CONQUERING THE MOUNTAIN
MTAQ RACING TEAM MAKES A STATEMENT AT BATHURST
Mount Panorama, the 6.2km-long circuit that flows and sweeps across the hillsides of Bathurst and is the epicentre of motorsport in Australia.
It’s the place where every driver with ambition wants to drive and test themselves, following in the tyre tracks of names such as Peter Brock, Allan Moffat, Mark Skaife, Jim Richards and a host of others who, over the circuit’s 80-year history, powered through its steep straights and intimidating corners to etch their names amongst the legends of the sport.
To get the chance to drive there, to race there, is a thrill, and for the MTAQ Racing Team, in only in its second season of racing, the opportunity to become a small part of the storied circuit’s illustrious history was an honour indeed.
The team, along with 54 other Excel racing teams from across the country, were there on the weekend of March 31 – April 1 to participate in the Federal Tyres Excel Challenge, a Hyundai category support event for the Bathurst 6-Hour race meeting.
And after 18 months of hard work, and plenty of ups and downs and frustrations, everything came together for the team with a 6th, 7th and 3rd-place finish across the weekend’s three races – results that ensured Mount Panorama would be the site of the most successful meeting in the team’s short history.
It was a glorious few days, though the result was never a certainty as the team’s Excel had, just two weeks previously, blown a head gasket at the Queensland State Championship’s first meeting of the season at Morgan Park Raceway in Warwick, and had been hastily put back together with no time for testing.
The car had, however, shown some serious promise before the Warwick breakdown, and some furious work by the team, and plenty of crossed fingers, meant the long journey to Bathurst was one filled with some confidence.
So it proved to be as, for the first time, a weekend free of the trouble that had plagued the car in the past meant driver David Wood could give his full attention to racing fast and furiously.
And that he did, using his experience of the circuit – he raced at Mount Panorama in the Australian Production Car Series 12-hour race in 2009 and 2010 – to clock a ripping qualification time to set up a magic weekend.
It was, said David, a fantastic feeling to be back at Mount Panorama.
“I love the place, absolutely love it,” he said. “Some people go there and are intimidated but I love it and it was like meeting up with an old friend.
“I feel comfortable on it and drive it well but while my experience might have given me an edge initially in practice and qualifying, the other guys soon started to get a handle on it and by race time it was probably not as big an advantage as some might have thought.”
However, the practice and qualifying did set up the weekend, and a series of tightly-fought contests with some of the nation’s best Excel competitors.
“The racing was intense and, with the field that had been put together, they were calling it the ‘Excel World Championship’,” said David.
“We had a two-time Hyundai National Champion, three-time South Australian Champion, two-time Victorian Champion, the defending Victorian Champion, two Queensland Champions (including the defending champ), the son of a V8 Supercar star who is a prolific race winner in NSW and Victoria . . . and then there was us, a team that nobody had thought about in their pre-event calculations!
“With only 20 minutes of allocated practice time for Excels, every second counted. I managed to find a bit of clear track on my 4th lap was quick until the last corner where I got baulked badly by a slow car. Rounding up that car cost us 1.5 seconds and we missed provisional pole by 1.3 seconds. That shows how quick we were, and even then, we were still 6th fastest for the session.
“Race One went according to plan, and I was able to hook onto the back of the lead group but couldn't make much of an impression as they were just too quick up the straights and I couldn't make up enough time across the top and down the mountain. I was able to pass the defending Victorian champion, which brought us home in 6th.
“Race Two was more of the same - we were struggling to hang on in a straight line, but we were able to stick closer to the lead group this time. I got boxed out at the start and dropped back to 9th but pushed back through to 7th.
“This race was shortened due to an accident so there were a few laps lost under safety car rules, but I had a great fight with our main adversary here in Queensland, Brock Giblin, and was able to catch and pass him. That was a great confidence boost for our local ambitions.”
The big race of the weekend was Race Three – a ‘winner takes all’ blast, said David, that would decide the Bathurst Challenge winner.
“On Sunday morning, we played with some more things on the car and found a small adjustment with the throttle body which, for Race Three, amounted to a decent step forward with the car feeling much better.
“Starting 7th, we made a good jump but got held up coming onto the pit straight on Lap 2 which lost us a spot. I quickly got that back, then nailed the two-time Victorian Champion for 6th in an intense little scrap and was closing in on the lead pack of five.
“The car felt really good – we set our fastest lap for the weekend on lap 2 – and I was excited at the prospect of attacking the lead group. With three laps to go, we were in a box seat and ready to pounce.
“However, on the next lap there was a major accident right in front of me that took out three of the lead cars and we were probably only a metre or so away from joining them!
“As we hit Conrod straight on that lap, the officials called for the safety car. Under safety car rules, you are supposed to slow down and hold position but the car behind me passed, putting us 4th on the road. That was changed post-race and we were put back into third.
“The carnage of the accident at the top of the mountain was enough for the race had to be stopped and declared. So, in the amended order we placed third.
“A podium at Bathurst, now that’s a terrific result!”
While, at the time of writing, there is some question over the results of Race 3 – with some protesting that the race did not run its allocated distance – the MTAQ Racing Team can take an immense amount of pride in its performance.
“What really matters to me is that we were third, fair and square, when the race was declared,” said David. “That is good enough for me.”
For MTA Queensland, the team and everyone involved in preparing and building the car, including many MTA Institute apprentices, the result is a fantastic achievement.
“The pride of the team afterwards was immense,” said David. “It has been a massive few months, but I am so proud of what we achieved. In the months since we launched MTAQ Racing we have come such a long way. From struggling to crack the top 10 at state level to being in the top bracket in the country is very, very satisfying. We all can be very proud.
“The team was just magic and loved being at the Mountain,” he added. “I feel like the Bathurst weekend was a turning point for us. The Excel community took notice and the quiet word around the paddock is we are going to be a serious handful for our competition going forward. I can’t wait until the next round of the state championships!”