David Reynolds and Luke Youlden have fought back gallantly at the 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000 to post a solid finish in the 25-car field. The #26 Penrite Mustang sported a one-off livery for the Supercars season, the greatest spectacle in Australian motorsport, finishing strongly in the 61st running of The Great Race.
The 2017 Bathurst-winning combo pushed hard for the 161-lap classic, charging up the totem pole to improve on their 19th place starting position, with only two of the 25 entries manage to make more gains during the 1000km race.
“You go there to win the race, and anything other than a top three you kind of get disappointed, especially when you’ve stood on that podium a few times before, it’s one of the best feelings of the year to be on that podium,” said Reynolds.
“We had a faultless race. Nothing really went wrong, our strategy was pretty good. At best, we could have been 8th or 9th, but we just didn’t have the pace. We kind of knew probably on Thursday that we didn’t have the pace.”
Coming off a strong finish at the previous Sydney Motorsport Park round, Reynolds reunited with Youlden for the first time since the 2019 race, with Youlden better prepared after competing in two sprint rounds in the lead up to Bathurst.
It would be Reynolds’ 15th Bathurst start, his fourth with Youlden as co-driver, yet his first with Kelly Grove Racing, the team pulling the covers off a fresh Penrite Oil livery for the landmark event.
Practice and qualifying
Practice saw six individual sessions across Thursday, Friday and Saturday, totalling four hours of valuable track time. Three of the six sessions were mandated for co-drivers, with the remaining three open to both lead and co-drivers.
Straight out of the box on Thursday morning, Reynolds posted a 2:05.6898 on Lap 14 of 15 laps in Practice 1, with Youlden’s afternoon session seeing him post a 2:06.2777.
The fastest time for the #26 Penrite Mustang came in Friday’s Practice 4, with Reynolds clocking a 2:05.0266 around the 6.213km circuit. Qualifying that afternoon saw him almost match it with a 2:05.0818 lap for 19th fastest, with a 2:04.4933 needed to make the Top Ten Shootout.
Sunday – Race
Luke Youlden stepped aboard the Kelly Grove Racing Mustang for the Sunday morning warm-up after the first afternoon start to the Bathurst 1000. It was Luke who would start the race when the flag dropped at 12:15pm in sunny conditions for the 161-lapper.
“It made sense for Luke to start, as his pace was solid and we knew many co-drivers would be making the start. It meant that we could plan the driver swaps more easily as the race went on, because you never know when there’s going to be a Safety Car or rain – or an echidna as it turns out!”
After battling in the opening stanza, Youlden settled into a rhythm, posting 2:07 lap times as a searing pace was set up front. On Lap 9, an entertaining dice saw Garry Jacobson pass Luke exiting The Cutting, the pair close to the wall in the tight part of the circuit, before the #26 Penrite Mustang snatched the place back the following lap.
The first scheduled stop from the 25-car field saw Jayden Ojeda who came in on Lap 14, Youlden pitting on Lap 15 as Reynolds took the wheel to rejoin in P22. The timing wasn’t perfect when the first Safety Car of the race was called only two laps later, with Thomas Randle’s Mustang in the sandtrap at Hell Corner and almost half of the field taking advantage of the incident to stop.
On the return to green, Reynolds was 16th ahead of Chris Pither, who was passed by Will Davison the next lap as the on-track intensity increased.
Reynolds and teammate Andre Heimgartner then engaged in a furious battle with Russell Ingall, the two-time winner being swamped by both Kelly Grove Racing Mustangs. Climbing up Mountain Straight, Reynolds pushed the Ned Racing Mustang of Heimgartner to help it pass Ingall into Griffins Bend, Ingall staying ahead of Reynolds before David expertly passed him for 15th place on Lap 22 with a superb move into The Cutting.
“I was trying to push him along – I touched him a few times. Like in NASCAR, two cars are faster than one as they share the wind resistance a little,” said Reynolds. “Because our engines weren’t the strongest, only one of us got Russell and I was nowhere near him. I was too slow down the straights, so I had to be sneaky where I got him.”
Both Heimgartner and Reynolds would next fly past Jonathon Webb for 13th and 14th places respectively, Reynolds pitting on Lap 33 before rejoining in 21st. He then charged to seventh position by Lap 50, a huge 12-place improvement on his starting position and the biggest gain of the entire field.
More impressive was that Reynolds was in the midst of managing a sensor issue in the Penrite Mustang, which impacted mapping and performance. “The air sensor failed, and it stuffed up the lambda [air-fuel ratio], so we had to run the car really rich, so I was using a lot more fuel than everyone else.”
Despite this, Lap 54 saw Youlden back in charge of the #26 Kelly Grove Racing Mustang, and as the merry-go-round of stops and strategies played out, saw him climb from 21st after the stop to 14th on Lap 61 and seventh, on the tail of Craig Lowndes, by Lap 64.
The compulsory brake rotor change was completed on Lap 74, Luke staying on board for the next stint and back on track in 16th place following the stop. It was now the halfway point of the race.
Youlden was all over Nick Percat on Lap 86, before pitting on Lap 96 for Reynolds to complete the remaining 64 laps. At the 100-lap mark, the Penrite Mustang was in solid 12th place.
The Safety Car had made only one appearance in the first half of the race but would make five more – appearing in Lap 106 for an echidna on the track at The Cutting – seeing Reynolds dive in for his sixth pit-stop, costing only one position to be 13th when racing resumed on Lap 109.
Dave arm-wrestled with Jack Le Broq to take 12th place before Jayden Ojeda hit the wall at The Esses just as Reynolds was coming by, the Penrite Mustang lucky to avoid any collateral damage – prompting another Safety Car on Lap 113.
This time, Reynolds and Kelly Grove teammate Heimgartner wouldn’t pit, elevating the #26 Penrite Mustang into first position to officially lead The Great Race, yet the air sensor issue had foiled the race strategy. “When I was leading those laps, we still had two stops to home, but everyone behind could do it one stop. We were a few laps short.”
Reynolds managed the field as the lead car for the restart on Lap 117, being passed by eventual winner Mostert on Lap 120 before pitting on Lap 123 as another Safety Car period was called after a crash at Forest Elbow.
Now in 17th, Reynolds came under pressure from Jacobson, before taking 16th when Le Brocq pitted on Lap 137 and climbing to 12th as pit-stops – and a Safety Car after Anton De Pasquale’s car stopped after The Cutting.
The final place was taken when second-placed Shane van Gisbergen suffered a tyre problem and dropped to 18th with only seven laps to go, leaving the #26 Penrite Mustang to finish in 11th place, knocking on the door of a Top Ten finish.
“A Top Ten would’ve been great, by we finished better than we expected when we rolled the car out on Thursday,” said Reynolds. “The crew worked hard, Luke drove well and we look forward to coming back faster next year.”
The 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000 was Race 31 of the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship, the final round of the year which saw Reynolds finish in 18th place on 1270 points despite missing several events.
The first event of next year’s Repco Supercars Championship will take place at Newcastle on the weekend of March 4-6, 2022.