Roland’s View: The Great Race should have started under Safety Car
By Roland Dane
Wednesday 12th October, 2022 - 11:30am
Welcome to my new regular Speedcafe.com column. In an era of ever-increasing control of the media on the part of major sporting codes and categories around the world, it’s refreshing to know that Speedcafe.com, is still an independent, Australian-owned, Aussie-centric media platform for our sport – as well as being the largest nonpartisan online motorsports website in this country. I’m honoured to be writing for the site and I won’t be toeing any party lines. I can hopefully spark some purposeful debate along the way, but if you, dear reader, just want to be an uncouth keyboard warrior then please do it elsewhere.
It wasn’t raining and it wasn’t foggy but there’s no doubt in my mind that the 64th running of the Great Race should have started with one lap under Safety Car. Whilst I can already sense the so-called purists choking on their lattes, please hear me out.
There’s no question that the state of the track, especially on the exit of Turn 1, was horrendous. As a Team Manager (on the #888 car), I hadn’t appreciated really how bad it was until the formation lap, given that our focus was not on TV pictures in the lead-up to the start and the comments from Race Control, regarding the track state, on the Race Management Channel were not until we were in the final stages of the countdown.
There can be (and should be) a review by the local council and Supercars as to whether there could have been more done to better prepare the track – maybe with better equipment to hand such as decent street cleaning machinery and more availability of council personnel overnight to assist with drainage issues. But, on the basis that everything that could have been done was done on Sunday morning pre-race, the question is whether it was appropriate to have a standing start or whether it would have been more appropriate to start behind the Safety Car before going green after one lap.
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I asked Garth Tander on Sunday evening for his opinion. He thought that the standing start was probably the right choice as, I note from his press conference comments, did Cam Waters. I respectfully disagree. And that’s maybe because I tend to look at this from a Team perspective.
Given that the grid had a large number of co-drivers starting the race; that the track (including, crucially, the large outside kerb on the exit of Turn 1) was extremely dirty with large amounts of traction limiting ‘soaker’ on the inside half of the track; that the run up Mountain Straight on Lap 1 is always pretty fraught; and that race start is quickly forgotten in the context of a 161 lap race, I thought that an SC start would have been the right policy, and not because I think it was dangerous from a life or limb point of view (it wasn’t).
I say that because, from a Team perspective, to have the biggest day of the year badly compromised (or ruined, in the case of the #55 car) within 500m of the start is absolutely gutting for all concerned – the drivers, the crew, the sponsors, etc. The amount of work the lead-up to the Bathurst 1000 entails for each Team just isn’t fully appreciated by anyone who doesn’t work at the coalface in team-land. So, to see your handiwork exposed to unnecessarily elevated risk (there’s always high risk on Lap 1 and that’s part of the game) would have been very disappointing to those who got caught up in the melee.
Many Teams in Supercars (like many teams across all sorts of sports) rely on the largess of a Team owner to top up budgets. These passionate people help the category to maintain the standing it has not only in Australia but throughout the motorsports world. For the sake of two kilometres of green flag racing (as the race was under SC boards and flags moments after the incident at the exit of T1 anyway), some Team owners and their crews paid a high price.
The fact is that a start under Safety Car, for one lap, would have been very quickly forgotten by everyone once the race was under way, just like I always say that pole for this race is always forgotten 30 seconds after the start. There’s no point in embarking on a blame game here at all. The point of the discussion is to try to make the right choices and decisions going forward and learn, like the best Teams do even after winning the race. Just remember the real heroes of this race every year – for sure all the volunteer officials around the track, the fans (who camped in diabolical conditions this year), but also the crews who work tirelessly, unseen, for weeks beforehand to put the cars on the grid for the Great Race.