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Button drives Bathurst (with pictures)

NEWS STORY
22/03/2011

Mat Coch writes:

Jenson Button raced around the Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst on Tuesday ahead of the season opening Australian Grand Prix. Taking part in a promotional event that saw the 2009 World Champion swap cars with five-time Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowndes, it was the first time a modern Formula One car has lapped 'the Mountain'.

Taking to the circuit in a 2008-spec McLaren, Button completed five laps and unofficially lowered the lap record by a staggering 18 seconds. "It's a pity that I haven't got more laps in the car because from about turn four onwards, as you get more confidence in the circuit, it will be flat all the way through until you head back down hill," said the Englishman, seemingly not satisfied with his 1:48 lap.

It was then Lowndes turn behind the wheel of his Holden V8 Supercar before turning the car over to Button, the heavy touring car proving a handful for the McLaren driver. "I didn't expect so much grip," he admitted after completing five laps. "It took me a while to get used to it. I haven't hammered a car over kerbs like that for 12 years so it was a new experience for me and something I've missed."

For the thousands of enthusiastic fans who crowded the 6.2km circuit the highlight of the day was local hero Lowndes piloting the McLaren. Lowndes' Formula One ambitions came to an end in 1997 when he returned to Australia after a season racing F3000 in Europe, having been teammate to former Williams driver Juan-Pablo Montoya. Fourteen years later the V8 Supercar driver finally got behind the wheel of a Formula One car, and was immediately impressed by how it compared to his V8. "When I first went out it was the acceleration but when you go through turn two you really realise how much acceleration you have. In comparison the V8 seems to labour up the mountain."

To ensure a level playing field McLaren fitted fresh Pirelli rubber to the MP4-23 ahead of Lowndes' run, the team feeling the need to bring four sets of dries and two sets of wets, despite expecting the car to cover just eight laps between both Lowndes and Button. Dunlop too provided fresh rubber, though it confidently provided just two sets of dry rubber and one set of wets.

While timing was unofficial, Button's lap of 1:48 stands as the fastest ever recorded around the Mount Panorama circuit. When given his chance Lowndes surprised most by lapping the circuit just a second slower in the McLaren, though he was seven seconds faster than Button behind the wheel of his V8 Supercar with a 2:11 lap.

Having first sampled a V8 Supercar in the lead up to last year's Grand Prix, the experience around Australia's greatest circuit has rekindled Button's enthusiasm for the category, going so far as to suggest a possible career once he retires from Formula One. "I've got so many good memories of watching the V8s on TV," he said, "and hopefully one day I get to drive one for real and it not just be four laps."

To check out our Bathurst gallery, click here.

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