Rick Kelly may well be hitting speeds in excess of 300km/h down Conrad Straight at this weekend’s Bathurst 1000, but the Jack Daniel’s Racing driver’s journey to the mountain from Victoria was anything but quick.
the strategy of who drives when will be vital to all teams’ chances - Rick
In fact, teamed with brother Todd in the pair’s 1960 FB Holden sedan – the one with fish tails – Rick didn’t break the 80km barrier during the two-day journey that should have taken them one. The brothers’ decade-long journey-to-Bathurst adventures have become V8 Supercars folklore, the pair having driven limousines, towed vintage caravans and made the journey to Mount Panorama in an assortment of retro Holden vehicles.
“We do the road trip every year and this being our last year with Holden, we wanted something cool," said Rick. "We actually had this FB in the shed for the last 10 years and we decided to pull it out.
“It’s got a small motor and a blueberries and cream paint job, and we cruised up here basically doing twice the speed we’re allowed to do in a pitlane. So it took a lot of time. We left 8am Monday and didn’t get to Bathurst until 11am on Tuesday. It was a big trip and we had some very sore backs.
“We’ve done it in Kingswoods and limos. And for some reason everyone jumps on board. We were on the Today Show and Sunrise. I guess it’s because we dress up and have a bit of fun with it. People start asking six months out what we’re going to drive. I guess they’ve come to expect it from us now.”
But the fun and games are all but over now as Kelly prepares for his last Bathurst behind the wheel of a Holden Commodore, Kelly Racing switching manufacturers to Nissan next year. The usual suspects, Team Vodafone and Ford Performance Racing, shape as the favourites for the big race, but Kelly says he wouldn’t be quick to count out HRT or himself.
“It’s a matter now of getting out on the track and making the car nice and comfortable to drive in practice because with this track, if the car is a bit loose it can take away all your confidence,” Kelly said. “And if you’ve got a reliable car, confidence and a bit of luck, anything can happen up here.
“Bathurst is a very difficult place to pass because even if you’re a lot quicker than a competitor, the place where you’re generally fastest is from turn two to Forest Elbow, which is all across the top of the mountain. But everyone is pretty similar from Forest Elbow all the way around to the start-finish line and up to turn two, so it’s pretty tough. It’s a matter of having a good strategy and good speed and making sure we’re up in the top few for the last 40 laps so we can challenge for the top spot.
“If you’re down amongst the dead men with 40 to go, it’s an almost impossible task in front of you.”
The 1000km race – which will see each car use around 800 litres of fuel - is the second race this year where drivers are forced to team with semi-professional co-drivers, Rick teaming again with little known David Russell. As such, the strategy of who drives when will be vital to all teams’ chances.
“The minimum driver laps is 54, so you’ve got to let your co-driver do at least that many laps, and a full stint is about 24-26 laps before you’re out of fuel,” Rick says.
“So that takes up a lot of the strategy and the maximum time you can be in the car is around 3.5 hours. You really need to have your lead driver in the car for as many laps as possible at the end. If you’ve got your co-driver in the car when all the lead drivers are in there, they’re likely to get shuffled back in the pack because they’re not as experienced or comfortable in the car as the main driver. So that’s a massive consideration.
“So if we start a co-driver in a field of lead drivers, he might get pushed around a little bit. Last year, the way we got from the back to the front of the field was by double stinting our co-driver, and I got in the car when a lot of the other co-drivers were still in. I was then able to get us back up to the front. It’s one of those things where you have to be able to change your strategy on the run to capitalise on whatever circumstances arrive.
“We’ll be making at least five pit-stops during the race and as many as seven.”
The two-time Bathurst winner has never won the great race as owner of his own team but with a bit of luck, he’s confident the Jack Daniel’s VE Commodores could be thereabouts.
“Anything can happen at Bathurst,” he says. “There’s a main group of definite favourites – the Vodafone and FPR guys - and another group who can definitely surprise, like us, HRT and SBR.
“Everyone lines up on the grid with a very real opportunity of being able to take that race out because from the minute that flag drops, those opportunities are taken away from cars one by one: someone will make a driver era, a few will have mechanical failures, someone will get crashed into and another will catch on fire. So it’s a very exciting day and very unique. Everyone has a chance at Bathurst, that’s what makes it great.”
The seven-hour race will get under way at 10am (AEDT) this Sunday, October 7.