I caught up with Garth Tander in between driving stints in an Audi R8 GT3 at last weekend's Bathurst 12 Hour to ask him the usual, and not so usual questions.
RB: You’re driving for Valvoline/Jamec-Pem team here at the Bathurst 12 Hour, what’s it like climbing out of a Supercar and into an Audi R8 GT3?
GT: It’s like comparing a banana with an apple: they’re both fruit but that’s about where the similarity ends. The Supercar is right-hand drive, front-engined, with no ABS or traction control and very little aerodynamic performance and 650 horsepower. The Audi R8 GT3 car is left-hand drive, rear-engined, with ABS and traction control, and a lot less horsepower. So, the way the cars achieve their lap times is chalk and cheese.
RB: And you’re smashing the Supercar lap record around here on a regular lap in the GT3.
GT: Yeah. So, from a driving perspective it’s like starting all over again.
RB: So, is the preparation for the Bathurst 12 Hour the same for you as a Bathurst 1000?
GT: Yeah it is. Although, I probably spend more time going through the more intricate details of the driving techniques of this car, whereas the Supercar feels so natural because that’s my day job and I’ve been doing it for 20 years.
RB: Some drivers have superstitious rituals they do before a race. Do you do anything which gets you in the zone?
GT: No, not really. I used to a very long time ago but then I had a bad race and I figured rituals aren’t any good. I’m not very superstitious at all.
RB: Do you have a pump-up song? Eye of the Tiger, maybe?
GT: [Laughs] Nah. There are a lot of guys that listen to music before they go for a drive, whereas I could be joking around with the mechanics in the garage and then switch on to go into the race.
RB: What about a bit of Adele?
GT: No, it wouldn’t be Adele.
RB: Craig Lowndes told me he sings to himself when he drives in the Bathurst 1000 - Queen’s We Are The Champions is his favourite. Do you have a song you like to belt out while fanging down Conrod Straight?
GT: [Laughing] I have never sung when I have driven a race car, but it certainly does not surprise me that Lowndesy would sing – he is certainly that type of character.
RB: You’ve won the Bathurst 1000 three times – the 12 Hour is about 1800km, how does the racing differ between those two enduros?
GT: The big difference between the 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000 is the variety of the cars out there and in those going for the outright win. You know, the BMW has different strengths to the Audi which has different strengths to the McLaren which is different to the Bentley and the Mercedes. Then also there’s a lot of slower class cars and there’s the different skill level of the drivers. In Supercars everyone is travelling at pretty much the same speed and all drivers have much the same skill set and ability. That’s another area where the two races are much different.
RB: Is it frustrating as a pro driving against amateurs?
GT: Yes, is the short answer, but we know going in that this is not a fully professional race. We know there are amateur drivers of varying degrees of experience here at Bathurst and experience in motorsport in general. But that’s part of the skill of the race – dealing with those challenges that get thrown at you. Yes, it is frustrating losing four, five or six seconds when you get caught behind somebody, but you have to remember it’s the same for everyone.
RB: The Bathurst 12 Hour starts at 5:45am – what’s it like pelting up Mount Panorama in the pitch dark?
GT: I won’t lie - it was a little scary the first time I did it because it is literally pitch-black dark. You’ve only got the road-car lights and you’d think that’d be enough, but at 200+ km/h across the top of the Mountain it’s probably not. Also, a lot of the concrete walls are painted in dark colours and you can’t see them. So, sometimes there’s a toss up between putting in an Australian driver who knows the track well or a European driver who’s done a lot more night driving.
RB: What time did you go to bed?
GT: I was up at 4am this morning, but I got into bed at 7.30pm. I never go to sleep that early so I think it was 9.30pm by the time I fell asleep.
RB: Are you a one alarm setter, or do you set multiple alarms? Did you see Warren Luff’s pic of the multiple alarms set on his mobile?
GT: I saw Wazza’s alarm set-up last night and I thought that’s a good idea so I set three alarms. I texted him and said: can you ring me when you wake up?
RB: Did you get that fear you’d wake up, roll over and the clock would say 10am?
GT: I did have that irrational thought last night just as I was sort of starting to doze off. I thought: Oh $*#@! Have I remembered to set my alarm? So, I jumped up and checked that I had set my alarm. I was worried. Luckily, I wasn’t starting the race this morning so if I slept in it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
RB: Your team mates are newbies to the Bathurst circuit. Have you been revealing all the secrets?
GT: Oh yeah absolutely, because it’s all about us as a team getting the most out of it. So, I helped them as much as I could with our preparation before we started running-in the car about the track and they have been helping me get the most speed out of the Audi as well.
RB: Give us a tip – what’s the secret to getting through the Dipper? I did it once at 3am in a Mitsubishi Triton and got a lock-up. Freaked me out.
GT: [Laughs] The Dipper – you actually turn in a lot earlier than you think. The road falls away from under you and inertia takes over and carries you down the hill.
RB: When you’re not in an Audi R8, you’re in a Garry Rogers Motorsport ZB Commodore. It’s a brand-new Commodore. Have you started testing – what are your thoughts?
GT: We still haven’t started testing yet. The official test is February 16 but under Supercar rules when we build new cars we’re allowed to go to a shakedown. So, we’re allowed to go to our home test track which is Winton on February 14 and do 60km or 20 laps. Then we’ll go to the official test at Sydney Motorsport Park two days later.
RB: Looking forward to it?
GT: Yeah, a new race car is always fun. The only problem with new race cars is they don’t come with a new car smell.
RB: And when you’re not at the helm of the Commodore what’s your daily driver?
GT: My daily drive is a 2017 Nissan Navara ST-X. It’s a company car and comes through the team. I’ve got 15 years of driving HSVs and now having had the Navara it’s very handy. I’ve got a 1969 Chevy Camaro as well, which I get out for cruising.