Skaife: Bathurst, the race like no other
WHEN I was little Bathurst was like Christmas morning. You'd wake up and head straight for the TV.
And watch those really important wins through history.
For most Australians, whether you've got a Ford, Holden or Nissan, you've got those very special memories of your favourite driver and your favourite car.
Peter Brock breaking the lap record on the last lap of 1979 and winning the race by six laps is something I will remember forever.
I was 12 and couldn't believe how fast he was going. It's still the biggest winning margin in history.
This is what we live for. That moment when you get to the biggest, fastest, most unforgiving race track with the most tradition and greatest rivalry attached to the weekend.
What this does is give our sport a grand-final status.
Alan Moffat was the first one to almost sacrifice the 'home and away' season, sacrifice the championship, to win the Great Race.
He would put less effort into the normal race meetings and put every single effort into trying to win Bathurst.
Everyone has a different ethos.
We, as a race team, used to have a lap board and about 180 days out we would count down the days until the time the truck had to leave to go to Bathurst.
You knew how important it was for the team to be prepared.
The next part is having your week set up properly. From the time you get there, having all your media requests, sponsor demands, fan requirements all tucked away, so that you don't feel stressed when you get to the Thursday.
Every year is different. We've been to Bathurst where its borderline snowing. We've been to Bathurst when it's been 30 degrees.
It's a public road. You don't test there.
Everybody goes there each year trying to understand the conditions and what works.
You get to Friday afternoon and then it's go time.
You put fresh tyres on the car, and you make little tweaks that will effectively determine where you start Australia's biggest race.
The part that plays with everyone's mind is you want to be the fastest.
I wanted to be the fastest in the first session, I wanted to be fastest in every session and I certainly wanted to be fastest in qualifying.
You want to have people start the race going 'geez, these guys have been quick all week'. It's a mind game.
It builds confidence for your own team - and every other team with a grumpy face down pit lane.
It doesn't matter if you're driving the car like Peter Brock, you need someone with you who's driving as well or better than the rest of the co-drivers.
It's really important the co-driver gets enough miles, enough time in the seat, but also likes the car.
The worst thing that can happen at Bathurst is when you start the day and the car isn't nice to drive; if it's too twitchy and it wants to bite you.
I always say if you start the race with a tiger by the tail at some stage it will bite you. You won't get away with 161 laps without going into the fence somewhere.
Bathurst is the most pressurised top 10 shootout by a country mile.
On the Saturday, you drive out of the pits with new tyres on the car hoping that it's similar to how it was on Friday afternoon in qualifying.
You arrive at a couple of corners thinking 'I'm not sure I'm going to make it around here. This is seriously wild'.
Brock used to say great race tracks have got consequences, and one of the things that makes Bathurst so special is exactly that. If you make a mistake at the top of the hill you're going to hit the fence at 200km/h.
To try and be the fastest you can possibly be you're obviously taking big risks.
We've seen some of the best drivers of all time make mistakes in a top 10 shoot out. We've actually seen Brock spin and hit the fence.
You don't necessarily have to start from pole to win it, but it feels a lot better when you're in the first two rows - and possibly stay out of the chaos.
One of the things that definitely happens at the start of Bathurst is the red mist descends and the drivers behave like it's a 10-lap race.
It's absolutely mad.
It's hard to get a good night's sleep on the Saturday - you do 100 laps, going through every scenario; what may occur; what I might do if this particular driver is in front of me.
You've got to be up so early on Sunday morning, at the track between 4.30am and 5am for the first practice.
As the sun comes up there's time for reflection. I often used to sit having a cup of tea and embrace the circumstance and gravity of the day.
This year is an extra special one at Bathurst. We celebrate 50 years since Fred Gibson and Harry Firth won the race.
Fred basically started my professional career, getting me from the New South Wales central coast and joining him in Melbourne to drive for Nissan.
It's also now been 25 years since Jim Richards and I won that race with the really controversial finish.
Fortunately, 10 years after that we were able to win again and Jim was able to rectify having called the crowd a pack of 'very nice' people in 1992.
Winning your first Bathurst is a proud moment, but to win Australia's biggest race and the year's championship on the same day in 2002 was unforgettable.
It was also nice to come back in 2010, and after all those years of either being teammates or rivals, to actually drive with Craig Lowndes and to win the race again.
He can absolutely win it again.
There's probably six red-hot combinations, and Lowndes (23 starts, six wins) and co-driver Steven Richards (24 starts, four wins) in the 888 Holden are far and away the most experienced and have the best record there collectively.
But for all your planning and preparation you never really know what it's going to turn out like.