A tough Bathurst 12 Hour all came down to the final hour as Maranello Motorsport held off the charge of Shane Van Gisbergen to add a first place trophy to their emotional qualifying crown, but the race wasn’t without note on-track as well as off it.
While a lot did happen in the first 11 hours, including the early retirement of the Walkinshaw GT3 Porsche GT3 R of Earl Bamber, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor because of a collision with a GT4 car that broke the steering rack, the Australian heat really started to sink in as the race reached the crux.
Going into the final hour and Van Gisbergen in the Mercedes AMG Team STM Mercedes AMG GT3 was leading from Jamie Whincup in the Maranello Ferrari 488 GT3. The pair were nose-to-tail for a good number of laps before Whincup decided the grass looked like a good option and went two-wheels off to drag past the Kiwi on the Conrod Straight and used the power of the Italian GT machine to pull off into the distance.
It would have seemed that a safety car with a tiny fraction of the race left to go would have been reason for excitement. However, a crash into the wall for van Gisbergen right after the track went green meant the Mercedes crew had to retire agonisingly close to the end of the race, and meant Maro Engel blew a fuse. The German stormed out the garage, kicking a stack of tyres and – when collared by Australian TV, said: “It’s not motorsport in my book. All I’ve seen this week is a lot of mistakes from Shane. It’s a tough one.”
Thankfully for team morale, Engel did later apologise for the outburst and SVG also apologised for his mistake.
Back on track, and the safety car period to scoop up the now slightly shorter Mercedes allowed Whincup to regain his composure for what essentially became a 15 minute sprint to the flag.
There was some pressure as the Pro-AM entry of Ice Break Competition Motorsport did a great job to haul itself up to second place but the team of Marc Lieb, Patrick Long, David Calvert-Jones and Matt Campbell couldn’t quite keep up on the tail pipes of the 488.
Claiming victory, their second since claiming the win in 2014, allowed Maranello Motorsport third-driver Craig Lowndes to add a second Bathurst 12 Hour victory to his V8 Supercar successes around Mount Panorama. He said: “I did a lot of the morning shift and looked out for the traffic and brought the car home clean until the restart of my final stint. For me we rolled the car out and didn’t do much with over the course of the couple of days. It was a much nicer car than the 458 over the top of the mountain for both Jamie and I to get familiar with the car.
“We did have a good lead into this weekend and we did have some issues but we rectified that. With Toni [Villander] putting it on pole yesterday we knew that we had a strong car, we just didn’t know who else was going to be strong for the day.”
Behind the Ferrari, and the Ice Break Competition Motorsport Porsche, elevated onto the podium by Van Gisergen’s trip into Bathurst’s concrete walls was the M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Steven Kane, Guy Smith and – on his Bentley debut – Oliver Jarvis. For Kane and Smith, this is the pair’s second podium in a row down under with the Bentley clearly liking the circuit.
Taking victory in the AM class, and finishing a more than respectable fourth overall, was the second Walkinshaw Porsche of Blancpain GT Series regular Liam Talbot, as well as John Martin and Duvashen Padayachee.
Finishing a very respectable fifth was a car that started in the pit lane having needed an engine change after qualifying – the #1 Tekno McLaren of Rob Bell, Come Ledogar and Alvaro Parente fought their way back up the order and bagged some valuable points for the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
In the GT4 class, it was the PROsport Performance Porsche Cayman PRO4 that claimed victory with their entry of Max Braams, Jörg Viebahn, Nicolaij Moller-Madsen and Harrison Jones finishing three laps ahead of the Brookspeed Porsche Cayman Clubsport.
The next round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge is quite a long way off, with July’s Spa 24 Hours the next time the teams will come together for worldwide glory.