Mount Panorama is equal parts quiet public road and world-famous race track | The Standard


Mount Panorama, Bathurst, NSW. It’s an iconic motorsport venue, recognised by circuit racing enthusiasts, and sim racers, the world over. It’s also a fairly rare beast in a few respects. The Mount, as the website calls it, is a permanently-in-place, FIA-licenced venue, like Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium or Suzuka International Racing Course in Japan. However, it is also a public road with a strict speed limit for most of the year providing access to things such as residences, businesses and public places, the same as Circuit de Monaco on the streets of Monte Carlo, or Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan. Much of the time you can walk, run, ride or drive around it in either direction like any other scenic road. It’s situated in a regional area and its history dates so far back that its earliest events took place when the road was unpaved. Both of these are characteristics it shares with Circuit de la Sarthe which hosts the most famous endurance race of all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in the countryside of France. Rare for a public road circuit though, almost all of Mount Panorama’s barriers and safety infrastructure stays in place between events. That helps in two ways. Firstly, it hosts a handful of full-course races each year, the biggest two of which are the 12 Hour (currently part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge) and a 1000km (currently in the V8 Supercars Championship). Being such an integral part of Australian motorsport history it has also hosted biennial events that move around the country like the Falcon GT Nationals and the Monaro Nationals. The other benefit of keeping the barriers there is, amateurs like us can compete in some club-level events, including hillclimbs and supersprints where only a section of the road is closed to traffic that day. If the upcoming race has you keen to drive at least some of the track flat-out in person, I recommend looking up the Bathurst Light Car Club. Being that it is, by definition, a street venue, it is owned by Bathurst City Council, with upper levels of government kicking in funds to help keep it up to FIA’s international standards for these tin-top race cars. Also interesting from an economics standpoint is that, similar to the original Nurburgring in Germany opened in 1927, Mount Panorama was constructed as a way to alleviate unemployment. Whereas the Germans knowingly built a long race track and testing ground for automakers, the then-mayor of Bathurst, Martin Griffin – for whom Griffin’s Bend on the track and Griffin Room in the function centre are both named – was coy enough not to reveal his true intention for the construction of a “tourist drive” when seeking to secure funds from the national employment relief scheme. Given its real intentions to host racing events, the project also received strong support from the New South Wales Light Car Club and the Auto Cycle Union. Declared open on March 17, 1938, it began holding motorsport events a month later with the Australian Tourist Trophy for motorcycles on April 16, followed by the Australian Grand Prix for cars on April 18. Looking even further back, the track’s own website acknowledges that “The Mount was called ‘Waluu’, which means ‘to watch over’ and it was from the vantage points now known as Skyline and McPhillamy Park that the young Wiradjuri men would watch over their land and the movements of travellers to and from the valley.” If you’ve ever been there you’ll know why it worked as a great vantage point. The road’s climb up to this area is steep, and the descent beyond it is even steeper. The height difference from the lowest point at the final corner to the track’s peak of 862m above sea level is 174 metres, and the steepest grade is 1:6.13. If that sounds steep, it is, but for the brave (and this year, only for locals) there’s an annual fun run around the track called the Mount Panorama Punish. Those interested in history when visiting can also enjoy a variety of museums operated by Bathurst Council, one of which is the National Motor Racing Museum right near the north-eastern entrance to the track. Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who builds cars in his shed in his spare time.

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