The Cars That Ate Bathurst
04 March 2019 / Words Mel Keller Photos Mel keller Rob Wilkins Andrew Edgar David Bourne
The MX-5 was launched on 10 February, 1989 to instant acclaim. Over 30 years and four generations, the MX-5 has built a solid fan base to become the world’s most popular sports car. Late last year, Mazda Australia invited all state clubs to join dozens of MX-5 clubs around the globe in gathering MX-5 fans together to celebrate the MX-5’s 30th Anniversary. So how best to celebrate this remarkable milestone? Club Captain Michael Soulos and our club Committee knew it had to be bold. It had to big. It had to be Bathurst.
Since 1938, Mount Panorama Racing Circuit has held a special place in the hearts of Australian motorsport fans. At 6.213 kilometres with 23 bends, the circuit rises 174 metres from Pit Straight to the top of Brock’s Skyline and has been the scene of personal endurance, heart-stopping crashes, and intense tribal rivalry. On race day, V8 Supercars power through The Esses at an average of 220kms/hr before launching off The Dipper and flying down Conrod Straight, topping out at 300kms/hr. David Reynolds attained the official fastest time of 2:06.14 in his Holden ZB Commodore during last year’s Bathurst 1000. The best unofficial time, recorded by Jensen Button in an F1 McLaren, is 1:48.88.
On any other Sunday, Mount Panorama circuit is a dual carriageway public road with a sedate 60km/hr speed limit. You can get around the circuit in just over 6 minutes or you can take all day. The best unofficial lap times for daily drivers are often adjusted for kangaroos, view appreciation, picnics and visits to Mount Panorama Winery. Mount Panorama is a uniquely Australian confluence of blood-pumping motor sport and scenic Sunday drive. It was clearly the best spot for a gathering of MX-5 friends.
The Club sent out word and Michael began arranging Council permits and insurance, notifying the local Police and booking the venue for lunch. Chapter convenors organised day and overnight runs and staked out accommodation. Lesa and Greg Bunn went door knocking for missing merchandise. Mel Keller and Rob Wilkins made the great sacrifice of driving the circuit many, many, many times to select the best photo spots. Finally, all the decisions had been made and all the arrangements in place. Yet - we didn’t know how many people would come. For that, we had to wait.
Many MX-5 Club of NSW members joined overnight runs with the Canberra, Illawarra, Hunter, RPM and Sydney and began arriving in Bathurst late Saturday afternoon. On Sunday morning, the BreakFast Club waypoint run and a Sydney convoy run rolled into town. By 10.00am, members and guests started to gather in McPhillamy Park to prepare for our 11.00am Parade Lap. It was delightful mayhem in the park as Michael and his team from the Breakfast Club arranged the MX-5s into lines by model. Greg’s efforts to hand out Mazda 30th Anniversary caps was akin to being attacked by seagulls. Then Mel bossed everyone together for a group photo. Meanwhile, Rob waited patiently in his eagle’s lair at the Rydges hotel, ready to catch his prey with a telephoto lens.
At 11.00am on the dot, our marshalls took advantage of a break in the traffic and signalled for the first MX-5, a red NA6 to lead the procession onto the circuit. Even as the Parade began, more MX-5s continued to arrive. Twenty minutes later, McPhillamy Park was empty and we had a traffic-stopping, 3.5 kilometre conga line of MX-5s snaking around the mountain. We travelled at a stately pace to ensure a safe distance between each car and many other road users good naturedly pulled over to spectate as we claimed the mountain.
One and a half circuits were completed before cars began to peel off and make their way to the Bathurst RSL for our celebration lunch. Many stayed on to enjoy the circuit for a few more laps including Michael and his marshals doing a lap of honour in the opposite direction.
Meanwhile, at the Bathurst RSL, Lesa Bunn, Pam Estreich and Julie Sando, were armed with their sign on sheets in preparation for the expected 190 guests. When 225 people arrived, additional tables and meals were speedily arranged with grace and good humour. The 30th Anniversary celebration was also an opportunity to raise funds for our nominated Club charity CareFlight. $5 per head was collected from the event registration fee and a quick game of Heads and Tails after lunch brought the total amount raised to $1, 905. The highlight of the lunch was the hugely popular presentation of Life Membership to Stephen Carter (see the upcoming Club Torque for a full report).
So how many MX-5s took part? It took many cups of coffee and at least three attempts at scrolling through the hundreds of photos to count, lose count then count again. In all, 44 NAs, 29 NBs, 56NCs and 33 NDs – a grand total of 162 MX-5s and nearly 250 club members and MX-5 friends took part.
Our thanks go to Mazda Australia for the special edition 30th Anniversary caps and to all our members and supporters for participating in the Parade Lap. We are also grateful to the staff of the Bathurst RSL and to the volunteers who worked hard behind the scenes to ensure a safe and enjoyable weekend.
Images of the event are available for download here:
You can see more images in the next issue of Club Torque