The 50th year of Bathurst’s enduro was also one for the ages.
After 30 of the most intense and tension-filled laps in the Mountain’s long history, Jamie Whincup held out attack after attack from V8 Supercars rising star David Reynolds to win the 2012 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 by just 0.3s, in what is arguably the most thrilling finish in the 50 year history of the race.
The result gives Whincup his fourth Mountain success and co-driver Paul Dumbrell his first in a day where their TeamVodadone Holden Commodore was the car to beat – but was never a certainty for a Bathurst victory.
An unpredictable and strategic race ended with a full-on fight for the win during the closing half-hour.
Reynolds got to second place on lap 149 and from there was never more than a Ford-length behind Whincup’s otherwise dominant TeamVodafone Commodore. He attacked and attacked but the defending V8 champion always had a response for the man who until today had never stood on a V8 Supercar podium.
Locked together across the final lap, Reynolds came breathtakingly close to working past, but ultimately Whincup had enough to hold out a charging The Bottle-O Racing Ford to take an incredible win. There was no contact, no panel rubbing – just a fight between the best in the business and a star well on the rise.
The epic closing stages of an fascinating race set a standard that future races will find hard to beat.
Reynolds and Dean Canto were gracious in defeat in the second closest racing finish in Bathurst history, behind only last year’s epic. It was both drivers’ first trip to the Bathurst podium.
Winner Whincup admitted there was little left in the tank – quite literally – when he crossed the line.
“There was half a coke-can left in it,” He grinned on the podium.
“PD (Paul Dumbrell) did an amazing job and he can be my team mate any day.”
Dumbrell – on the verge of total retirement from racing prior to today – quashed talk of quitting with a superb co-driver performance throughout, leading a good chunk of the race’s middle laps.
“What a phenomenal day,” Dumbrell said.
“You could not get a better feeling than what we are feeling right now. J-Dub (Whincup) was just amazing. I would love to partner this bloke again next year and go back-to-back.”
After a day that featured six safety car interventions and strategic calls that cost some the chance of victory, the race was really decided on lap 134 when the leading group of cars, that included Whincup and Reynolds, made their final stops.
With 27 laps left, it would be right on the very edge of the fuel range of the cars but both attacked, gambling on a safety car intervention to ensure they got to the flag.
The Safety Car never came – but in the end it didn’t matter. There was just enough fuel for the pair to battle for the win in what was ultimately an appropriate send off to the Holden-vs-Ford dominated era of the Bathurst classic.
Craig Lowndes and Warren Luff finished third after spending large chunks of their day buried in the field after strategy again cost Lowndes a chance at a sixth Bathurst crown.
The Brock look-alike TeamVodafone Commodore wasn’t even inside the Top 10 with 50 laps left, but a typically tenacious Lowndes Bathurst drive saw him charge through the field and into contention as the race reached its peak.
It was only the time spent dicing in the lower half of the top ten in the race’s middle stanza that cost Lowndes and Luff a chance of a better result.
13 seconds behind the leaders and only 10th after his final stop on lap 136, Lowndes picked off car after car and sliced past the Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney to take third with just three laps to go, giving him yet another Bathurst Podium (his 11th from 19 starts) and Warren Luff his first.
Courtney and Cameron McConville were legitimate contenders all day and finished fourth after Courtney had earlier looked like a realistic shot at victory with just 20 laps left.
With more fuel than his rivals and better tyres, Courtney charged from fourth to second in the run to the flag, before fading to third on lap 149 and ultimately off the podium a few laps later when Lowndes stormed by.
The day’s quiet achievers were the Fujitsu Racing / Garry Rogers Motorsport duo of Michael Caruso and Greg Ritter, who finished fifth.
Car #34 was a feature in the top five for nearly 100 laps of the race and even had a shot at a podium before fading, like Courtney, towards the end.
A strong day for Tekno Autosports saw Jonathon Webb and teenage rookie Scott McLaughlin finish sixth, ahead of Lucky 7 Racing’s Tim Slade and Andrew Thompson.
Their Stone Brothers Racing team mates Lee Holdsworth and Craig Baird were next, Supercheap Auto Racing’s Russell Ingall and Bathurst rookie Christian Klien finishing a very strong ninth in their Commodore.
Running their heritage ‘Tru Blu’ livery, James Moffatt and Alex Davison gambled with strategy in the race’s second half, the call to go off sequence ultimately paying off with a top-ten finish.
A day that had delight for some also gave heartbreak for others.
Polesitters Will Davison and John McIntyre had a torrid day, their TradingPost FPR Ford failing to finish after ultimately breaking a watt’s linkage during a high-speed off at the chase ended their day on lap 131.
But that was just the final point in a day that saw penalities for pit stop infringements and mistakes early from McIntyre that saw the then-leading Ford drop from an early race lead to end nowhere.
Defending winners Garth Tander and Nick Percat were the first big names to fall, Percat crashing out of the race at the Dipper on lap 38. The car was limped back to pit lane and repaired, ultimately classified 25th and last after showing strong speed early on.
Both leading cars from Brad Jones Racing failed to convert pace into results, finishing well down after both the Team BOC and Lockwood Racing Commodore’s spent time in the sand that surrounds Mount Panorama throughout the race.
A solid 14th for David Wall and Chris Pither would be the leading light for the Albury team.
The first of six safety car appearances was brought out on lap 19, when Johnny Reid’s Tekno Commodore broke a gearbox exiting the Cutting.
The second was for a much more serious incident, Steve Owen crashing his VIP Petfoods Ford at Griffin’s Bend on lap 53 immediately following a pit stop.
Owen was battered and bruised but otherwise uninjured from the hefty impact.
Team iSelect’s Taz Douglas and Scott Pye (Engine) and Team Hiflex Racing’s Tony D’Alberto and Dale Wood (Steering arm) were the other non-finishers.
Series Release, Picture courtesy of V8 Supercars