THE ultimate test of a driver’s versatility, would be competing two different cars at the same race meeting. This was the challenge John Bowe set himself at the 2015 Thunder Down Under at Sydney Motorsport Park, where he piloted Mustang Sally in TCM and the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour winning Maranello/Il Bello Rosso Ferrari 458 in Australian GT.
“I have driven both quite extensively and I’m extremely comfortable in either,” says JB, “however you couldn’t have two more different cars. About the only thing they have in common is they both have an engine.” Each has a completely different vibe in the cabin. There’s flappy paddle versus stick, the Ferrari needs to be driven very precisely to get the speed out of it. Whereas you’ve got to muscle the Muzzy. “It’s a 40-year-old dinosaur that’s more happy to bite your head off than play ball,” says JB. Being ABS-equipped, you can push the GT’s brake pedal as hard as you like, it also plants the rears out of corners. In contrast, Sally’s brake pedal requires careful modulation and you’ve got to be very gentle on the throttle otherwise you just light up the rear tyres. “It’s like ice skating,” says JB.
One saving grace is that JB likes the Sydney Motorsport circuit and has been a regularly competitor there since contesting his first Group A endurance race at the circuit in 1990. JB needed all the familiarity he could muster, given Friday’s challenging schedule of four practice sessions and two qualifying sessions! Furthermore practice and qualifying for the different categories ran back-to-back! It was go, go, go! He’d pull up the Ferrari, quickly debrief his engineer, then head straight to the TCM dummy grid – who would already be streaming out onto the circuit. “I’ve driven different cars at the one event before,” says JB, “however in all my years of racing, I’ve never had to change cars so quickly, nor qualify them back to back. It was hard to re-set the brain. The Ferrari has massive capabilities, jumping out of it, straight into the Muzzy, it felt all wrong, sliding around, spinning up the tyres.
The reality was I was simply overdriving it.” A fact that became clearly evident come Friday afternoon’s TCM qualifying session; during which JB broke his own TCM lap record and put Sally on pole by a comfortable fourth-tenths. His weekend’s off-track commitments are equally arduous, everybody wants a piece of him. Each day kicks off with his 7:00am arrival at the track and extends to dinner functions most evenings. While much of it is sponsor related (“they make the wheels go ’round – literally,” says JB), there’s also loads of autograph signings, photo posing, along with multiple TV and journo interviews. Nonetheless, JB is genuinely enjoying himself, loves chatting to people, never stops smiling and is loving his racing as much as he ever has. You could say it’s all in a day’s work.
On the TCM side of things, Thunder Down Under was all about the pole and the lap record – with Sally and JB coming away with a perfect report card. Race results included a 1st, 2nd and 3rd, which gave him the round win and extended his championship lead. Check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8Dj482lvqs to watch the in-car footage of JB’s 10th to 3rd charge in Sunday’s nine lapper. Unfortunately it was a tough weekend for the Maranello Ferrari in Australian GT. Electronic control gremlins on Saturday dropped them down to 10th, luckily Sunday was better, with car #88 bouncing back to come home fourth.