Twenty years ago Jason Bright made his Virgin Australia Supercars Championship debut as a fill-in, but ever since then he’s become part of the Supercars furniture and now he will bring up a special milestone at this year’s Watpac Townsville 400.
Bright will become just the fourth man in championship history - joining Craig Lowndes, Garth Tander and Russell Ingall - to compete in 250 championship rounds, a feat achieved via a range of spells with different teams over the years.
He made his debut at Symmons Plains in 1997 in a one-off appearance for Garry Rogers Motorsport filling in for Steve Richards and has since driven for Stone Brothers Racing (1998-1999), Dick Johnson Racing (2000 Bathurst), the Holden Racing Team (2001-2002), Team Brock/PWR Racing (2003-2004), Ford Performance Racing (2005-2006, 2017 as PRA), his own Britek Motorsport (2007-2009) and Brad Jones Racing (2010-2016).
He’ll bring up the milestone on the same weekend that Prodrive Racing Australia - the team he re-joined this season and drove for in 2005 and 2006 under the FPR banner - celebrates its 200th championship round.
Stone Brothers Racing, 1999
“To have this 250th milestone on the same weekend Prodrive has its 200th is kind of crazy actually and I always seem to have milestones that come up when we go to Townsville,” said Bright this week, who started his 500th championship race at the North Queensland circuit in 2015.
“At the end of the day a milestone is a milestone, but when you consider there’s only been a few guys that have reached that number it’s pretty special. I feel like it means I must be doing something right.”
Bright has only missed a handful of rounds since making his first start as a championship full-timer at the beginning of 1998.
He didn’t compete in the 2000 championship given he was racing Indy Lights in the United States, save for a one-off appearance at Bathurst with Dick Johnson Racing alongside Paul Radisich that netted a second place.
Holden Racing Team, 2001
Since returning full-time to Australia with the Holden Racing Team in 2001, Bright has only missed one championship round, at Sandown in 2011, due to a rib injury that forced him to step out of his Team BOC Commodore mid-weekend in the previous round in Tasmania.
“Obviously had I not missed 2000 I would have got to 250 faster but I wouldn’t give up the experience I gained in that year," he reflects. "Maybe if I hadn’t got that experience I wouldn’t have lasted this long.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had my time over again. That’s the only way you can look at it. I don’t let hindsight affect how I think about different decisions I’ve made in my career. At the time those decisions were the right decision.”
Bright has won 20 Supercars Championship races during his career, the first at Hidden Valley in 1999 for Stone Brothers Racing and the most recent came in April in 2014 at Pukekohe.
Ford Performance Racing (Prodrive), 2006
But it’s his victory at Pukekohe in 2013, where he won the inaugural Jason Richards Trophy driving the #8 Team BOC Commodore entry that had previously been driven by the late Kiwi, sticks out as Bright’s highlight from his previous 249 rounds.
“The JR Trophy will always remain very special for lots of reasons but that one was certainly the one we really wanted to win in that car that year,” he says.
“Being the inaugural one it was very special, it’s the one that means the most to me. When you talk about this weekend being a milestone of rounds for me, that’s the one event a year where the calculation for the round result (most points in a weekend) really means something.
“It’s difficult to put together the whole weekend at that event and score the most points, but we did that year and won the last race too, so it was extremely special.”
Brad Jones Racing, 2013
Townsville has never been a happy hunting ground for Bright, whose best result there remains a fifth place on Saturday in 2013 with BJR.
It’s one of only five top 10 results he has had from 17 race starts on the Reid Park circuit, however he did score pole position on Sunday in 2014 after the fastest qualifier in the Shootout, Craig Lowndes, received a two grid position penalty.
“We’ve struggled in Townsville the last few years to have a competitive package there,” says Bright.
“The one year we were quite strong (2013) I had that pole and got a drive through penalty on lap one. There was a crash on the first lap and my rear wheels rotated during a pit stop and I got a PLP. That was probably our best chance to get a good result there but it went pear-shaped far too quickly.
“I feel like we’re getting there (this year). We finally got a test day in before Darwin and learnt a bit that day. At Darwin I was much closer to all of my team-mates or slightly in front of them.
“But it wasn’t a round that suited our cars. We’ve done some analysis since then and put it behind us. It hasn’t been the start to the year I had hoped for. We are in that eighth to 19th range that is covered by a couple of tenths (of a second) at the moment.
“When we have a good day we qualify in the top 10, which I didn’t do for most of last year, and on a bad day we’re in the teens. If we can take that little step forward, which I think we can, we’re comfortably in the top 10.”