American Roger Penske chasing holy grail of Australian motorsport

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

American Roger Penske is out to add the holy grail of Australian motorsport to his incredible tally of big-race victories.

The billionaire founder of DJR Team Penske is known simply as "The Captain" for his decades of dominance of U.S. motorsport as a team owner that includes 16 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 titles and 15 IndyCar championships, and now he is steering for glory at Mount Panorama.

Penske's third assault on Bathurst this month is his strongest yet since entering the Supercars championship in 2015.

Scott McLaughlin arrives at Mount Panorama as the championship leader and on the back of an impressive second-placed finish with co-driver Alex Premat at the Sandown 500 in early September. Fellow New Zealander Fabian Coulthard is also firmly in the championship mix, and he finished fifth at Sandown to show his Ford Falcon has plenty of endurance pace too.

McLaughlin says there's no secret that Penske wants to win the iconic Bathurst 1000.

"It's something he wants to do, obviously; he wants to win everything," McLaughlin said. "That's certainly what he's come to do. The work they've done with Fabian last year and Scott Pye and the year before with Scott Pye and [Marcos] Ambrose, they've worked towards having a successful team.

"We're only a little way through what we want to do and what we want to achieve, but a Bathurst win would be pretty high up in his resume. For me or Fabian to win it for him would be a pretty good dream come true."

McLaughlin, 24, is excited about his chances at Bathurst.

He was firmly in the mix last year before a collision with Holden's Jamie Whincup with 15 laps to go ended his hopes. Whincup would go on to cop a 15-second penalty for his role in the crash, while Tekno Autosports pair Will Davison and Jonathon Webb took advantage for a surprise victory.

McLaughlin says the incident just goes to show how much luck, as well as form and reliability, play a role in the longest Supercars race of the year.

"At the end of the day it's about buying your ticket to the end, to the last 24 laps," he said. "We didn't have a safety car last year until lap 90 so it is basically a sprint race at the end, but all day is about setting up for that last fuel stop.

"We've got a car that is capable of doing the business but, like we see all the time, you could have the fastest car all day and you're not quite there at the end. It's just about making sure you do everything right and be comfortable with not only qualifying speed but race speed."

The championship situation will be an added factor for McLaughlin if he finds himself in a battle for positions at the end of the race.

McLaughlin was aware in the Sandown 500 of the situation of his championship rivals such as Red Bull Racing's Jamie Whincup -- hence he didn't take any extra risks in his pursuit of eventual winners Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway -- but he says "Bathurst is a whole different race in itself, to be honest, I'd put it above most things".

"I really would push to the very end with Bathurst."

Top 10 Bathurst 1000 Driver Pairings

Scott Mclaughlin-Alex Premat (Ford)

Bathurst best: McLaughlin -5th (2015); Premat -2nd (2016)

Championship leader Scott McLaughlin is reunited with Premat after the Frenchman nearly claimed last year's Bathurst 1000 partnering Shane Van Gisbergen. The pair finished second in the Sandown 500, and expect the DJR Team Penske Falcon, with American billionaire Roger Penske's big-race pedigree, to be among the frontrunners.

Cameron Waters-Richie Stanaway (Ford)

Bathurst best: Waters - 4th (2016); Stanaway -12th (2016)

The surprise winners of the Sandown 500 will be under pressure to back up at Mount Panorama, ad that win in Victoria was a first in Supercars for both drivers. Waters just missed a podium at Bathurst last year, while Stanaway ran a creditable 12th in his Bathurst 1000 debut. Don't discount them.

Garth Tander-James Golding (Holden)

Bathurst best: Tander -1st (2000, '09, '11); Golding -Yet to finish

Veteran Tander remains a threat even if his Garry Rogers Motorsport Commodore isn't the fastest car in the field. Fourth place at Sandown shows the 40-year-old can still mix it with the frontrunners when given the chance. Youngster Golding will be hoping for a better outing than on debut at Bathurst in 2016, when he and James Moffat failed to finish. An outside chance due to Tander factor.

Jamie Whincup-Paul Dumbrell (Holden)

Bathurst best: Whincup - 1st (2006, '07, '08, '12); Dumbrell -1st (2012)

The 2012 Bathurst-winning partnership is one of the most enduring and successful in the field. Their sixth-placed finish at Sandown was solid, but Red Bull Racing expects nothing less than a race win at Mount Panorama. Four-time winner Whincup will be hoping for a clean race after last year ended in a late crash that resulted in a 15-second penalty that cost him a podium finish.

Mark Winterbottom-Dean Canto (Ford)

Bathurst best: Winterbottom - 1st (2013); Canto -2nd (2012)

Ford veteran Winterbottom needs a good result at Mount Panorama to salvage a disappointing year for the 2013 Bathurst champion. Winterbottom comes to Bathurst sixth on the championship standings but without a race win all year. Long-time co-driver Canto is a steady hand.

Craig Lowndes-Steven Richards (Holden)

Bathurst best: Lowndes - 1st (1996, 2006, '07, '08, '10, '15); Richards - 1st (1998, '99, 2013, '15)

No driver pairing has more Bathurst wins than the combined tally of 10 for these two veteran drivers. Lowndes has endured a tough season with a third in the opening race of Tasmania his best race finish. He's a Bathurst specialist, however, and can never be discounted from pulling off a win at Mount Panorama.

Shane Van Gisbergen-Matthew Campbell (Holden)

Bathurst best: Van Gisbergen - 2nd (2016); Campbell -Yet to finish

Van Gisbergen's championship defence hasn't got going this year but a maiden Bathurst crown will salvage his season. The Red Bull ace recorded his best finish at Mount Panorama last year, and he looks likely to be a frontrunner again in 2017. Co-driver Matthew Campbell, 22, is unproven at this level, however, and failed to finish in his Bathurst debut last year.

Fabian Coulthard-Tony d'Alberto (Ford)

Bathurst best: Coulthard - 4th (2014); D'Alberto - 5th (2016)

New Zealander Coulthard's most memorable Bathurst moment remains his terrifying high-speed crash on the opening lap of 2010, but he heads to Mount Panorama this year as a leading contender. He and experienced co-driver d'Alberto will be out to improve on fifth-placed finish at Sandown.

Chaz Mostert-Steve Owen (Ford)

Bathurst best: Mostert - 1st (2014); Owen - 2nd (2010, '15)

Mostert has mixed memories of Bathurst, where he claimed a remarkable upset win with Paul Morris in 2014 before a crash in qualifying the next year left him with a broken leg and wrist. The Ford star is getting back to his best after those injuries, and he will be a strong contender with experienced co-driver Owen by his side.

Will Davison-Johathon Webb (Holden)

Bathurst best: Davison - 1st (2009, '16); Webb - 1st (2016)

Last year's champions come to Mount Panorama in somewhat of a funk. Davison is off contract at season's end and yet to secure his future, while team owner and co-driver Webb was involved in a crash at Sandown from which Todd Hazelwood was lucky to walk away uninjured. Both will need a turnaround in fortunes to successfully defend their crown.