If you enjoy watching motorsport there are lots of race tracks that are famous for spectacular endurance racing and in Australia there is only one track that has the claim, Mount Panorama in Bathurst, New South Wales. While Mount Panorama is well known for the Bathurst 1000 race, it is the perfect place to start the motorsport season in Australia with the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 hour.
In 2016 V8 Supercars bought the rights to promote the 12-hour race. This allowed the V8 Supercar drivers to return which consequently brought a larger audience to the event, attracting a record crowd attendance of 37,079 – a 14 per cent increase on 2015.
The Bathurst 12 hour is now a part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge which is the first-ever global GT3 series, and the first race of the series. Other races in the series include the Total 24 hours of Spa, Belgium and the Sepang 12 hour, in Malaysia.
The Friday practice top spot kept changing throughout the four sessions with McLaren, Audi and Bentley, but the #10A Bentley Continental eventually closed out with the fastest time of 2:3.233. The #48A Interloy Lamborghini Gallardo was the first car to be withdrawn with heavy backwards contact with the wall at Hell Corner.
On Saturday, Shane Van Gisbergen impressed the crowd in the #59A Tekno Autosports McLaren 650S with the fastest time in qualifying with a 2 minutes and 1.286 second lap, beating the qualifying record of 2015 by 1.3 seconds.
Sunday, race day, had an early start of 5:45am with spectacular racing in pitch black conditions. An early crash between the #88A Maranello Motorsport Ferrari and the #62A Maxxia Lamborghini Gallardo occurred at Griffith Bend just 20 seconds into the race, with the rest of the field narrowly missing the two spinning cars.
Just before the two-hour mark of the race the #11A Objective McLaren driven by Warren Luff – who was in second position at the time – collected the wall in the dipper. The contact bent all of the left rear suspension and the left rear wheel folded underneath of the car, taking the Objective team out of the race bringing out the second caution of the day.
After bad luck last year, the #31A Bentley took the lead at the three-hour mark, establishing a nine- second advantage over the #1A Nismo Nissan GT-R over the next nine laps. More green flag pit-stops handed the lead to #36A Erebus Mercedes SLS for one lap before handing it back to the pole sitting #59A Tekno Autosports McLaren.
At the 9.30am mark, the #65I Daytona Sports Cars entry stopped momentarily at flag point two, but was able to get underway again avoiding a safety car. Just moments later, it appeared that a game changer would be at hand – the #59A Tekno Autosports McLaren stopped at the start/finish line, remaining stationary for 45 seconds. It looked like all had gone wrong for the team that had dominated the race so far; however, the McLaren restarted and continued without any further problems.
It wasn’t long before the third safety car of the day was called (9.44am), this time for the #16B ProSPORT Performance Porsche, following contact with the wall at The Chase ripping the rear spoiler off. The entry had earlier pulled off a heart-stopping moment, when Fabian Hamprecht spun right in front of David Reynolds (#36 Erebus Motorsports Mercedes) without hitting any walls or other cars.
The lead was handed back to the #1A Nismo Nissan GT-R when both Erebus SLS cars pitted. The #36A Mercedes was given a meatball flag for knocking over the pit boom that holds the fuel system dropping the Mercedes off the lead lap.
Just before the three-hour mark, the #63A Erebus Mercedes SLS was in the wall at Griffins Bend, with Austin Cindric in the car at the time. The left front tyre blew while going into Griffins Bend, taking the #63A out of the race.
There was ten minutes of racing before the next incident, when the #94I CCV Australia MARC Mazda 3 stopped at The Cutting bringing out the eleventh safety car for the race. A brief green flag period followed before the twelfth safety car was called out after the #69B Patisserie Valerie Porsche made heavy contact with the concrete wall on the top of the mountain.
As the four-hour mark approached the safety car was called for the invitational class leader, the #931 MARC Cars Australia Focus, driven by Aaron Seton, when it became stuck in the gravel trap at the final corner. This allowed the #2A Phoenix Racing Audi to take the lead for the first time.
Just before the five-hour mark, the #49A Viscous Rumour Racing Ferrari 458 suffered a tyre puncture and they weren’t the only team to experience issues with tyres during the race.
It wasn’t long before there was another couple of safety car periods were required, the first after an incident at The Cutting, and the second when the #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini Gallardo took out the #37 Darrell Lea McLaren 650S at Griffin’s Bend.
Drama followed at the restart when the #59 narrowly avoided bodywork laying on the road approaching The Chase.
With just over two hours remaining, five manufacturers were in the top five – Bentley, McLaren, Audi, Nissan and Mercedes Benz. As racing resumed on lap 238, Jonathan Webb in the #59A Tekno Autosports McLaren 650S prepared to handover the car to Shane Van Gisbergen for the final stint of the race, however a pit lane speed penalty ensued.
A de-laminated tyre for the #40A Handley Surveys/Supabarn Audi R8 over the top of the mountain bought out another safety car, giving some luck to the #59A Tekno Autosports McLaren and allowing Shane Van Gisbergen to get back on the lead lap.
With one hour and 17 minutes of the race remaining, only four manufacturers were on the lead lap – Nissan, Audi, Bentley and McLaren. Green flag pit stops occurred for #2A and the #59A on lap 267, with one hour and two minutes remaining in the race, promoting the #59A to third position.
With 45 minutes to go and 276 laps completed, #59A Tekno Autosports McLaren with Shane Van Gisbergen held first, position, the #1A Nismo Nissan GT-R with Katsumasa Chiyo held second position, and the #10A M-Sport Bentley Continental with Steven Kane was in third spot. Van Gisbergen had a lead of 13.116 seconds over Katsumasa Chiyo, which would then become a 1.27-second lead by the end of the race. The #59A Tekno Autosports McLaren finished in first position at the end of the 12 hours of racing with 298 laps completed.
WORDS/PHOTOS: ANDREW BROWNE