Road Trip to Mount Panorama
2100km of road for 200km of track
By Steve Blackie
This year was the third year Simply Sports Cars ran a Lotus only track day, at Mount Panorama, Bathurst, and after much thought during the past year, I paid almost $1500 (a lot of money for a track day and some meals) and put my name down to go, still not being fully convinced that my stock standard 138hp, 10 year old Elise with road tyres would be completely up to it. I had watched the Australian Greats of touring car racing charge around there for the best part of 50 years, and I knew I was not that quick.
The next question was how to get there. Google Maps told me that it was a 12 hour drive, and that I should go through Grafton, Armidale, Tamworth, Mudgee to get to Bathurst. It should be noted that I had never been to any of these towns including Bathurst, except Grafton. There was also the bushfires in the National Parks west of Grafton, would they be out in time for my trip?
Where to stay in Bathurst? Good old “Wotif” told me that I could stay on the track (not having ever been to Bathurst this was a surprise to me), the Rydges at 1 Conrod straight, so I booked a room for 2 nights.
Tamworth was chosen as the stopping point, but I still waited until closer to the date to book any hotels due to the fires. As it turned out the rain began to fall and the fires went out. Sue decided that she would come with me, so an additional stop would be made in Grafton so we could see her mum.
Having never done a road trip of this distance, 2100km in an Elise before, and now having 2 of us going, the packing was going to be tight but I was surprised as to what you can fit into an Elise if you use all the boot and behind the seats (see pic in the gallery below)
We departed Biggera Waters on a hot sunny Sunday, heading down the M1, one of the least Lotus roads I know, and at Bangalow, we headed inland to Lismore, Casino then south to Grafton, on roads that are a bit more Lotus like. (3.5 hours)
The next morning we headed out of town on Armidale Road to Ebor and then Waterfall Way Armidale, these roads are made for the Lotus – tight and twisting, climbing and falling all the way. The roads were flanked almost the whole way, by fresh, bright green regrowth on trees against the burnt, black trunks of the recent fires, in its own way a very beautiful sight; it showed how resilient Australian bush really is. There were only two damaged bridges along the way where we had to leave the sealed road on gravel bypasses. From Armidale we headed south to Tamworth. It was about 42°C when we got there. I had expected Australia’s Home of Country Music to be a bit run down and quaint with lots of old buildings, it isn’t, it is mostly a modern service town. (4.5 hours)
Day 3. Tamworth to Bathurst, due to the mysteries of the world of TomTom, my GPS, we travelled a lot of small back roads between Tamworth and Mudgee. It was hot, dry and dusty, most with no evidence of rain that we had seen up until Armidale. Farmers were feeding the cattle on the sides of many of the roads, and we ended up with manure on the sides of the Elise. We even passed Ulan mines. Mudgee was like a paradise compared to the country we had travelled through, having green vineyards. From here it was a short trip to Bathurst, this was where I passed a V6 Exige for the only time for the week, it was on a trailer being towed. We arrived in time to wash the manure off, sign on, and to be told that dinner was in pit lane. (5.5 hours)
Dinner was an open air event in pit lane, which would have been nice if it had not been so cold and windy, Sue ended up wearing both my jackets, race gloves and the use of my race suit as a lap blanket to keep warm. Yes I know that when living on the Gold Coast most places seem cold, but it really was.
The morning came soon, and I headed out for my 1st viewing of the track, I had never been around this track not even when it’s being used as a road, I hadn’t realised that you could drive the track as a road after each day’s event, until sitting in the bar at Rydges on Tuesday night when road cars rolled past at 60km in both directions.
As I rolled out of pit lane I was thinking how hard could it be, I had watched hundreds of laps of this track over most of my life. Well I can now tell you TV is no replacement for driving it. It is a lot steeper both up and down, lots of the corners are totally blind, even the the straights have full-blown hills in them that you go over blind. It took 2 to 3 runs to be able to be sure you knew where you were on the track. And super fast, my Elise was getting to about 140km on the pit straights (yes the little straights between the 2 long ones) and somewhere around 190km on Conrod straight (yes not as fast as most of the other cars but I only have 138hp). I enjoyed from Skyline to Forrest Elbow the most, it just sucks you in to go faster and faster and is also the part of the track that power is not as important because you have gravity to help. At the end of the day Sue and I hung around to drive the track at road speeds (60km) on one side of the road, which we both enjoyed. (2 hours track time)
The trip back to Mudgee was a reverse run with that great climb just out of town, but the trip from Mudgee to Tamworth was a new TomTom adventure along Black Stump Way, it had started raining as we pulled out of Mudgee and rained all the way to Tamworth, which turned Black Stump Way into a water park with more puddles than I had ever seen on a sealed road before. (6 hours)
The next morning wasn’t as wet but we decided to go via Glen Innes and the Gwydir Highway to Grafton, just to make sure we didn’t get stuck at those damaged bridges that we had driven around on day two. Soon as we crossed the range it poured with rain and at times we drove in the low cloud. On the way to Grafton there was lots of paddocks of water. (5 hours)
Saturday morning was fine, but we didn’t leave until it started raining around noon, and it continued to rain all the way home, which is the reason that we just came up the A1 (3 hours)
2300km and 23.5 hours of driving later we were home, we averaged more than 330km per day for 7 days, in one of the most basic cars on the planet. Would I do it again? Of course I would, it’s a driver’s car.