The Bathurst 1000 of 2006 will be forever etched in history as the one “The King of the Mountain” watched from up high and saw his protégé’ Craig Lowndes, alongside a champion in the making, Jamie Whincup, hold the first ever Peter Brock Trophy over the pit lane crowd.
It was the second win for CL, as he’s known, and the first for Whincup after his second place the year before.
Thirty one cars would be entered in this year’s “Great Race”, with an almost even split of Holden and Ford branded vehicles. Ford would field fifteen BA Falcons, the first model after the ill-fated AU Falcon, whilst Holden showcased sixteen VZ Commodores, the final iteration of a design essentially a decade old.
Qualifying was tight and intense, resulting in the top eight cars being separated by under a second, and the top eighteen cars separated by under two seconds.
Again it was almost an even split for the then top two locally made cars, with four Falcons and six Commodores. Of the top five though, just one blue oval branded car would be there, with a former Holden driver, Jason Bright, in second. Provisonal pole had gone to Holden driver Mark Skaife in a blistering 2:06.9764, just a tenth ahead of Bright’s Falcon.
The Top Ten Shootout would see Skaife carry that form onwards, with a 2:07.4221, a full three tenths quicker than Bright. Rick Kelly, New Zealand born Jason Richards and Greg Murphy, all in Commodores, would round out the top five. Eventual race winner Lowndes, driving the Ford BA Falcon, would be beaten to fifth by a mere four one thousandths of a second.
The race itself was held on Sunday October 8. In 2006 it was the ninth race weekend of the then V8 Supercars Championship. It would also prove to be the longest race since 2002. With all 161 laps completed it finished just seven seconds shy of seven hours and a full twenty two minutes longer than the previous year.
A race start incident proved to be crucial in the final results. Pole sitter Skaife went from hero to zero within a half minute, with a clutch failure leaving him battling to get his Commodore moving to race speed. Although he had cleared the first corner he had got as far as the first rise on the road to the top of the mountain, and with heavy traffic behind him an unfortunate Jack Perkins was blindsided, ploughing his Commodore into Skaife’s and forcing him into the wall.
This allowed the second grid spot driver, Jason Bright and his co-driver Mark Winterbottom, to take the lead. However a brake lockup had Bright require a tyre change with just fifteen laps completed. More woe befell the duo with Winterbottom garaging the car on lap 28. A full fourteen cars would fail to finish the 2006 race, with Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe, alongside his mate and co-driver Brad Jones, finishing eleventh.
The race was punctuated by a number of safety car interventions, including one of over twenty minutes after the veteran Kiwi born Paul Radisich, on lap 71, had his Commodore spear into a retaining wall at the Chase. The impact rolled the car onto its side and left Radisich in need of trackside marshal intervention to remove him from his stricken vehicle. Just six laps would be held in that fourth hour of the race.
As seems traditional with the Bathurst 1000, a late race incident played a part in the final standings. Jason Richards also lost control and hit a wall. Laps remaining were just ten. Rick Kelly and Craig Lowndes were dealing with a six second buffer prior to the final safety car call to deal with the Richards car. A fired up Lowndes would lay down the race’s quickest lap on the 158th circuit of the 6.213 kilometres worth of tarmac, and would greet the chequered flag a bare half second ahead of a determined Kelly.
In tumultuous and emotional scenes on the presentation balcony, Lowndes would be in tears as he acknowledged his late friend and mentor, Peter Brock.
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