This is the first of Supercars Hall of Famer Neil Crompton's post-event columns for Supercars.com in 2021. Crompton is an esteemed commentator, broadcaster and former racer. Get some insight into the Repco Mt Panorama 500 from one of the most respected voices in pit lane.
What a way to start the new season. For me, it was great to be back at a racetrack. It’s my natural habitat!
It was refreshing to see fans in the paddock, interacting with drivers, sitting in beautiful weather and feeling closer to normal.
For me, there’s a real moment of truth in motorsport when I get to Mount Panorama. When I drive over the rise on Panorama Avenue leading into the circuit, I see the Mount Panorama sign, and the hairs stand up.
The place still does it to me, and I’ve been going there since 1977. But to still have that adolescent reaction all these years later is telling.
On track, what caught my eye early on was the incredible speed everyone managed straightaway.
February provided vastly different conditions for everyone to deal with 131 days after cars shut down last October.
We went from very much an edge of Winter-Spring time to the back-end of Summer, and that has a huge impact on the surface of the racetrack, and the conditions.
By the time drivers got onto fresh tyres in Practice 2 on Friday, they were very close to being back to the pace they were in October.
By the time they got to Friday afternoon, they were in the high 2:04s. I was a bit surprised by the intense pace; Cam Waters said to me, with a joke and a smile, that, ‘We normally get a year to build up to this’.
I thought that was quite pertinent; we normally have a run and jump before they have to go over the high bar.
It’s so fantastically competitive. The level of driving and engineering is at such a high level. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that everyone was on the pace.
We probably tend to downplay the humanity of the whole thing. It is not an easy thing to do, it is incredibly complex to get to a racetrack with such nuance, and to go out and perform at such a high level is remarkable.
Because the television pictures are so cool, because the onboard cameras are so cool, and the cars have evolved, it may look too easy these days. But we must never forget that it’s not, and you only have to see when things go wrong what that looks like.
I was really hurt for Tim Slade following his Saturday accident. When you’re in exile like he went through last year, it’s painful. He would’ve felt like his career in Supercars was far from over. Your career ebbs and flows. Very rarely do drivers happily walk away. It’s not often that they get to do it on their own terms.
For him to be out of a drive, to return to finish fifth in the Great Race with Scott McLaughlin last year, then to come out last weekend and make such a statement, it was very impressive.
It was against the grain for Tim and his team; it’s near-impossible, in most circumstances, to perform with a brand-new team with a new driver who is race-rusty, working with a new engineer in a new car.
In commentary, I described it as a fairytale which quickly morphed into a nightmare. Regardless, it was really impressive. Tim and Mirko De Rosa, his new engineer, quickly got that car going, under team manager Brendan Hogan. Nothing comes easily, considering the high levels of competition and the adjustability of the cars.
I’ve been involved in this game for a big chunk of my life, and I know what’s required behind the scenes. It was a truly remarkable effort. I remember thinking to myself during one of the sessions, that when Tim was the top Ford driver, that it was a hell of an achievement. They should be very proud amid the frustration.
To end, it was a superb performance by Shane van Gisbergen. It shouldn’t be unexpected when you look at his career trajectory, the amount of driving he has done, across a whole range of different vehicles, across a whole range of different categories.
He’s passionately devoted to the religion of motorsport, at the exclusion of virtually everything else in his life, and it shows in his results.
Critically, he’s only in his early 30s, so he’s in that beautifully harmonious position where he’s vastly experienced, yet he’s still young. He’s full of competitive spirit, but he’s also got a knowledge bank that’s really valuable now.
He’s got a great opportunity to convert this year, but he’d be the first to play the ‘I won’t predict what will happen at the start of the year’ card.
God knows what will unfold as the season pans out. That’s the beauty of Supercar racing.
There’s a lot of racing to come. There’ll be weather, there’ll be politics, there’ll be tantrums, there’ll be drama.
But Shane will be a tough cookie to roll, and his Bathurst performance proved that.