–   By motorsport correspondent, Chris Dobie

Dream come true – The mountain is mine !!

THE tinge of excitement I felt when my “King of the Mountain” V8 Race Experience voucher arrived in the mail, was just a miniscule taste of the undiluted adrenalin that would rush through my veins. And rush it did, as I stood in Mount Panorama pit lane watching my driving coach arrive in my V8 Ford Falcon racing car after a warm-up lap.

Already dressed in my full race suit and helmet, I was motioned toward the vacated driver’s seat, and it was about then that things got weird.

Once strapped in behind the wheel, the rumble of the car’s V8 motor filled the cabin, and as I slotted the gearbox into first, my body went into an almost autopilot state, like an out-of-body experience.

My memories of this famous circuit and the iconic annual Bathurst 1000km motor race stretch back as far as my memory will allow. I have sketchy recollections of the 1973-1976 races, but it was the famous Ford one-two of 1977 that polarised me as a Ford fan and a motor sport tragic.

Every major incident, exciting pass and all the winners are kept in a part of my brain reserved exclusively for Australia touring car racing trivia. While people count sheep to fall asleep, as a kid I did endless laps of the mountain in my mind.

With the invention of race-cam in 1979 I would spend hours studying the track, knowing my big break would come one day and I would race on the circuit for a leading team.

I knew every gear change point, braking marker and apex of a circuit I had never driven – even in a road car.

Fast forward to the present day and here I was, years after abandoning any hope of ever racing at the mountain, living a childhood dream.

I decided to make the most of the opportunity and put my foot flat to the floor of the V8 Ford race car as I headed up mountain straight working my way through the gears.

It was hard to keep a grasp on reality when everything looked and sounded exactly like the Channel 7 Racecam footage I had studied tirelessly as a kid.

I carried as much speed as possible through Griffins bend like a young Craig Lowndes in 1994 surprising John Bowe with an outside move.

Pushing out to the wall and quickly ducking back across the road for the run into the cutting. My mind could see Dick Johnson exactly where Dick Johnson hit the rock in 1980 and how it must have looked from the driver’s seat.

I pushed up to Reid Park and over the rise where Kevin Bartlett rolled the big Camaro in 1982. Then I headed for the famous drain cover in Sulmans.

I could feel the suspension compressing through the dip as all the driver’s say it does.

Lining up the turn into McPhillamy I could see the point where Bill Brown barrel rolled along the old railway sleeper wooden fence in 1971 and where a huge pile up stopped the race in 1981.

Accelerating across Skyline towards the sheer drop off into the `esses’,  my head was saying brake now, my driving coach was shouting, “Stay on it”.

Through the `esses’ and into the Dipper, I promised I would go through there quicker on each next lap but never did ! Then into Forrest Elbow with the outside wall trying to suck the car into its concrete, like Dick Johnson’s Greens-Tuff Falcon in 1983.

My eyeballs grew as I viewed the long Conrod Straight ahead and I dragged every ounce of speed possible from the car with my foot pressed into the firewall ! But the yawning gap between my skill level and a professional became agonisingly evident, when John Bowe flew past me with a car full of screaming passengers as though I was on a Sunday cruise.

I took a deep breath, and a little self preservation lifted into the chase remembering the spot just near the bridge where the late Mike Burgmann was killed in 1986 and the reason they installed the chase.

Down towards Murrays Corner I can see where Yoshimi Katayama spectacularly rolled his RX-3 in 1976.

Through Murray’s Corner and onto Pit Straight the site of the onboard lap counter clicking off another of my precious laps snaps me back to reality.

I would like to say I have seen and conquered the mountain, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The fantastic team at V8 Race Experience made it a truly bucket list moment.

The John Bowe V8 Race Bathurst event was beautifully run and I hope it can become an annual event because rather than cure my addiction it has just made me hungrier to return next year and go quicker.

For many years racing a V8 around Mount Panorama has been the domain of professional racing car drivers and people with a budget that looks like my phone number.

V8Race and a team of dedicated volunteers who stayed on an extra day after the Bathurst Motor Festival, gave every-day-dreamers like me, the chance to drive a real racing car at full speed on arguably the most exciting 6.2km of race track in the world !

Not only was there 100 % positive feedback from the drivers I spoke to after the event, but most said they were already saving to return next year.

Looks like the team at V8Race Experience will need to add more cars to their stable.







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