second or so out of the car, as that was the time gap to the next position, but on the way up the mountain I was balked by a slower car which really ruined my momentum. I brought the car in and handed it to Lauren, who was allowed a couple of laps because she missed out in the morning session. I was fairly happy with the time I set although, as always, I would have liked to have gone quicker! The time slotted us into 25th on the grid out of a 32 car field, and we were ahead of some cars that should have been faster, so the team and the girls seemed pretty happy with that.
We spent some time on Saturday afternoon practicing our driver changes, which were quite long given the height difference between the four drivers and in some cases involved moving the seat, steering wheel and adjusting the belt length. When we were happy that they weren’t going to get much better, we went home as early as possible to prepare for the race on Sunday.
I was nominated to start the race and Christina was second, so we were up at about 4am and at the circuit by 4:30 for a 5:45am race start. It was a bit bizarre driving around the circuit in the dark with the headlights on, but it was surprising how well you could still see. There was a fair amount of cloud cover so it was still quite dark when the red lights went out and we started the race.
My little diesel was not exactly a rocket-ship off the start line and I was swamped by almost every car behind me. With 12 hours to get the positions back, however, I settled down and just focussed on doing consistent lap times. There was some light drizzle occasionally at various places around the mountain, so I was cautious at the same time as trying to get into a rhythm. After a few laps I started to catch those cars which had passed me on the start but I was faster than. The main problem I experienced was that the 2litre diesel engine didn’t have as much grunt up the mountain as most of the other cars. I would catch cars easily across the top, but they would pull away from me down Conrod and then up Mountain Straight and then I would catch them again next time across the top and down from Skyline. I caught the Alfa diesel and spent a lot of laps stuck behind him, as it was in the over 3.5 litre Eco Diesel class and therefore had a lot more power. Eventually I found a way passed, under brakes into the cutting, and then I drove as hard as I could for the next lap to stay ahead. The move stuck and I settled into finishing my stint, constantly being passed by faster cars and occasionally passing those slower than me.
After 45 laps, or 2 hours and 20 minutes, I came into the pits for our first stop of the race. I jumped out and Christina climbed in. I checked the timing monitor and saw that we were in 20th, thanks to our great fuel economy. I was scheduled to get back in the car for the last stint so I stayed in my suit and tried to eat and drink in preparation. It didn’t seem like very long, but after about 2 ½ hours, Christina was on her way into the pits and Sam took over as driver. During Christina’s stint we had managed to climb into 18th position, so things were looking really good.
At the 6 hour mark, everyone was pretty happy with the way the pink Astra was going. Sam was still in the car and running fairly consistent times, which is exactly what we wanted. Suddenly, the safety car flag was out and Sam didn’t cross the line. With no radio contact (the radio had died during Christina’s stint) we had no way of knowing where Sam was until the TV showed the Astra stuck in the sand trap at the end of the chase. We breathed a sight of relief as it was towed out and Sam pressed on, as we thought that was the end of the drama. It was only the beginning, however, as Sam pulled in the next lap with computer problems. The boys tweaked a couple of things on the computer and sent her back out but she returned the very next lap. This happened for quite a few laps until they finally pulled the car into the garage to have a proper look at what was going on. While they were working on the car, Sam got out and Lauren jumped in. When the boys thought the car was fixed, they sent Lauren out but there were still dramas so she pulled back into the pits again. The guys once again tried to fix the car and sent it on its way, only for it to stop half way up mountain straight in a cloud of smoke. The turbo had blown up and Lauren had no choice but to park it. It was a very unfortunate end to the weekend, as the car had performed flawlessly up until then. Still, it was a really great weekend and I’m hoping the 12 hour runs again next year do I can go back and try again!