SUB PREVENTS UNPRECEDENTED BATHURST ROOKIE DROUGHT

Zak Best, right, looks set to be the only rookie in the 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000. Pics: Supplied

TICKFORD Racing’s decision to elevate Super2 driver Zak Best into its 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000 line-up saves this year’s race from an unprecedented occurrence: a total absence of rookie drivers.

Apart of course from the first running of the enduro at Bathurst in 1963, never has the Great Race grid been completely filled by drivers who have previous history in the event.

That appeared set to occur this December until Tickford opted to replace the US-based Alex Premat with Benalla-born Best amid ongoing uncertainty around international travel.

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Matt Stone Racing’s two seats are now the only co-drives yet to be officially accounted for in the 2021 field, and they are expected to land with Kurt Kostecki and Jayden Ojeda.

Those mooted signings would still leave Best as the only rookie and mean the 2021 race sets a new record for the lowest rookie count ever.

Rookie lows

The current low of just three rookies came 10 years ago, when Nick Percat, Cameron Waters and Tim Blanchard each made their first Great Race start.

Percat of course won that year’s race, becoming the first since Allan Moffat’s co-driver and Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx in 1977 to win the Bathurst 1000 on debut.

Nick Percat celebrates victory in 2011. Pic: an1images.com / Justin Deeley

Four times there have been just four rookies in the race and all of those instances – 2005, 2010, 2014, 2017 and 2018 – have come in the V8 Supercars era.

Rookie highs

Perhaps unsurprisingly the records for the highest number of rookies are dominated by the race’s first decade.

Leaving aside 1963, when all 114 drivers were technically first-timers, the rookie record sits at 59 for the Bathurst endurance race’s second running in 1964.

Next highest was 43 in 1973, the first year the race was extended to 1000km and a co-driver was again made compulsory, while the races between 1965 and 1968 each featured at least 39 rookies.  

Modern era

It’s also logical that the rookie count would have slowed in the modern era due to the greatly reduced field size and, in recent years, strict Superlicence requirements.

Last year though there were still seven rookies, the best of which proved to be 18-year-old Broc Feeney, while there were six rookies in 2019.

Broc Feeney made his Great Race debut on his 18th birthday. Pic: Supplied

The greatest number of rookies in the V8 Supercars era came in 1999, when there were 26 spread among the capacity 55-car field.

The breakdown

To get the full perspective of the declining number of rookies in the Great Race over time, here’s the decade-by-decade breakdown of the average number per year.

1964-69: 43

1970s: 30

1980s: 25

1990s: 19

2000s: 9

2010s: 5

Note: The Super Touring Bathurst 1000s in 1997 and ’98 have been omitted from this decade averages breakdown.

With 33 and 37 rookies respectively, those two races were major outliers and lift the 1990s average to 22 rookies per race.