The Unemployment Relief Project
We can thank the foresight of the Bathurst City Council for establishing arguably the best race track in the world. During the Great Depression, then Mayor Martin Griffin fostered the idea of creating a scenic road to the crest of Bald Hills, a few kilometres to the south-west of Bathurst city. The idea was create an unemployment relief project, to be funded by a State Government grant, with the possibility of also having the new road double as a race circuit in place of the old and unsafe "Vale Circuit".
Wanting to get things right from the start, the Council enlisted the assistance of outside advisers, the resulitng panoramic drive providing spectacular views of the city and the fertile Bathurst plains. A grant by Walter McPhillamy of Orton Park, Bathurst, provided the council with a large area of parkland at the top of the Mount for viewing and tourist facilities. With judicious purchasing and land resuming, these facilities have been greatly added to throughout the circuit over succeeding years by the Council and the Australian Racing Drivers' Club.
The Circuit Is Named
The circuit was judicially named "Mount Panorama", and quickly became the venue for many high profile racing events, of both two and four wheel variety. But the race that stops the nation, apart from the one held in Melbourne that features the four-legged variety, is unquestionably the Bathurst 1000.
This event, under various sponsorships, first came to Bathurst from Phillip Island (Victoria) on the Labor Day holiday weekend of 1963. Mount Panorama came of age in 1987 with the staging of the James Hardie 1000 as a round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship. Millions of dollars were spent on upgrading the circuit and its facilities.
The first major track change since the track was initially opened came into use at this event, with the Caltex Chase, a chicane introduced at the braking end of Conrod Straight. Designed by Bathurst City Council Engineer Peter Gannon, this new addition provided a buffer to the entry of Pit Straight as well as a whole new spectator viewing area which has created some spectacular high-speed racing over the years.
The circuit has been the testing ground for a number of Australian world champions over the years. World champion motor-cyclists Keith Campbell (350cc, 1951), Tom Phillis (250cc, 1961), Kel Carruthers (250cc, 1969) and Wayne Gardiner (500cc, 1987) have all raced here. On four wheels, three-time world champion Sir Jack Brabham
(1959, 1960 & 1966) and 1980 world champion Alan Jones
have also raced on the circuit. The 'Mount' presents an exhilarating experience to those who drive or ride around it. It is 6.213 kilometres in length, 874 metres above sea level and has grades of up to 1 in 6.13.