For die-hard Aussie racing enthusiasts, the idea of driving a Holden or Ford V8 racecar around the iconic Mount Panorama Circuit is likely to be the number one entry on their bucket list.
First used in 1938, the circuit itself is a true piece of Australian racing history. Australians know it as the home of The Bathurst 1000, comparable with the Nurburgring Nordscleife’s 24–Hours race.
But unlike the Nurburgring, which has no speed limit and is open to any driver that turns up with a car, a lap ticket and a road licence for the daily ‘public’ sessions, Bathurst is for the most part a public roadway with a maximum speed limit of, you guessed it, 60km/h.
That’s not to say driving around Mount Panorama at full-tilt in a V8 racecar shod with proper Hankook racing slicks is an impossible dream for everyday folks.
Melbourne-based company ‘V8 Race’ is in the business of putting punters behind the wheel of their very own V8 racecar (without a race licence) at various racetracks around Australia, including the Bathurst circuit.
The cars, while not exactly full-strength V8 Supercars, are specially prepared Falcons and Commodores that run race exhausts, fully adjustable suspension, racing brakes, full roll cages, harnesses and downforce-friendly aero packages.
The engines are tuned ‘road’ V8s with some intake and exhaust modifications, producing 310kW of power. Not only is that around 40kW more than the standard V8 Commodore, but the stripped-out interiors also means that these V8 race cars have around a 250kg weight advantage over their road-going counterparts.
The Hankook 17-inch F200 slicks are worth a special mention, too, as they are the control tyre for the current NZ V8 SuperTourer series (the equivalent of our V8 Supercars) and the highly regarded DTM German touring car series.
Arriving at Mount Panorama to the sound of those V8 racecars roaring down Conrod Straight can be a little unnerving for the uninitiated, but the team at V8Race take the pressure off from the moment you register for the event.
There’s a 20-30 minute drivers’ briefing, which goes through safety, track and racing techniques, before you’re whisked away for a race suit and helmet-fitting session in the pits.
It’s all very smooth and within no time you’re being paired-up with a professional racing instructor – who thankfully rides shotgun to show you everything from the correct racing line through to when to shift gears.
The transmission is a familiar six-speed ‘H’ pattern – unliker the sequential ’boxes of the V8 Supercar racers – and while it’s a short-throw shift action, be prepared to use those biceps.
But if you think the instructors are there to restrict your pace in any way, rest assured nothing could be further from the truth.
These guys will be encouraging you to give it a boot full and use the entire track, from the moment you ease out of pit lane and the track marshal gives you the green light.
It doesn’t matter how many times you sat in your lounge room and watched the V8 Supercars lap the Mountain, there is simply nothing like driving flat out up Mountain Straight with that accompanying V8 roar. It’s certainly daunting, but at the same time exhilarating.
Don’t be alarmed if your instructor grabs the steering wheel as you head into the left-hander known as The Cutting – it’s one of the tightest corners on the track and you’re probably not quite close enough to the wall – “a couple more millimetres – good, that should do it”.
You’re going to love The Esses – it’s unbelievably tight and best to rely on instinct rather than looking at those all-too-close walls.
Best feeling yet, though, is straight after The Dipper and Forrest’s elbow (named after Jack Forrest, a motorcycle racer who scraped his elbow away after dropping his bike on the corner) – the sharp left-hand turn that leads on to the high-speed Conrod Straight.
If you’re bang on the apex here, your instructor will be yelling, “Go, go, go” – so it’s flat-out for what seems like ages – and one of the few occasions when you can sneak a glance at the instruments – where you’ll see 230km/h plus on the speedo, meaning you’re doing around 250km/h before you’ll need to get on the brakes, balance the car and set up for The Chase.
The Chase breaks up Conrod Straight and creates the fastest right-hand bend in Australia, before the final left-hand turn (Murray’s Corner) onto Pit Straight.
Depending on what package you opt for, you can get four laps behind the wheel, followed by two hot laps with one of the instructors – or if you’re lucky, with V8 Supercar legends John Bowe or Allan Grice.
On the day we attended the event, Greg Murphy and Steven Johnson turned up as guest drivers. (Some packages include superbly catered lunch and entertaining Q&As with the drivers.)
These hot laps are something else. While you might have thought you were pushing hard by lap four – these guys take it to a level you didn’t think possible. And you can tell they love every second of it.