It is Australia’s Great Race, 161 Laps, 1000 kilometres, it is the Bathurst 1000, and with it being the start of the endurance season in 2019, it is set to be dramatic once again!
And with that comes a myriad of storylines!
Defending Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowndes partnering up with Jamie Whincup, who he won the great race with three times from 2006 to 2008, also finishing fifth together back in 2009 despite serving a drive-through penalty early in the race due to an unsafe release in the first pit stop. Lowndes is attempting to win his eighth to get within one victory of Peter Brock at Mount Panorama, Whincup looking to become the seventh driver to win the Bathurst 1000 at least five times.
Then we have Shane Van Gisbergen and Garth Tander together in tandem in what is set to a fabulous combination throughout the endurance season. Then we have Steven Richards, a five-time winner and defending champion reuniting with Mark Winterbottom, who he won the great race with back in 2013.
David Reynolds, along with Luke Youlden, will be searching for redemption in 2019 after Reynolds suffered from heavy fatigue throughout the 2018 Bathurst 1000, surrendering the lead to Craig Lowndes, and preventing the pair from defending their 2017 crown.
And while I could talk about many other storylines, including the wildcard pair from Walkinshaw Andretti United of former Formula One driver and 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi, and six-time IndyCar race winner James Hinchcliffe, the ultimate story of the 2019 Bathurst 1000 will likely centre around six Ford Mustangs, in particular Car No.17 led by defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, with Alexandre Prémat partnering up with him as the endurance season begins in earnest at Round 12 of the 2019 Supercars Championship.
McLaughlin (3008 points) leads the championship by a massive 598 points with four rounds remaining after dominating the field like few have done before, and certainly not in recent years, winning at every circuit on the calendar in 2019, achieving 17 wins, 14 pole positions, and 10 fastest laps from 24 races (23 starts), and with a car that should be mighty around Mount Panorama, McLaughlin knows, along with Prémat, that this is their best chance of claiming their first win at The Great Race, and give DJR Team Penske, formerly known as Dick Johnson Racing, their fourth victory at Bathurst.
Van Gisbergen (2410 points) is second in the standings for Triple Eight Race Engineering, followed by 2014 Bathurst 1000 champion Chaz Mostert (2327 points) for Tickford Racing, who will be partnering with James Moffat for the endurance races, and McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard (2317 points), with Coulthard partnering with Tony D’Alberto for the next three rounds.
Whincup (2140 points) is fifth in the championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering, with Reynolds (2084 points) in sixth for Erebus Motorsport. They are followed by Cameron Waters (1975 points) from Tickford Racing, partnering with Michael Caruso, Nick Percat (1894 points) from Brad Jones Racing, who will be partnered by Tim Blanchard, with 23Red Racing (Tickford Racing) driver Will Davison (1811 points), and fellow Tickford Racing driver Lee Holdsworth (1704 points) completing the Top 10 in the standings, and will be competing in the endurance season with Alex Davison and Thomas Randle respectively.
So, who is going to win the 2019 Bathurst 1000?
The favourites have to be Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat from DJR Team Penske, and given the form that both the team and McLaughlin have shown in 2019 with the Ford Mustang, they could be close to untouchable this weekend!
You sense that the last round in Pukekohe in New Zealand was one of the weaker circuits for the Ford Mustang, along with Symmons Plains, Queensland Raceway (to a lesser extent), and quite possibly Sandown, which will be the third of the endurance events, while Bathurst is arguably on paper the strongest circuit for the Ford Mustang, so despite the ongoing parity adjustments for the Ford, Holden, and Nissan, I still feel like the Ford Mustang, especially in the hands of McLaughlin, will have a huge advantage over their rivals.
I cannot see anyone other than McLaughlin taking pole position for The Great Race, unless McLaughlin makes a massive mistake, and that will be the perfect platform for both McLaughlin and Prémat to surge to victory at Mount Panorama.