Bathurst Autofest 2023

Arby experiences Mount Panorama at full throttle at Bathurst Autofest

Photographers: Mark Arblaster, Warren Hawkless

Mount Panorama is hallowed ground, having been the maker and breaker of hopes and dreams in Aussie motor racing for decades. If you’re into cars and the idea of having a crack at any type of racing on the Mount doesn’t get your blood pumping, you’ve got problems.

That said, opportunities to do so are few and far between, but one of the events that has been lucky enough to score an annual booking is Bathurst Autofest, a two-day street machine-focused shindig that promoter Les Adams has managed to shoehorn into the Mount Panorama calendar.

Getting entered and scrutineered with POR440, my turbo LS-powered Valiant hardtop, was a breeze, and with trackside events running well into the night, most entrants were happy to set up camp on the infield, and powered sites with running water were on offer for those who entered early.

Camping was a very civilised affair. Sure, there was some late-night tuning going on and plenty of after-hours refreshments, but people were mindful both of their neighbours and the fact that driver breath testing was being conducted inside the facility. After all, Mount Panorama is a public road, and there are known consequences for poor decisions on them.

Let’s be straight up: this is an event for people who want to thrash their cars all weekend. Can you race around the Mountain like Craig Lowndes or Peter Brock? No, but you can use part of the track throughout the event, and on Sunday they open the whole circuit for cruising. “One driver reported completing over 127 passes in the roll racing down the front straight,” promoter Les Adams said.

The event’s focus has definitely shifted towards burnouts in the past few years, but you’ll still find some type of track racing to enjoy from the Friday evening right through to Sunday. Most of it is roll racing, with some go-to-whoa action in between.

Cloudless skies and no wind meant a light frost on the Friday night, and temperatures fell to just 4°C overnight. Saturday, however, was glorious, with clear skies and plenty of heat, and it didn’t take long before limiter action and billowing Bridgestones filled the skies above Australia’s V8 heartland.

The massive burnout pad is located in the rear of the pit area, and having not been to the Mount since crewing on a VN Group A back in the day, it was incredible for me to see the work that had been done to the track.

Like any burnout event these days, the list of big hitters ready to do battle was as long as your arm. Instead of the usual skid-comp format of qualifying on Saturday and finals on Sunday, the winner was declared by way of the combined score of both days’ burnouts.

While you may not notice it on TV, the Pit Straight at Mount Panorama has a heavy left-to-right camber, and mid-straight there is a large rise in the middle of the track. We decided to have a couple of cracks at trying to get the new combination in the Val down the road, but the big 92mm turbo came on like a freight train mid-track and had us swinging towards the fences. We could have turned the power down, but where’s the fun in that?

The roll racing is a big part of the event, and the importance of keeping the track in pristine condition means that standing starts aren’t a thing. That meant there was a lot of cheating at this year’s event, but it was still a load of fun. “We want to try and nip that in the bud for next year,” Les cautioned. “We’ve decided to add a shootout to next year’s program, with an LED display board showing time and mph.”

As for the burnouts, like any skid comp, there was some conjecture over the results, so we’re going to go with what we saw.

Craig Bailey in the Warspeed-powered VF Maloo killed it in both his burnouts with some excellent wheel work and the screaming LS on song, putting out massive smoke and revs. Brett Battersby rounded up second place in the big-block HiLux ahead of Bailey, but the overall winner was Ben Simpson in the four-door Datsun 1200, who always puts on a great show and will be King of the Mountain for the next year.

Other standouts would surely include Kayne MacDonald’s blown and injected VL Commodore. This car is just too immaculate to be skidded, but skid Kayne did. While he didn’t get a set off on the Saturday, Kayne’s Sunday burnout had plenty of wow factor. The 8/71-blown, dry-sumped, 428ci Warspeed LS makes 1100hp at the rims on 14psi of boost, and it sang for its life from start to finish – clearly one of the best burnouts of the day.

Kyle Hardy in the blown HQ, MRLOOS, and the tough-as-nails VY Commodore of Matt McCabe both ripped killer skids, too. Big, clean rpm and great driving work made their burnouts awesome to watch, and while they didn’t finish in the tinware, they got the green light from the crowd.

Spectator numbers were a little down this year, according to Les, no doubt due to the Supercars in Newcastle and Street Outlaws at Sydney Dragway. Nevertheless, a number of changes to the Bathurst Autofest program next year will only improve on an already great event.