The Maranello Motorsport team of Peter Edwards, Craig Lowndes, John Bowe and Mika Salo gave Ferrari their first victory in the Liqui–Moly Bathurst 12 Hours, Lowndes anchoring the team to the checkered flag.
Lowndes had to survive a final ten minutes of racing after a late race safety car period, the resulting battle between he and Maximilian Buhk in the HTP Mercedes SLS the final play in a race that twisted and turned through its duration with several leading teams hitting (in some case literally) problems. It was also the last of a number of breath taking fights for the leading positions that punctuated the race which, at 296 laps, set new distance records for the event.
The ever-changing nature of the race is best illustrated in the problems that both of the teams that would battle for the victory in the closing laps had to endure earlier in the race. The Ferrari squad’s race was – relatively speaking – the smoother of the eventual contenders, their copybook only blotted by a pair of drive through penalties, the first incurred by Edwards for pitlane speeding , the second after a pit board was left in the pitbox during the ninth hour of the race.
Buhk and the HTP team’s race was more troubled. On the pace early, fighting wheel to wheel for position in the early stages the squad were knocked two laps off the lead when they had to stop in the garage with brake problems. The brakes would later further delay the team, giving up track position to complete a brake pad change in the final hour, a long stop which should have left Lowndes as the clear leader if not for the final safety car caused by the Class B #67 Porsche stopping on track. The Mercedes also starred in one of the lighter moment of the race, the driver’s side gullwing door swinging open on the way up Mountain Straight, prompting – after weaving failed to bring the door within the driver’s reach – a stop for a helpful marshal to provide the necessary shove.
Given their early issue that the HTP car was Mercedes’ best hope of a repeat 12 Hours victory at the death was a surprise.
While the #63 Erebus Motorsport entry was waylaid early in the race by an errant kangaroo, the same individual ‘roo also ending the race for Peter Kox and the JBS Swift Lamborghini team. While the Mercedes was able to continue – carrying front-right damage – the sister #1 car looked the car to beat, with Bernd Schneider, Maro Engel and Nico Bastian sharing driving duties.
It was Schneider who had a co-starring role in one of the battles no doubt set to populate highlight reels for the 2015 event when Shane van Gisbergen caught the German in the VIP Petfoods backed McLaren MP4-12C GT3.
Twice the pair somehow managed to fit through Skyline side-by-side, van Gisbergen briefly taking the lead as they fought behind a slower car that gave the advantage back to Schneider.
Schneider would cede position to the Kiwi, who went to provide more heart-in-the-mouth moments when he came across Mika Salo in the Ferrari that would eventually win at McPhillamy Park. Both men dived for the apex, somehow avoiding all but the most minor contact, let alone a major accident.
The same corner would be the scene of several accidents, including probably the most dramatic accident of the race. The Clearwater Racing Ferrari tagged the wall on the outside of the track, before spinning, trailing fluids, to the edge of the gravel trap. The combination of the dust from the incident and the liquid on the surface caused untold problems for those following, several cars spinning or running through the gravel before Katsumasa Chiyo arrived in the NISMO Athlete Global Team Nissan GT-R. The Japanese half spun, the rear of the Nissan hitting the front of the Ferrari, destroying the relevant ends of both machines, though both drivers were able to exit the cars under their own power.
Ross Lilley crashed at the same corner, running the M Motorsport Lamborghini too wide as he tried to clear the way for the Schneider/van Gisbergen fight in full flow.
While leading – shortly after taking over the #1 car – Nico Bastian would survive an excursion through the gravel trap, the only result of the incident some minor damage to the rear bodywork.
There were further problems later in the race which finally took the #1 car from the race lead, brake problems putting them six laps off the pace, leaving the Maranello team, VIP McLaren and HTP Mercedes to fight for victory.
A splash-and-dash stop dropped the McLaren to a fourth place finish, behind the #63 Mercedes, carrying damage from contact with a slower car added to that which resulted from the ‘roos incursion onto the track. Meanwhile Buhk and Lowndes fought to the end of the race, the battle set up by the trade-off between the cars that had been present in the battles throughout the race. The Mercedes was faster down Bathurst’s gargantuan straights, the Ferrari (and McLaren) faster through the sweeps at the top of the Mountain and the Esses of the descent.
Buhk used the SLS’ superior grunt to pull up to the outside approaching Griffin’s Bend, perhaps nosing in front, but not enough to prevent Lowndes, a five winner of the 1000 mile V8 Supercars race on the mountain, from easing him wide onto 11 hours, 55 minutes of marbles, forcing Buhk into a lift from which his chances of victory from never pick up from. Officially he trailed Lowndes by just 0.4 seconds at the end of 12 hours. He, Thomas Jaeger and Harold Primat stod on the second step of the podium, Erebus’ all-Aussie line-up of Will Davison, Jack LeBrocq and Greg Crick third.
Despite problems of their own – including a puncture and drive through the #3 Phoenix Racing team completed the top five, the last car on the lead lap.
United Autosports’ Audi finished sixth, two laps of the lead, three ahead of the #1 Erebus Mercedes.
The Grove Group Porsche of Stephen Grove, Ben Barker and Earl Bamber won Class B in eighth overall. The class lost a number of its leaders to incidents. The Rotek Racing Audi – which led overall in the hands of Oliver Gavin in the opening hours – retired due to an engine problem, leaving the lead to the #45 Porsche. However, Duvashen Padayachee lost the brakes on the car at The Chase, precipitating a wild, briefly airborne, moment that beached the car in the gravel.
The Donut King sponsored Lotus Exige driven by Tony Alford, Mark O’Connor and Peter Leemhuis was the lone finisher from Class C, making them winners by default. As had been the pattern during the weekend the Griffith Corporation Ginetta dominated the class before mechanical issues took I out of the race. By that point the Motionsport Lotus had already bowed out of the race, the British team, featuring Gordon Shedden, having endured the race before that, spinning into the Chase Gravel trap.
The GT Radial/Radio Hauraki sponsored SEAT of Richard Billington, Lewis Scott and Stuart Owers won Class D in 16th overall, one place (but 19 laps) behind the best of the MARC Focus in the final standings.
All three of the Abarth 500 made it to the checkered flag, the best of them completing 243 laps in 18th overall.