Today represented a once in a lifetime experience—the chance to witness a Formula One car lapping the legendary Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst. It was a chance the AUSmotive Editor was unwilling to let slip.
Shortly after arriving at the track the 2008-spec McLaren MP4-23 showcar fired into life in its pit garage. It was a sign for me to go to the top of the mountain. The section from the Cutting to Forest Elbow is what makes Mount Panorama so special, and it was here I wanted to see the F1 car in anger.
The Esses proved to be one of the better vantage points and after a bit of a wait Jenson Button finally came out for a single installation lap. There was another slight delay of 10–15 minutes before he came back out to complete his flying laps. Button’s quickest time, recorded unofficially, was 1:48.3—some 18 seconds faster than the current V8 Supercar lap record, coincidentally held by Lowndes.
I felt the sensation of speed would be greater across the top of the Mountain at McPhillamy Park and moved there for the rest of the laps.
The tell-tale lifting front wheel entering the left-hander at McPhillamy indicated Lowndes was leaving little in the bank during his V8 Supercar laps. His fastest time was 2:11.
Button was more circumspect, but you could see his pace and confidence grow with each lap in the big V8. Reports suggest his best lap time was some 4-6 seconds behind Lowndes.
Last man out was Craig Lowndes in the F1 car. He too grew in confidence with every lap and posted a best time of 1:49.5.
The sound of the screaming 2.4 litre V8 on the climb up Mountain Straight, through the Cutting and Sulman Park was awe-inspiring. The F1 shrill continued down through The Esses, Forest Elbow and Conrod Straight. It’s a sound that won’t be forgotten easily.
The funny thing is, you get the feeling the F1 car still had a lot to give. Indeed, Button believes a sub 1:40 lap would be possible with more time and fine tuning.
Not too long after the serious action finished the track was re-opened for public use and I enjoyed a few laps before heading home. It was a perfect way to end the day.
I hope the series of pics and videos below offer you a small taste of what the experience was like.