SERIOUSLY…it’s impossible to pick a favourite for the Bathurst 12 Hour. We defy you. So many variables. So many standout drivers, teams and GT3 cars.
The 2017 Bathurst 12 Hour has the flush and flash entry and all the necessary other ingredients to suggest it could be a race for the ages to be fought on one of the world’s toughest tracks.
The field oozes quality. Formula One drivers of the past, Le Mans winners, Bathurst 1000 winners, Supercars champions, DTM champs, and British touring car championship race winners.
We must go back to the 1987 Bathurst 1000 (which doubled as a round of the World Touring Car Championship) to recall such a stunning roll-call of overseas drivers and great variety of machinery.
The entry list for the Sunday’s race is still a little fluid, but there’s no doubt that 50-something cars will start the race 5.45am on Sunday at Mount Panorama, with the sun struggling to make an appearance over the mountains to the east.
Currently 56 cars are entered, representing 16 different brands and with entries from Australia, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, USA, Japan, Hong Kong and New Zealand.
There’s always fascinating new gear to appraise and admire. New to the race this year are the Merc AMG GT GT3, BMW M6 GT3, Ferrari 488 GT3 and Porsche GT3 R.
What began as a humble “alternative” enduro for production cars in 1991 has evolved into an epic event for (mainly) international GT3 sports cars.
It’s a race growing each year in stature and global motor sporting legitimacy.
Yes, there is still some way to go before it reaches the status of the 24 Hours of Spa and the similar Nurburgring 24 Hours. Or our own legendary domestic race, the Bathurst 1000.
Give it time; it is still relatively fresh to the international calendar. This will be just the seventh time the B12 Hour has been centred on GT3 cars as the outright category.
The outright GT3 class has 36 cars across 10 brands - Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes AMG, Nissan and Porsche will all battle for outright victory.
These are evocative, exotic poster cars with clear visual and technical links to production models.
With the Supercars Australia business now owning 50-percent of the event, and running the Bathurst 12 Hour, the entry is brimming with Supercars regulars, many entered to share potentially winning cars.
Supercars champions Jamie Whincup and Mark Winterbottom are each making their competitive GT3 debuts in the 12 Hour.
Which brings us to the toughest task of all – predicting a winner. There are simply too many dynamic combinations in competitive machinery, but here are some to watch out for.
Whincup joins Craig Lowndes and Finnish factory gun Toni Vilander driving a Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3, with Triple Eight support. Whincup may have stayed away from sports car racing to concentrate on Supercars, but he was instantly quick in his first brief test of the 488, the lone Ferrari in the race.
BMW Team SRM has two fascinating sets of drivers in M6 GT3s. In one is Winterbottom, DTM star Marco Wittmann and four-time Bathurst champ, Steve Richards. In the other M6 is Mark Skaife, talked out of retirement), Tony Longhurst, Russell Ingall (who doesn’t quite know if he has retired or not – apparently not) and ex-F1 star Timo Glock.
Hot Mercedes chances are Kiwis van Gisbergen and Craig Baird hooking up with Maro Engel aboard a factory supported STM AMG Mercedes GT3.
In a similar AMG GT3 entered by powerhouse HTP Motorsport are Pedro Lamy, Paul Della Lana, Mathias Lauda and five times DTM champ and B12 Hour winner Bernd Schneider.
Bentley’s Team M-Sport entries are full factory driver squads – Steven Kane/Guy Smith/Oliver Jarvis in one majestic-sounding Continental GT3 and Andy Souchek/Maxime Soulet/Vincent Ambril in the other.
Nissan won in 2015 and was fast again last year. It’s back with two NISMO GT-R GT3s with a mix of internationals and Supercars regulars. In #23 is cult hero Katsumasa Chiyo with Brit Alex Buncombe and Sydney’s Michael Caruso. Todd Kelly joins Florian Strauss and Jann Mardenborough in car #24.
The only brand to win the race more than once, Audi has confirmed two R8 LMS Jamec-Pem factory combinations, including Garth Tander, twice 12-Hour winner Chris Mies, and Chris. No weaknesses there. Nor in the #75 R8 with Marcus Winkelhock, Frank Stippler and Dutch sensation Robin Frijns.
Porsche hasn’t been a massive threat in recent years but the new Walkinshaw Performance 911 GT3 R is to be shared by Kiwi ace and 2015 Le Mans winner Earl Bamber and super-fast Euros Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor. Another 911 GT3 R, fielded by Competition Motorsport, offers an equally potent line-up of Patrick Long, Marc Lieb, Aussie standout Matt Campbell, and amateur racer David Calvert-Jones.
The best bet of four McLaren entries is probably last year’s winner Alvaro Parente, this time with Rob Bell and Come Ledogar in a Tekno 650S. Three quick drivers in a proven package. The all-local crew of Warren luff/Tim Slade/Alex Davison and Tony Walls should also be thereabouts in their 650S.
Best of luck pulling a fave out of that bunch.
The performance of each individual car is monitored by a system called ‘Balance of Performance’, which uses weight, aerodynamics and engine power to ensure the performance between different cars is as close as possible.
This parity system keeps the diverse types of GT3 weaponry astonishingly close in performance, although the cars are getting progressively quicker each year.
It means cars like the front engined, V12-powered Aston Martin can be on terms with the mid mounted, V10 Audi R8, the V8-powered turbo Ferrari and the rear engined, flat-six powered Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The pole position time has come down by almost 1.4 seconds each year for the last three years, meaning 2017 could witness the first ever sub two-minute lap recorded officially at Mount Panorama. The GT cars are not as fast as Australian Supercars in straightline performance but make up for it under braking and through the corners.
The B12hr has always been one of the most accessible, fan friendly events on the schedule (modest crowd numbers in past years have helped). For 2017 organisers have a new, covered grandstand at turn one and a ‘Glamping’-style Tent City at McPhillamy Park. Another initiative is a rooftop bar above the pits.
The international drivers and teams are drawn to the track. The word is spreading fast. Manufacturers love it too, choosing to link customers and potential clients with their highly desirable products across the weekend. Expect lapping in a lively fashion at the Mountain by Schneider in the green Mercedes AMG GT R that set the record lap at the Nurburgring for a rear-drive road car - and a rare La Ferrari. And one or two other wild and expensive beasts. All in the name of entertainment and brand positioning.
Added to the event for the first time, is a top-10 shootout, sponsored by Pirelli, to be held on Saturday afternoon. The Pirelli Shootout will determine the pole sitter and the first five rows of the grid for the race and will be telecast live on 7mate between 3.30pm and 4.30pm on February 4.
Of casual interest to Australian spectators but of serious importance to teams and drivers, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour doubles as the opening round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, a four-round series of major GT endurance races for drivers and manufacturers that includes the Spa 24 Hour, Sepang 12 Hour and a race at Laguna Seca in the USA.
The race will be broadcast live on 7mate on Sunday, February 5, with the coverage starting at 5:30am and finishing soon after the race’s conclusion, at 6pm.
Live internet streams will allow international audiences to tune in. More than 180 countries watched last year’s race. Steaming is available at www.bathurst12hour.com.au or on Nismo TV, Red Bull TV or via the SRPO Blaincpain site.
Bathurst 12 Hour GT-era winners
Since it became a GT race in 2011, only one brand (Audi) has managed to win the race twice.
2011: Marc Basseng / Darryl O’Young / Christopher Mies (Audi R8 LMS)
2012: Christer Jons / Darryl O’Young / Christoper Mies (Audi R8 LMS)
2013: Bernd Schneider / Thomas Jaeger / Alex Rollof (Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3)
2014: Craig Lowndes / Peter Edwards / John Bowe / Mika Salo (Ferrari 458 GT3)
2015: Katsumasa Chiyo / Florian Strauss / Wolfgang Riep (Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3)
2016: Shane van Gisbergen / Alvaro Parente / Jonathon Webb (McLaren 650S GT3)
Fast facts and stats
The combined winning margin across the 2014, 2015 and 2016 races is just 3.7 seconds.
Closest finish of just 0.4s recorded in 2014 when Craig Lowndes edged the Mercedes of Maximilan Buhk.
The lap record was set by Shane van Gisbergen, driving a McLaren 650S GT3 in 2016 - 2m01.567s. This is also the outright Bathurst circuit lap record.
The qualifying record was also set by van Gisbergen last year at 2m01.2860s.
The record race distance is 297 laps or 1845km – set by the winning McLaren in 2016.
Adult tickets for race day are just $35 and include paddock entry.