The Mountain is Australia's Jewel in the Crown when it comes to racing circuits. It's the longest, fastest and most demanding track we have to offer. Lined with unforgiving concrete walls, bumps and kerbs. The track layout literally has drivers tackle a mountain over the course of a lap. It's the fastest track on the calendar by a country mile as down Conrod Straight, the cars smash their limiters to pieces at over 270 kph whilst taking the fastest corner in Australia, The Chase, completely flat out. Then there's Skyline, a corner that drops away so quickly that you literally see the sky as you approach it. All you can do is position your car and trust that the circuit will be there when you get over the crest.
To conquer 75 minutes of Bathurst is no mean feat as the Mountain sorts the men from the boys.
For the first time this season, the race for pole was not dominated by both of the Talking Door cars, in fact, neither of them were even on the first two rows as Matheus Machado could only muster up sixth place. For RaceOnOz it was Shaun Allan who took his first pole position of the season with a very strong lap of 2:10.35, followed closely behind by Chris Stacey in second by just one tenth. David Armstrong continued his strong form in the latter half of this season by taking third place ahead of Michael Stead and Davy Vandevenne.
The aforementioned Machado lined up sixth, as Brodie Steen was pipped for seventh place by Oli McGown by just two one hundredths of a second. Craig Patteson in his first race of the season put his Priority 1 Motorsport car in ninth place ahead of Thomas Hinss who rounded out the top 10. In a race for the Team's Championship with RaceOnOz Motorsport, APIA Racing needed a strong position to hold on to their second place, however they suffered a disastrous session as their highest place getter was Jamie Pyatt in 12th. Tony Binelli suffered a hefty crash on one of his hotlaps and thus could only manage 15th place, while Jack Trooper took 21st place.
Unfortunately for Jamie Pyatt, a technical issue just as the race session began meant that he was unable to complete even the formation lap as he was disconnected from the server.
As the lights went out, it was the pole sitter Shaun Allan who made a poor getaway and was immediately swamped losing three positions in the span of 250 metres as the field made it's way to Hell Corner. Everyone made it cleanly on the run up to Griffins Bend and in a bid to jostle for position before the impossible-to-overtake-on Mountain section, Craig Patteson, Oli McGown and Brodie Steen went three wide into Griffins and with some supreme skill and a bit of luck, all three made it through cleanly as Steen managed to edge Patteson out on the entry to the Cutting.
Iconic tarmac: The field filtered their way though the famous Skyline for the first of 32 laps.
On the exit of the Cutting, Kevin Harris of 2KF1 Racing would unfortunately be the second driver to have early doors after suffering technical issues. Gabriel Sterr and Adam Brown came together at the Dipper resulting in a spin for Sterr and a lengthy wait to rejoin safely in the tight armco-laden section of track.
Meanwhile in the battle for 12th position, Tony Binelli was stuck in a Rondeau sandwich as he looked to attack Sean Rogers, but also defend from Sam Smith behind. In a somewhat strange move, Rogers elected to allow Binelli through on the approach to the Chase, perhaps knowing that he did not have the ultimate pace of Binelli thus not wanting to lose too much time trying to hold him up.
Up ahead and the battle for third place was incredibly tight as Shaun Allan pressured Davy Vandevenne incredibly hard with Machado lurking behind. A healthy slipstream down Conrod Straight saw Allan get alongside the Belgian, however Vandevenne did not yield and the pair went side-by-side through the Chase at over 270 kph! Vandevenne prevailed under braking, however a tardy exit left him vulnerable into the final corner. Steen was yet again able to get alongside and nearly made it an around the outside, but he out-braked himself and dipped a wheel on to the grass, demoting him to fifth as Machado opportunistically snuck past for fourth place.
In the battle for the lead, Michael Stead was putting significant pressure on Chris Stacey, but a game of cat and mouse looked to be unfolding as neither one of them elected to use their push-to-pass systems during the battle. This was due to Bathurst having two long straights on which the system was a viable option, however if one driver uses it out of hell corner, the other can simply boost back past down Conrod, or vice-versa. Unfortunately for Stead, he got out of shape exiting the Dipper and slammed into the barriers and sustained heavy side panel damage to his car. In turn, this allowed Vandevenne through into Forrest Elbow, and rendered him vulnerable to a hard charging Machado down the Conrod straight.
On lap nine the Safety Car was called out after Jack Trooper lost the rear end of his #16 APIA Racing car, smashing into the barrier at Griffins Bend. This would mean that the entire field would bunch up and give drivers a chance to relax and reset before setting off again. Hoping to make the most of the caution period, Tobias Rohner elected to make his pitstop at the end of lap 10 once the pitlane had re-opened. This would mean he'd have to complete at least 21 laps on a single tank of fuel, which is around three laps more than a full tank offered, so fuel saving was first on his priority list upon exiting the pits.
On the resumption of the race, Shaun Allan was forced to defend from Michael Stead on the run to Griffins Bend, however further up the mountain at Reid Park he lost the rear end of his car and slammed hard into the wall resulting in severe damage to his car. Sam Smith would also end up in a bingle after he made a mistake at Sulman Park, again losing the rear of the car and slewing across the track. He did well not to hit any barriers, but the oncoming cars of Gabriel Sterr, Nick Milton and Michael Klein had little room to maneuver around Smith's stricken car. With Sterr and Milton just able to avoid it, Klein unfortunately had no where to go and ploughed straight into the side of Smith resulting in heavy damage.
"Oh, you're letting me through? Are you really letting me through? Thank you!" - Tony Binelli made the move of the race by going between Matthew Wheeler (left) and Sean Rogers at over 270 kph.
Tony Binelli proved to have the biggest Cahones on lap 12 when he overtook both Matthew Wheeler and Sean Rogers on the Conrod straight as Wheeler and Rogers went two wide, the seas parted and Binelli (with the aid of some boost) slotted right between the pair and moved himself ninth to seventh in one swift move.
A couple of laps later saw the first of the scheduled pitstops from the leading group as Matheus Machado came in at the end of lap 14, with Vandevenne coming in a lap later. Brodie Steen had made good work to get up into a net fourth place, and came in on lap 17. The majority of the drivers elected to fit four new tyres as well as a tank of fuel, however on lap 20, both Stacey and Armstrong entered the pits. Stacey took the popular strategy of tyres and fuel, while Armstrong chose to take fuel only. This saved him approximately 28 seconds in the lane and he emerged from the pits in the lead of the race and around 15 seconds ahead of the second placed Stacey.
Further behind Jeremy Talbot were embroiled in a battle for 11th place. Hinss used a superior run out of Hell Corner to get alongside Talbot, but the Kiwi was able to hold his ground under braking for Griffins. Hinss again got a superior exit from Griffins and was able to sweep past Talbot as they pair entered the Cutting as Talbot played it safe to concede the position to the Copenhagen Apex driver of Hinss.
The crucial moment: Armstrong (front) would take only fuel in his pitstop which gave him track position and a healthy lead over Chris Stacey.
For Tobias Rohner, things went from bad to worse when he received a 10 second Stop/Go penalty and then later ran off the road just after exiting the Chase, at which point he entered the pits for a splash and dash after his aggressive fuel strategy wasn't paying off. When it isn't your day, it just isn't your day.
Up the front David Armstrong was doing a terrific job of lapping consistently and limiting the rate at which Stacey could catch him to the bare minimum. However on lap 26 the leaders began to run into traffic. A task that proved incredibly difficult as catching them at the wrong points of the circuit could lead to massive losses in time. This allowed Stacey to gain three seconds on Armstrong between lap 27 and 28.
Further back in the battle for 12th place, Michael Stead's battered car was now being reeled in by Oli McGown and Shaun Allan. McGown was able to use a good slipstream down Conrod to get past Stead going into the Chase, and just two laps later, Allan, having now made extensive repairs to his car, would make his way past Stead on the run to Griffins Bend.
With five minutes remaining in the race, the gap in the battle for the lead was now less than two seconds. With Stacey now closing the gap thanks to some boost and 19 lap fresher tyres, Armstrong would have his work cut out defending. However well placed boost deployments and consistent driving gave him the best possible shot at the win. On the penultimate lap, Stacey used his final allotment of boost to get along side Armstrong down Conrod, and whilst he had a nose in front for a brief moment and in a hairy moment, the pair went side-by-side through the kink and down into the Chase. With Armstrong having the inside line, he was able to maintain position with some late braking a little bit of tyre smoke. With a slightly better exit from the Chase, Stacey tried to attack again going into the final corner, but yet again Armstrong had the answers to Stacey's questions as he assumed the inside and forced Stacey to take the longer route.
The battle for the lead was as enthralling as it was close as it came down to the dying minutes.
The pair entered the final lap as Armstrong had one final allotment of boost up his sleeve. Again thanks to the fresher tyres, Stacey was able to get a slightly better exit out of Hell corner and use the slipstream up the hill. But yet again, Armstrong positioned his car excellently and forced Stacey to the outside and less grippy line. They wen't side-by-side into Griffins as Armstrong held position with Stacey out on the marbles. Heading up the mountain in the lead and with one boost left meant that Armstrong would be hard to beat from here.
As they entered Forest Elbow, Armstrong deployed his extra 50bhp for the final time and pulled a small gap down Conrod with Stacey powerless to react. But, a slightly tardy exit out of the Chase and the final corner saw Stacey back within touching distance, however it was too little, too late as Armstrong crossed the line by six tenths of a second to take his first ever league victory!
By making a risky strategy work, David Armstrong was able to capture his maiden victory at the toughest track of them all. Chris Stacey came home just behind, while Brodie Steen drove an impeccable race and avoid incidents to take the final step on the podium.
David Armstrong | Independent - 1st Place
Q1. Congratulations David, you are now officially a race winner! How does it feel to have won the hardest race on the calendar in such a close and intense battle for the lead?
A. "I'm absolutely rapt, it's the highlight of my online racing career! It's taken me 10 years, but to finally pull off a league win is simply amazing, especially at such an iconic and difficult Aussie circuit. Having to push to the absolute limit to fend off Stacey in the closing laps makes it all the more special."
Q2. Your strategy was inevitably what helped put you in a position to win today, however the laps you were able to put together over the course of the second stint was incredibly impressive, especially when trying to defend from Stacey on fresher tyres. Take us through your race!
A. "I'd decided days before the race that not changing tires was the faster strategy, as long as you didn't make any mistakes on the worn tires of course. Easier said than done, because the slightest mistake here at Bathurst can send you into the wall and end your race. I was stoked to qualify in 3rd, but I didn't get a good start and I couldn't get into a solid rhythm either. I had dropped to 7th when the safety car was called. I knew the occurrence of that safety car would scare most of the front runners into changing their tires, and I was not going to be satisfied finishing where I was, so I decided to take a big risk and stick with my original strategy.
"After my stop I was comfortably in 1st, so I turned off all my timing info, put my head down and managed to churn out some really good laps despite the worn tires. When Chris Stacey did catch me at the end, I thought I was mincemeat, but defensively I managed to out brake him into The Chase which was probably the single most satisfying move I've ever pulled off. I had to go defensive again over the next couple of corners, but with a boost up my sleeve I was able to hold him off down the final straight for the win.
"It was some intense fighting against a guy I've been racing with over the last two and a half years. Chris is generally a lot faster than me, and he's a top bloke, so beating him out by less than a second is something I'll remember for a long time!"
Chris Stacey | Trident Motorsports - 2nd Place
Q1. Well done on second place today Chris. Just take us through what it was like in the cockpit in those dying minutes of the race.
A. "It was unbelievably intense. Far and away the most intense experience I've had in my six years of SimRacing. I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to be able to catch David in time, and then having to fight through traffic, it all made things very nerve wracking. I was pushing so hard to catch him, but also keeping in mind that this track is so punishing that one single slip up and it'd all be for nothing, so I kept like 0.5% in the tank to keep things as safe as possible whilst still closing the gap. Then going side-by-side through the chase was just insanity, but great driving from both of us got us through cleanly.
I felt kind of annoyed at myself for letting it slip away after controlling the first half of the race the way I did, but I honestly didn't think David was going to be the person I'd be racing to the end. I was keeping a close eye on the gaps to Matheus and Davy as they were my closest competition before the first stop. I got flashbacks of Queensland where I only stopped for fuel and Matheus was able to reel me in to take the win, so I was keen to avoid that happening again. So I just tried to mimic what they did by taking fresh tyres and fuel. Full credit to David on making a risky, but brilliant strategy call. To finish just six tenths away from my first race victory was really tough to swallow, but I'm very happy to see David get the win, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy!
Q2. Second place is still valuable points, so you must be happy to have jumped up a few places in the standings after this one?
A. "Yeah, 20 points is 20 points. I'm not going to turn that down. Obviously I would have loved for that to have been 24 points instead, but it is what it is. I was pretty rotten with myself after Brands Hatch, and really the whole championship in general hasn't gone how I'd hoped (3 DNF's and a bad strategy call in Melbourne really took the wind out of my sails), so to get this result at the hardest track of them all gives me a massive confidence boost going into next season. I'll be giving it everything in 2017!"
Brodie Steen | RaceOnOz Motorsports - 3rd Place
Q1. Well done on taking third place today Brodie! It looked like you managed to survive much of the carnage early on and managed to put in some great laps towards the end there to get ahead of Matheus Machado. Take us through your time on track?
A. "Thanks! The plan for the race was to have a fairly conservative run to secure second in the championship and for the first half of the race it remained that way, though after the pit stop it was a bit of a different story as I could see that the gap remained steady to Matheus. Knowing that I had fresher tyres, the red mist descended when there was a podium result at stake. The chequered flag ended up coming out a lap earlier than expected, so at the time I didn't realise that I'd made a last lap pass using boost... it was a bit of a shame actually, as I was looking forward to a last lap battle as I'd imagine Matheus was saving his boost for the next run up Mountain Straight."
Q2. With this result, you've now locked in second place in the Drivers Championship, congratulations! I'm sure you'd have loved to have been one place higher, but it must be incredibly satisfying to take second place in such a competitive field? Not only that but your team's strong result today means that you have jumped APIA Racing for third place in the teams championship too!
A. "At the start of the season my main goal was to finish in the top 10 of the championship, so I'm over the moon with second place in the title. Massive congratulations to Matheus Machado and the Talking Door Racing team, they've been the class of the field all season so winning both the drivers and teams championship is a very well deserved result. Also, I'm very pleased to have helped get RaceOnOz into P3 in the teams championship, especially as we're only a two car team - huge thanks to Shaun Allan for being a great teammate this season."
"It's the highlight of my online racing career!" - David Armstrong on the race that saw him narrowly hold on to win the most challenging race of the year.
With Matheus Machado wrapping things up in Brands Hatch, a victory was desired but not necessary. The fight to be best of the rest however was a more closely fought affair. With Brodie Steen's terrific drive at Mount Panorama, he secures second place in the championship from Tony Binelli who pipped Thomas Hinss by four points after a disappointing final race from the Copenhagen Apex driver.
So as the chequered flag falls on this season of Stock Car Racing, the drivers will be taking stock, reassessing their prospects and gearing up for next season as we commence for the fifth season of Virtual Stock Car racing here at RaceDepartment!