We’ve done the Monaco GP with a toddler, that’s actually not a real challenge because toddlers sleep a lot and generally don’t complain all that much. Now we can say we’ve done an entire race weekend with a seven year old and four year old at the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 hour, a far greater achievement in my opinion.
The Bathurst 12 hour is a family friendly event and one of the best things is your general admission ticket basically gives you access everywhere. Including the paddock, where you can all but walk into the pit garages, along with viewing from the Heineken Roof Top Bar and many other vantage points around the track.
The event was awesome and there was essentially nobody there. Speaking to people who had been to previous Bathurst 12 hour races they were telling me how busy it was, but I was like where are all the crowds? However the lack of crowds actually makes the event good for families as you are not struggling through large amounts of people.
On Friday morning we then took advantage of the shuttle bus to the top of Mount Panorama to watch the second practice session from Mcphillamy Park. The bus trip costs $5 return and children under five years old are free. Alternatively you could purchase a ticket to park at the top of the mountain, which cost $5 a day or $10 for the weekend. There was loads of parking available even on Sunday.
Our children enjoyed the playground on top of the mountain and we took turns to watch them and watch the action on the track. Some essential equipment required for children includes a hat, sunscreen, ear muffs, food, and water as it was very hot over the weekend.
We ventured down to The Esses where you are likely to see a considerable amount of action as the cars drop over Skyline and start to descend back down the mountain to Conrod Straight. Thankfully no drivers hit the wall, but there were a couple of near misses including the AMAC Motorsport #51 Porsche.
We took a break from the action on the track to visit the Australian Mineral and Fossil Museum, which is located in central Bathurst. Anyone with a young son will know that dinosaurs are the coolest thing on the planet. This small museum has a varied collection of minerals and fossils from one avid collector, Warren Somerville AM. There is also a full size T-rex skeleton for the children to admire and I was fascinated with the many other smaller fossils on exhibit as well.
After a quick bite of lunch at one of the many cafes/restaurants in town we headed back to the track to watch the end of Practice 3 from Murray’s Corner. This is the final turn before the cars head back onto the main straight.
Then it was back onto the bus and up to the top of the mountain to watch Practice 4. The on track action on Friday also included the LaFerrari and the record breaking lap done by Bernd Schneider in the Mercedes-AMG GT R. Schneider lapped Mt Panorama in 2 minute 16 seconds, the fastest ever lap in a production car and I heard he did a top speed of 304km/hr down Conrod Straight!
Ferrari had a considerable presence at the event, with a large display at the main entry point that included the stunning black LaFerrari, a F12 tdf, a GTC4 Lusso, F40 and a number of 458 Italias, 488 GTBs and California Ts in the compound behind it. These all took part in a number of lapping sessions on Friday and Saturday and hearing those screaming beasts on the track was worth the price of admission in itself if you ask me.
I decided to hang around the Ferrari display because my aim of the weekend was not only to enjoy the motorsport, but to introduce myself to the CEO of Ferrari Australasia, Herbert Appleroth. I succeeded and you can read all about that here.
On Saturday and Sunday we were paying guests in the Mercedes-AMG Lounge. It was located on Level 7 of the Rydges Hotel, which is on the outside of Caltex Chase. This certainly is a lovely way to watch the action on track as it offers a view of the cars coming down Conrod Straight, through Caltex Chase, around Murray’s Corner and back up Mountain Straight and it’s air conditioned!
My husband and I won a hot lap in a Mercedes-AMG C63S around the track. This was a truly awesome experience; attacking the track at some sort of speed, even though the cars were limited to 150km/hr. But going across the top of the mountain and down through the Dipper and Forest Elbow this was plenty fast enough! You can drive around the track when it’s not closed for events, but you are limited to 60km/hr.
We watched the on track action either from the balcony or on the big screen in the room. Practice 5 was held on Saturday morning, then two qualifying sessions, and finally a top ten shootout was held in the afternoon. The #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 took pole position ahead of the #90 MARC Cars Australia BMW M6 GT3.
Race day! It’s always exciting, but for me a little nerve racking as well. How would the children cope? Would they make it through more than 12 hours watching motorsport? I got them up at 4am and by 5am they were in the AMG lounge with my husband.
Where was I? Well there was one thing I had to experience at this event and that was to watch the start of the race from the top of the mountain. The first challenge was getting up there as the shuttle buses didn’t start running until 7am and we did not want to drive our car up there.
I decided that I would walk/jog, but discovered after about 2kms that I was not going to make it in time. Then I saw my knight in shining armour, a NSW Police Officer. Lucky for me he was heading up to the top and so I caught a lift with him and was in position at Mcphillamy Park by 5am
There were many other fans already on top of the mountain as well and when I went back down later I discovered that there were actually more fans up there than down near the pits.
At around 5.30am the first cars awoke. The drivers only got one sighting lap and then formed up for the grid. The Bathurst 12 hour event offers this unique challenge in world GT racing with the race starting in the dark with the drivers having no practice sessions in the dark over the course of the weekend.
5.45am and the race starts behind the Mercedes-AMG C63S safety car. From the top you can see the headlights snaking up through the Cutting and Reid Park and then flash past you at Mcphillamy Park and disappear over Skyline with taillights flashing.
My excitement level was at fever pitch! I love nothing more than the feeling of power as the cars explode past and your senses are on overload with the noise, sight, smell and taste. I’m sure the drivers could see my smile as they flashed by.
The second lap was at full speed. All was quiet and you can hear the commentators through the on track speakers describing the action as the cars round Hell Corner and climb Mountain Straight. Then the headlights appear through the trees and boom the cars flash by again. Check out my video of the second lap here.
The first slivers of sunlight appeared to the east of the track and then the dawn arose in all its glory. This was THE moment for me. I’d seen the pictures and watched it on TV, but I wanted to be there to experience it for myself. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time I was up there.
Once the sun rose I moved around to the Esses, where the cars descend over Skyline. I got some lovely pictures of sparks flying and the sun peaking through the gum trees. Apart from going to Le Mans, I don’t think that there is a better GT racing experience to be had in the world!
I’d agreed with my husband that I would only spend until 7am on top of the mountain and I took the bus back down and headed to the top of Rydges Hotel for the rest of the day’s excitement.
I found my children happily playing in a corner with the various activities they had packed for the trip. We’re not parents who put our children in front of ipads in order to occupy them. They were in charge of packing their own activity bags, so they could not complain to me that I had forgotten to bring something.
My son packed various colouring and activity books and pencils and my daughter packed what can only be described as a box of junk and some colouring books as well. Apart from the appearance of the biggest grass hopper I have ever seen, which kept the amused for a good half an hour and thankfully didn’t bite them, they were able to keep themselves amused for the entire day.
We did venture out to the grass area in front of the hotel where my son proceeded to roll down the hill. I was taking photos and stopping him from rolling through the ‘fence’, which is one way to describe the three strands of wire between us and the track around 3 metres away.
The children really got into the race and my son was going for the ‘aqua car’ (#66 Wall Racing Nissan GT-R) and my daughter was cheering for the ‘pink car’ (#54 Donut King MARC Cars Australia). Every time they saw them they would cheer them on and they were both upset when we told them that their cars were out of the race.
The race ended up being a battle between the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 and the #22 Mercedes- AMG Team STM/HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3. On one of the restarts after a safety car (there were 16 safety car periods over the whole race) Craig Baird tried to overtake on the inside before the control line and ended up turning the Ferrari around and putting it off into the sand trap. This resulted in the Merc getting a ten second stop and go penalty.
With less than an hour to go the Ferrari was leading the Mercedes and it looked like a ding dong battle would ensue right up to the chequered flag. But then an error of judgement of van Gisbergen as he was coming out of Caltex Chase saw him tap the #51 AMAC Motorsport Porsche putting the car into the wall just before the Liqui Moly Bridge and ending the sterling race of Andrew McPherson.
The contact earned van Gisbergen a drive through penalty, but he never made it back to the pits to serve it because he put his car into the wall head on going through The Esses. Van Gisbergen attempted to limp the car back to the pits. But didn’t make it and appeared to park the stricken Merc on Caltex Chase, causing the safety car to be deployed once again.
Maro Engel, one of van Gisbergen’s team mates, was highly critical of van Gisbergen and let rip with a scathing attack on live TV. Van Gisbergen later apologised for his mistake and Engel also apologised for his comments.
From then on it was a relatively comfortable victory for the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 after 290 laps, with the #12 Porsche 991 GT3 R coming in second and #17 Bentley Continental GT3 third.
The only woman in the race, Leanne Tander finished in 30th position in the #94 MARC Mazda 3 V8 with co-drivers Nicholas Rowe, Gerard McLeod, and Tim Leahey after a torrid day on the track.
Did the children survive the 12 hours? The answer is yes, they not only survived they excelled. By the end of the day we were complimented by many people around us on their behaviour and how they couldn’t believe that they had occupied themselves for the entire day.
For a parent this is the ultimate compliment and we were so proud of our two that they got to eat ice cream for dinner that night! Not something I’ve ever let them do before I think?
Fifty two GT cars, three days of on track action, two children and one mountain. We did it and enjoyed ever moment on and off the track. In our world this was a perfect family holiday and we’ve already decided that we will come back again next year. Make sure that you are there to!