THERE is always plenty of hype surrounding the Bathurst 1000, but what excites me most about this track is driving on one of the world's best and most unique tracks.
The 6.2km Mount Panorama circuit is different to anywhere else I've raced in Australia or during my decade competing overseas.
Nothing else compares to the thrill of driving flat-out across the top of the mountain. I can't wait to get behind the wheel for the first practice session on Thursday.
This part of the track starts at The Cutting at the end of Mountain Straight and there are a series of tight, twisting turns, sweeping fast sections, and 'blind' corners through to Forrest's Elbow.
The track climbs 180-metres from Pit Straight to the top of the mountain, and television coverage doesn't always show how steep the track is or the elevation changes.
However, the circuit is a public road outside race week, and every year thousands of motorists drive around the layout at legal speeds and get a better understanding of the venue.
There is no margin for error driving across the top of the mountain at 'race speed', as I found out in my Bathurst debut in 2005 when I hit a concrete wall.
That was the low point of my six starts in the 161-lap race. My best result to date was second in 2007, and I've also been third on two occasions.
My aim this year is to finish on top of the podium, and I believe my team-mate Cameron McConville and I have a good chance in our Toll Holden Racing Team Commodore.
Tradition and history, much of it created by legends such as nine-times Bathurst champion Peter Brock, and bigger-than-usual television ratings are key factors why this race has grown to what it is today.
Motor racing was first held at Mount Panorama in 1938, and the touring car event began in 1963, firstly over 500-miles, and then extended to 1,000km in 1973.
The timing of this year's race is just days after the Australian Football League and National Rugby League grand finals, and this week Bathurst takes centre stage as the nation's No 1 sports event.
Channel 7's race telecast attracted an average audience of 1.6-million viewers nationally in 2010, and for many of them it was probably the only V8 Supercar race they watched all year. Race day coverage will be 11 hours this Sunday.
Speed television will also broadcast the 2011 event live to the United States for the first time, and triple NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip will be among their commentators.
The high level of media and public interest from outside the traditional motorsport fan base creates extra commercial benefits for teams and sponsors, and manufacturers Holden and Ford, and that's why there is so much pressure to perform.
The HRT presence at Bathurst will comprise three transporters and about 60 staff.
This includes crews to prepare and maintain the HRT cars driven by Cameron and I, and Garth Tander and Nick Percat, along with the Bundaberg Rum Commodore raced by Fabian Coulthard and Craig Baird, and a Fujitsu Series Holden.
Apart from team management, there are other staff to liaise with drivers to get us to media interviews, sponsor functions, and autograph sessions, and organise up to 10 HRT pit tours each day.
Our team uses caterers to keep everyone fed at the track. Most team members work 12-hour days, and sometimes longer if cars need to be repaired.
There will be 18 Holdens and 11 Fords in this year's race, with defending champions Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife among the favorites in a Team Vodafone Commodore.
Strategy and the timing of pit-stops are always crucial, and there have been big changes since V8 Supercars switched from unleaded petrol to E85 ethanol fuel in 2009.
With unleaded petrol, Bathurst usually meant a minimum five pit stops and most cars were capable of 30-lap stints.
Fuel consumption is greater with E85, and 2009 race winners Garth Tander and Will Davison made eight pit stops. My longest stint in that race was 25 laps. In 2010 the winning Lowndes-Skaife team made seven pit stops.
The change to E85 means greater emphasis on saving fuel, especially during Safety car periods, because teams that can stretch their stints and make fewer pit stops than their rivals will have a big advantage.
Regardless of strategy, and variables such as rain, it's important to be among the front group after the final round of pit stops for the sprint to the finish.
CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after round 9):
Jamie Whincup (Holden) 2,145; Craig Lowndes (Holden) 2,053; Shane Van Gisbergen (Ford) 1,716; Rick Kelly (Holden) 1,585; Garth Tander (Holden) 1,548; Will Davison (Ford) 1,544; Mark Winterbottom (Ford) 1,447; Steve Johnson (Ford) 1,411; Alex Davison (Ford) 1,334; Jason Bright (Holden) 1,280. Other: James Courtney
2011 BATHURST 1000 ENTRY LIST
No - DRIVERS - CAR
1. J. Courtney-C. McConville (Toll Holden Racing Team)
2. G. Tander-N. Percat (Toll Holden Racing Team)
3. T. D'Alberto-D. Wood (Wilson Security Falcon)
4. A. Davison-D. Brabham (Irwin Racing Falcon)
5. M. Winterbottom-S. Richards (Ford Performance Racing Falcon)
6. W. Davison-L. Youlden (Ford Performance Racing Falcon)
7. T. Kelly-D. Russell (Jack Daniel's Commodore)
8. J. Bright-A. Jones (Team BOC Commodore)
9. S. Van Gisbergen- J. McIntyre (SP Tools Falcon)
11. G. Murphy-A. Simonsen (Pepsi Max Commodore)
12. D. Fiore-M. Patrizi (Triple F Racing Falcon)
14. J. Bargwanna-S. Price (Jana Living Commodore)
15. R. Kelly-O. Kelly (Jack Daniel's Commodore)
16. D. Reynolds-T. Blanchard (Stratco Racing Commodore)
17. S. Johnson-D. Besnard (Jim Beam Racing Falcon)
18. J. Moffat-M. Halliday (Jim Beam Racing Falcon)
19. J. Webb-R. Lyons (Mother Energy Falcon)
21. K. Reindler-D. Wall (Fair Dinkum Sheds Commodore)
30. W. Luff-N. Pretty (Gulf Western Oil Commodore)
33. L. Holdsworth-G. Ritter (Fujitsu Racing Commodore)
34. M. Caruso-M. Marshall (Fujitsu Racing Commodore)
39. R. Ingall-J. Perkins (Supercheap Auto Commodore)
47. T. Slade-D. Gaunt (Lucky 7 Ford Falcon)
49. S. Owen-P. Morris (VIP PetfoodsCommodore)
55. P. Dumbrell-D. Canto (Bottle-O Racing Falcon)
61. F. Coulthard-C. Baird (Bundaberg Red Commodore)
77. G. Denyer-C. Waters (Shannons Mars Commodore)
88. J. Whincup-A. Thompson (Team Vodafone Commodore)
888. C. Lowndes-M. Skaife (Team Vodafone Commodore)
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