ASH Walsh was given a tough introduction to the world of V8 Supercars endurance racing last year when he crashed on debut at Sandown, but 12 months on things are a little different.
This year not only will Walsh arrive in Bathurst with the experience of placing second in the 2013 Development Series and doing a full endurance season, but the confidence that comes from a good 2014 Sandown run as well.
Last month Walsh pair with Dick Johnson Racing’s Scott Pye to finish as the lead Ford entry at the Sandown 500 as they worked their way up from 19th on the grid to place fifth.
Walsh made up nine of those spots in his stint and had a much better run than 12 months earlier when he locked up his breaks and ran into the tyre wall.
As well as a top five placing – Walsh’s best result in a V8 Supercar race – the #16 Falcon had good race speed, clocking its quickest circuit on lap 149.
Though Walsh had been hoping for a top 10 at the start of the weekend, to end up fifth behind the two Red Bull and Holden Racing Team Commodores did come as a surprise.
“Going into Sandown we expected that it was a race, if we did things right, that we would be in the top 10. But we had a bit of a tough Saturday, so I probably wasn’t expecting to do as well as we did,” Walsh said.
“Once Sunday came though the car was good so we just let it come to us, it just kept getting better and better.”
Walsh and Pye are aiming to translate that sort of speed into practice and qualifying at Bathurst so come next Sunday morning, they are closer to the front of the grid than they were at Sandown.
Yet the focus will not rest on what takes place on Thursday, Friday and possibly in Saturday’s top 10 shootout – the two young talents know it is what they do in the 161-lap race itself that matters most.
Pye received wide acclaim last year after placing sixth in the Bathurst 1000 alongside Paul Morris, while Walsh ran 15th with Tim Blanchard.
“Bathurst is one of those races where it is less important to qualify well, it is a 1000 kilometre race so you have plenty of time to come through the field,” Walsh said.
“But obviously we have got to work hard through the week to get on top of it, we want to get into that top 10 shootout, that is very important to us.
“But if we don’t it is the Bathurst 1000, it is a long race, you are driving for six hours.”
Walsh will be backing up in Sunday’s Bathurst 1000 after doing Saturday’s 250 kilometre Development Series race, but he believes that extra track time will benefit him.
Doing the Bathurst 1000 and pushing for a permanent drive in the V8 Supercars series is a good opportunity for Walsh, but the 161-lap Mount Panorama epic will be special to him for another reason as well.
It gives him the chance to share a race car with a good friend.
“It is a really different opportunity for me because not a lot of people get the chance to race with their mates,” he said.
“It is kind of weird, but it will help with our preparation because in the lead up we talk all the time, that will be an advantage for us.
“Bathurst is one of those tracks that really deserves the utmost respect even though we are pretty confident coming into it. I am lucky I am going to get a lot of laps on the weekend and Scott has been driving really well, hopefully we can be up there.”