Friday, 4.30pm: Glenn Seton is searching for his first Bathurst 1000 victory from 18 starts this weekend and he has started his quest in the best fashion by storming to provisional pole position with one of the quickest V8 Supercar laps ever...
Friday, 4.30pm: Glenn Seton is searching for his first Bathurst 1000 victory from 18 starts this weekend and he has started his quest in the best fashion by storming to provisional pole position with one of the quickest V8 Supercar laps ever turned at the 6.2km Mt Panorama circuit.
Seton's hot time of 2:09.67 could have been even better according to the man himself, leading him to speculate that Mark Larkham's 1999 qualifying record of 2:09.51 was likely to fall in tomorrow's top 15 shootout for pole on the newly resurfaced track.
"I actually buggered it up at the end of mountain straight, but it's a pretty good time nonetheless," he said. "It should get down to low 2:09's and could even get down to high 2:08's in the shootout tomorrow. The new surface is that much smoother and offers that much more grip that the contractors should be congratulated. There has been some debate about the kerbs, but that can be fixed."
The Ford favourite has been cursed at the Bathurst track, having finished only seven of his previous 17 races here, with a second in a Nissan Skyline with John Bowe in 1987 his best result. He was holding a commanding lead in 1997 before a heartbreaking engine failure just nine laps from the end forced him out.
Despite one of his worst season's which sees him languishing in 15th place on the standings coming into this round, the dual Shell Series champion has been quietly confident for some time that the new Tickford Racing Falcon, prepared especially for him and co-driver Steven Richards to race here, was up to the task of breaking his Bathurst duck.
"It's the most comfortable car I have ever driven here," he said. "This year, our results haven't been what they should have been so to come to the icon event on the calendar and win would just be sensational. My childhood dream is to win Bathurst. I have taken myself too seriously for the last 12 months so I have come here this weekend to enjoy this race."
Another purpose built Bathurst Ford was in second place, with Craig Lowndes putting in a sizzler in the new Gibson Falcon. Moments after Lowndes had set his hot time, he outbraked himself at the end of pit straight and spun backwards into the sand trap at Shell Corner.
"I was just trying a little bit harder and went over the limit there," he said. "Thankfully we kept it off the wall and there's no serious damage to the new car. The car is easy to drive, the loop was just me being dumb."
Current Shell Series leader and defending champion, Mark Skaife ensured he and co driver, Tony Longhurst would be in tomorrow's shootout with a typically professional qualifying display in the Holden Racing Team Commodore. Skaife and Seton are the only drivers in the field to boast a perfect record in qualifying for the Bathurst pole shootout every time they have raced here.
While Skaife would love to win Bathurst, he is fully aware of the importance of the weekend to the title fight. With 540 points on offer to the winner here and just 272 separating Skaife, Jason Bright, Russell Ingall and Steven Johnson, crashing out would spell disaster for the title aspirants.
"We would be crazy not to think about the championship. Although this is the biggest motorsport event in the country, it is also the most crucial in terms of the double points on offer here and we will take that in to account in our race strategy on Sunday." said Skaife.
Skaife's nearest rival in the title chase, Bright, was fourth fastest with co-driver, Tomas Mezera in the second HRT car, followed by the John Bowe/Simon Wills combination in the CAT Falcon. Ingall and his Castrol Holden boss, Larry Perkins were sixth fastest. A third Bathurst victory for this combination would give Ingall the upper hand in the championship battle with just two rounds New Zealand and Sandown remaining.
The Steve Ellery/Geoff Brabham Super Cheap Ford was seventh, followed by the Todd Kelly/Greg Murphy Kmart Holden. Last year's winners, Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna were ninth in their Valvoline Cummins Holden ahead of Greg Ritter and Cameron McLean in the second Shell Helix Falcon. Marcos Ambrose and Wayne Wakefield were 11th in the Pirtek Ford.
Ford's best title hope, Johnson, and his co-driver for the weekend, Paul Radisich were 12th fastest after replacing the broken tail shaft suffered in morning practice in the lead Shell Helix entry. The second FTR car of Jim Richards and Dean Canto was 13th, followed by Paul Weel and Tim Leahey in their K&J Thermal Products Ford who made a late dash to squeeze into the shootout. Paul Morris and Alan Stichbury just held on to their spot in the top 15 despite missing a lot of the qualifying session after blowing an engine early on.
While the battle for pole is likely to be hot in the shootout, statistics suggest it won't have a great influence on Sunday's 161-lap race. The past three winners of the Bathurst 1000 have started from tenth or worse on the grid while only eight of the 40 Bathurst races have been won by the pole sitter.
Bathurst V8 Supercar Lap Records: Qualifying: Mark Larkham, (Ford 1999) 2:09.5146 Race Lap: Larry Perkins (Holden 1997) 2:12.3398
Provisional Top 15 1. G.SETON/S.RICHARDS Ford Tickford Racing Ford AU 2:09.6770 2. C.LOWNDES/N.CROMPTON Gibson Motorsport Ford AU 2:09.8533 3. M.SKAIFE/T.LONGHURST Holden Racing Team Holden VX 2:09.9621 4. J.BRIGHT/T.MEZERA Holden Racing Team Holden VX 2:10.2285 5. J.BOWE/S.WILLS CAT Racing Ford AU 2:10.2441 6. R.INGALL/L.PERKINS Castrol Perkins Racing Holden VX 2:10.4869 7. S.ELLERY/G.BRABHAM Supercheap Auto Racing Racing Ford AU 2:10.6664 8. T.KELLY/G.MURPHY Kmart Racing Holden VX 2:10.6836 9. G.TANDER/J.BARGWANNA Valvoline Cummins Race Team Holden VX 2:10.7412 10. C.McLEAN/G.RITTER Shell Helix Racing Ford AU 2:10.8956 11. M.AMBROSE/W.WAKEFIELD Pirtek Racing Ford AU11 2:10.9040 12. S.JOHNSON/P.RADISICH Shell Helix Racing Ford AU 2:10.9073 13. J.RICHARDS/D.CANTO Ford Tickford Racing Ford AU 2:11.3017 14. P.WEEL/T.LEAHEY K&J Thermal Products Racing Ford AU 2:11.3390 15. P.MORRIS/A.STICHBURY Big Kev Racing Holden VT 2:11.4556
Bathurst V8 Supercar action at a glance: Saturday: Top 15 Shootout 10.45-11.50am Sunday: 161 lap (1000km) race 10am-4.45pm