In a hard fought race, it was Shane van Gisbergen, Alvaro Parente and Jonathan Webb, driving the #59 McLaren Tekno Autosports car, who took the chequered flag around Mount Panorama for the 2016 Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, edging out the defending champions in the #1 NISMO Athlete Global Team by 1.276 seconds.
This proved to be a great achievement considering how the #59 had stopped for 40 seconds during the middle of the race and also had to take a drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding.
The victory is McLaren’s first in the event, and a début win for the 650S GT3, on a day which saw many of the leaders retire or fall back down the field. This proved a problem especially for the two M-Sport Bentley’s which ran in to numerous problems, preventing them from mounting a true challenge.
Unusually for an endurance race, the competition set off in the dark, a feature that proved havoc at turn two as Mika Salo in the #88 Maranello Motorsport collided with Nick Percat in the #62 Performance West Motorsport entry.
One of the more amusing crashes occurred a few hours into the race as the confectionery sponsored machines came together. As a brave lunge from the #65 Daytona Sports Car saw it spin the #54 Donut King. Both cars were wedged in the barrier but were able to be recovered to the pits. However; damage would soon put an end to the #65’s day.
A crash early on saw the #11 Objective Racing McLaren, out of contention and was soon joined on the sidelines by the #75 James Penn Racing car as Steve McLaughlin made contact at the first turn. All this allowed van Gisbergen to extend his lead at the front as he made the most of the second safety car to build a 40 second gap.
With Alvaro Parente at the wheel however, trouble occurred for the Tekno squad, with the #59 stopping on the pit straight with electrical issues. The Portuguese driver got the car back underway, but it was not going to be an easy race as the team fell to third.
Van Gisbergen struggled in the pit lane as he first stalled the car, before speeding down the rest of it. The drive through penalty cost him time, but crucially he managed to stay on the lead lap.
While he was now over a minute and half behind the leader, the time was quickly eradicated as another safety car came out, bunching up the field.
From there, it was a head to head fight between the McLaren and the NISMO machine which now had Katsumasa Chiyo at the wheel. Last year the Japanese driver passed for the lead with two laps to go and memories were beginning to stir as the Nissan machine drew ever nearer.
Despite this, van Gisbergen and the Tekno team crossed the line to claim victory, as the #10 Bentley Team M-Sport entry of Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Matt Bell came home third after tyre problems hampered their run.
Behind them and rounding out the top four was Laurens Vanthoor in the #2 Phoenix Racing. While they did not live up to pre-race expectations, he and co-drivers Markus Winklehock and Alex Davison were lucky to have finished only one-minute behind after falling off from the lead lap earlier in the race.
“The car was the fastest all weekend,” Tekno’s van Gisbergen said. “We had them covered. Any time I needed a gap, I just stuck the knife in!”
The #5 GT Motorsport car won the AA group having been competing for the overall race win in the early stages. It proved to be a dominant performance by Greg Taylor, Barton Mawer and Nathan Antunes as the second placed #32 Lago Racing entry finished three laps behind.
The other classes also saw dominant victories as Stephen Grove, Earl Bamber and Scott McLaughlin in the #4 Grove Racing car won Class B by an astounding 15 laps over the #6 SAFE-T-STOP.
Finally in the Invitation class, the challenge by the #54 Donut King was not helped after his early race crash, with Anthony Alford crossing the line 9 laps down on the #93 MARC Cars Australia car of Jake Camilleri, Morgan Haber and Aaron Seton. With the #92 sister car coming home third, it was dominant day for the Ford’s.