PREVIEW: Expanded support program set for 12-Hour weekend

Thanks to the Bathurst 12 Hour’s 2019 expansion to a four-day event, the support categories enjoy more track time than ever before.

The chance to race wheel-to-wheel with other cars at the Holy Grail of Australian motorsport is a rare and treasured commodity, so it’s no surprise all four support categories for the Bathurst 12 Hour have attracted healthy fields… and each one of them has their own storylines and talking points.

In 2019, Formula Ford celebrates a half-century of existence on Aussie shores; in fact, the Australian Formula Ford Championship is the second-longest standing national category behind the Australian Touring Car Championship (Supercars, as we know it these days).

During those five decades, the category has built a well-earned reputation as a breeding ground for rising stars in pursuit of professional careers, but for the Bathurst races, the focus is less on the young guns and more on the senior drivers, many who will be racing cars dating back to the very early years of the category.

Nevertheless, there are still a couple of youthful talents who will battle up the front in the Modern Kent Class, including Jayden Ojeda. As well as winning last year’s Australian F4 title, the 19-year-old was previously a top-three runner in national Formula Ford and will enter the weekend as the favourite.

Ojeda’s main opposition could well come from an invited overseas guest; last year’s British Formula Ford runner-up, Michael Eastwell, has made the journey down under to pilot an Ellery Motorsport-run Spectrum. There’s no doubt Eastwell has raw talent by the bucketload; he made it into the final six drivers in the 2018 Road to Indy Shootout (which was ultimately won by Aussie FFord champ Hunter McElrea).

Other likely front runners are last year’s national FFord 1600 series winner Dylan Fahey, along with Josh Buchan, Tim Hamilton and Rob Rowe, and even Paul Morris has decided to return to the category for a play.

There are also plenty of interesting storylines in three historic classes: Fa (pre-1978), Fb (1978-83) and Fc (1984-89). The likes of Tom Tweedie, Cameron Walters and Tim Berryman can be expected to be among the contenders, along with Richard Davison – father of Will and Alex – who ran inside the top three at last year’s Easter historic meeting.

Last year’s Radical Australia Cup races at Bathurst were won by Peter Paddon and Kim Burke, but plenty of excitement was created by Chris Perini, who was in the fight for the lead in both races before a crash took him out of the running late in Race 2.

Burke went on to win last year’s Radical Cup title, but while the reigning champ will miss Bathurst, there are some other strong contenders joining the fray.

One of the stories of the weekend is the return of Neale Muston, a driver who has collected plenty of accolades in Aussie Radical competition.

More recently, Muston has been hurling an LMP3 car around various Asian and Middle Eastern venues; along with James Winslow and Jake Parsons, he won the Gulf 12 Hour at Abu Dhabi in December.

Also entering the field – and definitely among the contenders – are Grant Denyer and Brad Shiels. The Gold Logie winner’s driving abilities are undisputed – he was one of the front-runners in last year’s Australian Production Car Series – while Bathurst born-and-raised Shiels is an underrated talent who has won races at the Mountain in the Production Sports category.

The Radical format will once again entail a pair of 45-minute races with compulsory pit stops.

One of the most popular support categories for the last few years has been the Combined Sedans, and when we say “combined”, we mean it! The 55-strong entry list features cars from all different backgrounds, and includes a mixture of rear and all-wheel-drive naturally aspirated and turbocharged vehicles.

The fastest outright cars should be the Sports Sedans – last year, Steven Lacey set a stonking 2:10.9 time in his Camaro. Other fast spaceframe cars will be the Corvette of Paul Boschert (which won a race last year) and the ex-Kerry Baily Aston Martin driven by Mark Duggan.

The assortment of vehicles is set to produce some interesting “races-within-a-race”, one of which will be the contest for TA2 (Trans-Am 2) honours. The control V8-powered, space-frame machines have proven a hit amongst both drivers and spectators since they were introduced to Australia a few years ago, and 14 are on the entry list for the Combined Sedans.

After running in the top three outright last year, American Gar Robinson returns to Australia, while Aaron Seton and George Miedecke will also be among the fastest of the TA2 brigade.

The field also includes a smattering of Production and Improved Production cars, some V8 Touring Cars and even an HQ Holden!

Lovers of old-school sports cars will be salivating over the machinery in the Group S paddock; iconic brands such as Porsche, Ferrari, Shelby, Chevrolet, Austin and MG will all be in attendance.

Last year, the Porsche 911 was the vehicle of choice for front-runners, and drivers such as Geoff Morgan, Stan Adler and Doug Barbour ensure the classic German marque will again be well-represented.

However, Bathurst is a track where straight-line speed counts for a lot, so cars such as Rusty French’s De Tomaso Pantera and Paul Blackie’s Corvette can be expected to harass the 911s on the long straights.

At the other end of the scale, Damien Meyer has a habit of grabbing his Austin Healey Sprite by the scruff of the neck and nipping at the heels of the more powerful cars; he should be a delight to watch over the top of the Mountain.

And that pretty much sums up everything about this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour support card – there’s a huge variety of machinery and driving backgrounds, but everyone will be relishing the chance to race flat-out around the most challenging 6.2km of road in the country… so entertainment and action are guaranteed.

By Lachlan Mansell – Support race commentator