Drivers from both sides of the V8 Supercar fence have praised the latest safety improvements at Bathurst's Mount Panorama circuit on the eve of this weekend's Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
Holden driver Rick Kelly and Ford's Alex Davison might not agree on much through the season, but both have given the green light to a new section of paving through The Esses on top of one of the most challenging parts of the 6.213km circuit.
Since 1980, the inside of The Esses, just after the cars crest Skyline, has been a deep gravel trap designed to 'catch' drivers who misjudge the corner but, in what is a regular tradition for drivers arriving at the circuit, Kelly and Davison both did several reconnaissance laps of the track today and took particular notice of the changes at that very section.
Kelly, who won the race in 2003 an 2004 and will line-up in his own Jack Daniel's Holden Commodore with his brother Todd this weekend, said that the paving was a 'smart move'.
“It is going to be a big benefit as it will reduce the amount of debris that comes on to the track from the sand trap that has been there in the past,” he said, “There is still a strip of grass there behind the kerb to stop cars going too far over the back of the kerb and gaining an advantage, and that will still bring a bit of dust and debris onto the track but, all in all, I think it is a big step in the right direction.”
Davison, who drivers the IRWIN Falcon for Stone Brothers Racing, said that the previous configuration of The Esses was a notable danger by the end of the 161-lap race.
“In the past, the gravel has not actually stopped the cars and, certainly towards the end of the race, there has been so much debris on the track that it was a serious hazard,” he commented, “More guys had accidents trying to avoid the gravel trap and, with it now sealed, these types of incidents should also be avoided.
“I don't see there being any issue with people trying to deliberately cut through the sealed section as the next corner will be on you before you know it. The way it has been designed - with the kerbing, a grass strip and then the sealed area - it clearly defines The Esses and has not detracted from the character and challenge of that part of the track.”
Practice for the Supercheap Auto 1000 gets underway on Thursday.