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Mount Panorama Circuit - Speed Hunting In Australia

Traveling more than 8,000 miles to the opposite side of the planet for the two-day World Time Attack Challenge in Australia.

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Traveling more than 8,000 miles to the opposite side of the planet for the two-day World Time Attack Challenge in Australia seemed like it would be a wasted opportunity if I simply turned around and flew home after the event. So I decided to spend another five days in and around the Sydney area to see what the local automotive culture was all about.

My journey wouldn't be complete without a suitably fast and fun vehicle to properly explore Australia in. Thanks to the folks over at Mazda USA who contacted Mazda Australia, I had a '10 Mazda MPS (known as the MazdaSpeed3 in the U.S.; rumor has it that you can't use the word "speed" in the names of vehicles in Australia) at my disposal.

Thank goodness the MPS had GPS because the greater Sydney area was extremely difficult to navigate. Even with the nav unit, I must have taken a wrong turn - which usually resulted in a 10-minute detour to get back on track - more than a dozen times. To say it was frustrating would be an understatement. When the locals mentioned that they also have a hard time navigating the city, it made me feel a little better. If you ever travel to Australia, make sure you have some type of navigation available. Otherwise, you'll be driving around in circles. And considering that a lot of major highways have tolls, the more mistakes you make, the more it will end up costing you.

Mount Panorama, Bathurst
Having heard of Bathurst Racetrack as being the premier circuit in Australia, we - this includes Speedhunters.com's Rod Chong and Dino Dalle Carbonare - made the scenic two-hour-plus drive through the mountains to tour the track firsthand. Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathrust is 3.9 miles long and has a whopping 570 feet of elevation change. The track is used primarily for the annual Aussie V8 Supercar race. Otherwise, it's rarely used as a racetrack. Here's the kicker: the entire track is considered a public road, so you can actually drive it! There are even people who have driveways to their homes right off the track. Talk about awesome.

Unfortunately, a strictly enforced speed limit of 60 km/h (37 mph) prevents any hooligan driving from happening, but talking to a local at the top of the track, he mentioned that every once in a while you'll hear the sounds of tires squealing and engines roaring in the middle of the night. Apparently, you can usually get one full lap in before the local authorities rush out to arrest you. I contemplated waiting for sundown to have a chance to blast around this epic track, but decided discretion was the better part of valor.

Even at legal speeds, Bathurst is unlike any track I've driven before. The upper portion has a Laguna Seca-like drop-off that's just wide enough for two side-by-side cars. I can't imagine racing at full clip through this section. One mistake and the wall will eat you up (and any cars behind you). I simply can't explain how cool the track is - you have to experience it yourself. It's truly a sight to behold.

Turbosmart
The next day I stayed a little closer to Sydney and had a chance to take a shop tour of Turbosmart, which manufactures blow-off valves, wastegates, boost controllers and other go-fast parts. I was given the rare opportunity to see the entire manufacturing process. Most companies manufacture their products by using a casting process, but with cast parts come issues of quality control and precision. With billet CNC-cut parts, accuracy can be assured down to the millimeter (Turbosmart manufactures one cast part: the lower portion of the wastegate; otherwise, it's all CNC made). As you can imagine, this is a more time-consuming and costly process, but Turbosmart owner Nicholas Cooper says it's the only way they can ensure the product is going to work right and last 10 years in high-heat and high-stress environments.

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