Thrifty Bathurst 500 to open 2024 season on February 23-25
Mount Panorama to host championship sprint round for seventh time
Bathurst hosted sprints in 1966, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1995, 1996 and 2021
For just the seventh time, Mount Panorama will host a sprint round when it kicks off the 2024 Repco Supercars Championship with the Thrifty Bathurst 500.
Long the site of the famed Great Race, Bathurst has also staged sprint racing, with the February 23-25 event headlined by two 250km races.
This year's event will see the 2024 Supercars field take to the track for the first time, where several drivers will make their debuts with new teams, including Will Brown’s first race with Triple Eight and Jack Le Brocq's full-time debut with champions Erebus Motorsport.
While the Great Race dates back to 1963 at Mount Panorama, the circuit would host a championship sprint race for the first time just three years later.
What we now know as the Bathurst 1000 was initially held as a 500 mile race between 1963 and 1972, with the 'Bathurst 500' name revived in 2024.
The early years
The Australian Touring Car Championship was contested at one race between 1960 and 1968, with the 1966 race held in Bathurst. It was won by the late Ian 'Pete' Geoghegan in a Ford Mustang, with Geoghegan winning the 1973 Great Race with Allan Moffat.
Sprint events would later be held in 1969, 1970, 1972, 1995 and 1996, before the event was revived in 2021 to open the new season.
Geoghegan dominated the 1969 round, qualifying on pole by over five seconds and winning by a lap over the Porsche of Alan Hamilton. Bob Jane had qualified second, but blew an engine on lap 9. Norm Beechey, meanwhile, didn't even start the race after an accident in practice.
In 1970, Geoghegan took pole position and led the majority of the race, but Beechey powered past into Murray's Corner and won in his Holden Monaro. Two years later, Bathurst's Easter meeting played host to the third round of the 1972 ATCC, with Moffat's Mustang battling with Geoghegan's XY Falcon GT-HO.
Then a five-time champion, pole-sitter Moffat and Geoghegan trailed Camaro star and tyre mogul Jane leading, before the race became a fight between Mustang and Falcon. Geoghegan would win by just 0.6s, a year before he combined with Moffat to win the Great Race.
Over 20 years later, championship sprint racing returned to Bathurst, with the Mountain hosting rounds in 1995 and 1996. The two rounds in the 1990s were dominated by Dick Johnson Racing and Ford, with John Bowe winning both weekends.
Bowe would have to wait until 1996 to add a Bathurst sprint race win to his 1989 and 1994 Great Race victories, with the then reigning champion sweeping the three-race 1996 event.
The 1995 event was significant for DJR, given eponymous team owner Johnson won his final championship race. Johnson won the opener ahead of Bowe and Glenn Seton, and would retire after the 1999 Bathurst 1000.
Johnson’s Race 1 win was followed by a moment he’d rather forget — he suffered a rear wing failure at 280km/h while talking to the Seven Network commentators on RaceCam, and spun off at The Chase. He recovered to ninth, with Mark Skaife victorious for Gibson Motorsport and Holden.
The 1995 event also saw the Coca-Cola Commodores of Wayne Gardner and Neil Crompton collide on the run to Hell Corner in the first race, ruling both Holdens out of the rest of the weekend.
The 2020s revival
The conflict between AVESCO and the Australian Racing Drivers’ Club saw the Bathurst sprint round benched in 1997, before the unified Bathurst 1000 became the sole Mount Panorama round from 1999 onwards.
In 2021, Supercars opted to start the season at Mount Panorama. The event, named the 'Mt Panorama 500', featured two single-driver 250 kilometre races, both of which were won by Shane van Gisbergen.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the absence of the Adelaide 500 and the Bathurst 12 Hour for 2021, but the Mountain stepped in to open a new championship season for the first time.
Van Gisbergen’s march to a second Supercars title began in style with two wins, both in contrasting fashion. Saturday pole man Cam Waters was undone by a power steering issue, leaving van Gisbergen to lead home Chaz Mostert and Will Davison.
The weekend’s flashpoint was a low point for debutants Blanchard Racing Team, which managed to get recruit Tim Slade on the Race 1 front row and in the hunt for a shock first-up podium.
Chasing Davison late on, Slade made an error on approach to Forrest’s Elbow and wiped out his CoolDrive Mustang in dramatic fashion.
Come Sunday, and it was a Waters/van Gisbergen straight fight, with an undercut helping van Gisbergen power past on Mountain Straight and into the lead, which he wouldn’t cede.
In 2024, Bathurst will return as season opener for just the second time.
Van Gisbergen became the sixth driver to win a sprint race in Bathurst, and the fifth driver to add sprint wins to Great Race victories.
Geoghegan and Bowe are the most successful drivers with three sprint wins each. Van Gisbergen slots in behind with two, with Beechey, Johnson and Skaife all one-time winners.
All six drivers are title winners, with Geoghegan, Johnson and Skaife all five-time champions. Beechey, however, never won the Great Race.
Of the seven rounds, five were won by Fords — Geoghegan's Mustangs in 1966 and 1969, his XY Falcon GT-HO in 1972, and Bowe’s EF Falcon in 1995 and 1996. Holdens, meanwhile, won in 1970 with Beechey (HT Monaro GTS350) and van Gisbergen (ZB Commodore).
Mount Panorama will open the 2024 Repco Supercars Championship at Mount Panorama with the Thrifty Bathurst 500. Tickets are on sale now. The February 23-25 event will be broadcast live on the Seven Network, Foxtel and Kayo.