Erasing my Bathurst regret
Regret is a horrible thing to live with.
That’s what winning last year’s Bathurst 1000 freed me from.
For five years, I’d wished I could jump in a time machine, back to the last few laps of 2012. I would have fired it down the inside of Jamie Whincup to take the lead on the final lap.
Who knows, maybe I would have crashed spectacularly. Bugger the risk I say, you’ll never know unless you try.
I was this punk kid from Albury, in country NSW, who found himself in the mix to win the greatest race in Australian motorsport. I had a very fast car and was right in behind Jamie, who was winning everything back then.
The opportunity was there to cause an upset, but something held me back.
My left rear tyre was delaminating, making it hard for me coming out of the right-hand corners. I should have put that out of my mind.
Jamie was saving fuel, but I assumed he was playing with me and that he had a lot more pace left in his car. I think I gave him too much respect.
I convinced myself I wasn’t close enough and that I didn’t have a good enough run, because I didn’t want to bomb my first-ever podium in Supercars, let alone my first at Bathurst. I think in the back of my mind, I was happy with second. And that’s how it finished.
Afterwards, Jamie told me he’d given it all he had. Maybe he was just being a nice bloke, or maybe he was telling the truth, but that was the moment the regret set in. Deep down, I know I’d had a bit more left in me.
It’s so easy to say these things in hindsight. If this was hindsight racing, I promise you I’d win every race. This was different.
The experience taught me that when you have an opportunity, you’ve got to take it.
A lot of drivers never get that second chance, but I did. After last year, I regret nothing.
TRYING NOT TO THROW UP
The memory that stands out most from last year’s race is spending the final 20 laps trying not to throw up.
After surviving some of the worst conditions ever at Mount Panorama, I was in the lead. I was dehydrated and the belts in these cars make it feel like you can hardly breathe at times like that.
I was nervous and focused on increasing my lead, while also trying to enjoy the moment – as much as you can enjoy anything when you’re dry-retching!
It’s not a normal experience by any stretch of the imagination and the straights at Bathurst are quite long, so you spend a lot of time at full throttle, with your brain drifting off somewhere else. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what the race meant to me and the emotion of all that had a lump in my throat as well.
In the pits was my boss, Betty Klimenko, who has invested so much into our sport and placed all her belief in me, which I’ll be forever grateful for.
Our story at Erebus is quite phenomenal.
Pit lane is ranked from the best-performing team at the front, to the worst at the back. Betty was standing there in the second last pit, and there we were, about to win the greatest race of all. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
And on top of all that, I was thinking ‘Everyone’s watching, don’t throw up!’
Luckily, I lasted the whole way. Just. If you look at footage of me from after the race, I was so rooted I could barely string two words together. There are all these photos of me holding the Peter Brock Trophy, with barely a smile on my face.
And when I did get the words out I said, ‘I’d like to thank the baby Jesus’.
People are still saying that back to me, 12 months later. Shit, people still remember back in 2006 when I used to joke around, saying hi to Lowndesy’s kids like he did at the end of every interview.
I’ve got no idea who I’ll thank if I win this year. My plan is to not have a plan. Am I actually having a plan, by not having a plan? I don’t know. I’ve confused myself, and everyone else, at the same time here.
If anything, it’s probably just a reason for me to get cracking on starting a family of my own, who I can thank one day. My missus has been putting pressure on me, so she’d probably be supportive of that idea!
I just want to enjoy the occasion, and savour it a bit more than I did last year. And I want to do well for Betty.
She had a knee operation recently and has been cooped up at home for six weeks, because she wasn’t supposed to be putting any weight on it. It’s going to be hard for her to get around and do stuff, but she’s coming anyway.
THE ONLY THING I’M WORRIED ABOUT
I know a lot of drivers set their car up to be fast across the top of the mountain, but I don’t.
I can deal with the car not handling quite as well across the top because it’s not about overtaking up there anyway. It’s usually single file.
You just need to be brave up there, to get closer to the car in front of you. That’s what sets you up to make a pass down the bottom, when you’re 100 per cent throttle. It’s about maximising what you can get out of the simplest turns.
The downside of that is if it’s wet, I might be a bit scared out there. But if it’s dry, we’ll roll out with a bit of confidence, knowing what we’ve achieved at all the other hard-tyre events this year.
The amount of media work I’ve had to do in the lead-up to this race has been the biggest change.
Normally, I’d just be getting asked a few questions about what I think is possible for me at Bathurst. This year, everyone’s asking me how I’m going to win it again. I don’t mind that at all, because what I don’t want is for 2017 to be a one-time thing.
Regret is a horrible thing to live with. That’s what winning last year’s Bathurst 1000 freed me from.
Now I know that winning this race gives you the best feeling you can ever have in life, it’s not something I want to experience just once. This race is bigger than our sport itself.
It’s the top step or nothing for me, and I love that pressure. It just means you’ve achieved something. This is what I’ve worked towards my whole life.
I don’t have the Driver’s Championship to worry about anymore. I’d love to be in the hunt, but I’ve fallen back too far I think. I’m fifth, 619 points back, which is a lot.
So now, I don’t care about that title at all. I really don’t. For me, I’ll be going hell for leather for the win, while some of the other drivers will have one eye on a different race.
All I’ve got to worry about is whether or not those two naked ladies will be back. Let’s hope the weather is a bit warmer for them this year!