BATHURST, AUSTRALIA: The Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 hour returned to Australia’s iconic race track Mount Panorama for another epic sports car endurance race on February 3-5.
The three days of motorsport consisted of four practice sessions on Friday, final practice and qualifying on Saturday, which included a new edition to qualifying – a top 10 shootout, and 12 hours of racing on Sunday.
Each year this event attracts a bigger drive line up, both locally and internationally, with 177 drivers from 17 different countries participating this year and a larger crowd of spectators to watch drivers on all three days.
The race is broken up into different classes with Class A, GT3, being one of the most well-known categories of racing around the world. Competing brands included Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Nissan, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes, BMW, Bentley and Aston Martin. This class is divided into sub-classes, including Pro for entries featuring all professional drivers, Pro/AM for entries featuring a maximum of two professional drivers and amateur drivers, and Am for entries featuring a maximum of one professional driver and three amateur drivers.
Class B included GT3 Cup cars; this is the domain of Porsche, mostly known for competing in the global Carrera Cup championship.
Class C included GT4 for more production based GT vehicles, which are also cheaper to purchase and run.
And Class I, being the invitational class featuring MARC Cars Australia Ford Focus and Mazda 3, Daytona Sports and other selected production based vehicles.
Both Class A Nisan GT-Rs found the concrete wall at the top of the mountain during practice sessions but were repairable and able to continue racing.
After 3 withdrawals earlier in the weekend, including the Craft Bamboo Racing Bentleigh (before the weekend had begun), the Tekno McLaren 650s #59A after a crash at The Chase, and the R Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage crashing on Mountain Straight, 55 cars started the race.
Fans welcomed the new format of qualifying as the first session allowed all classes to set a fast lap around Mount Panorama. Each team in the top 10 had one lap in which to set the fastest time, and the team that set the fastest lap claimed ‘The Al’ pole position trophy. The battle for the fastest lap was close between two BMW M6s, and a Ferrari, but the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 #88A eventually claimed pole position.
With the Sunday race starting in pitch black conditions at 5.45am spectators were treated to something quite special as a sea of headlights on track raced to the first corner and seeing the red hot brakes as the drivers pushed the cars to the limit.
The first few laps were without issue but it wasn’t long before cars were visiting pit lane for punctures, missing wheels and damage from hitting walls and other cars.
The first safety car was deployed almost 20 minutes into the race when the #74A Jamec Pem Audi spun and faced the opposite direction at The Dipper, blocking the middle of the track. It was soon hit by other cars on both sides before eventually being towed away.
At the restart, BMW took the lead from the Ferrari. There was plenty of overtaking throughout all four classes but the most interesting to watch was the battle for the lead between the #22A STM Motorsport Mercedes AMG, driven by Shane van Gisbergen and the #88A Maranello Motorsport Ferrari steered by Jamie Whincup, making it a battle between V8 supercar drivers.
The most controversial crash occurred just after the fourth hour when the #12A Competition Motorsports Porsche collected the #75A Jamec Pem Audi R8 of Christopher Mies (co-driven by Garth Tander), causing the Audi to spin and the #94I Marc Cars Australia Mazda of Leanne Tander – the wife of Mies’ team mate Garth Tander – with nowhere to go. The #12A Porsche was given a penalty for the contact, that left both Leanne Tander and Mies frustrated by the crash.
Halfway through the race another Safety Car was called for the #7A Castrol BMW M6 after Russell Ingall had a massive crash, hitting the wall all the way from the exit of The Esses through to The Dipper.
During the ensuing Safety Car period, the #48A Interloy M Motorsports X Bow KTM caught on fire before the bonnet flew open, making it difficult for the driver to see in front of him.
The Safety Car was in the lead of the race for a number of times, 13 safety cars had been on track by 2pm following a number of problems for teams that included getting stuck in the gravel trap at The Chase, dramas with transmissions being stuck in one gear, and cars hitting the wall.
Into the final hour, the battle at the front of the race was on between the #88 Ferrari and the #22 AMG Mercedes with Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen putting on another show for the fans around the circuit.
While it was hot on and off the track the #29A Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini caught on fire during its pit stop, however the fire crew acted fast and the team was able to send the car back out on track.
The #22A Mercedes came in for fuel only and ended up ahead of the #88A Ferrari by just 350ms but Whincup, on fresh tyres, reeled in van Gisbergen and took the lead. Soon after, the #22 Mercedes ran into the #51B IMAK Kwikmit Porsche, putting the Porsche into the wall heavily at Turn 22 and bringing out another Safety Car.
Shane Van Gisbergen was given a drive through penalty for the crash but before he could serve the penalty, he crashed again at The Dipper after taking too much kerb. The heavily damage suffered after hitting the concrete wall took the #22 Mercedes out of the race.
The race finished at 5:45pm with Jamie Whincup, Tony Vilander and Craig Lowndes taking the top spot of the podium in the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488. Mark Lieb, Patrick Long, Matt Campbell and David Calvert-Jones, driving the Competition Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R finished in second, and Steven Kane, Oliver Jarvis and Guy Smith in third place in the #17A Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3.