The dust may have only just settled on the banked oval of Daytona, but already some of the world’s best drivers and teams are heading to Australia for one of the early season gems – the Bathurst 12 Hour.
As well as being the biggest race in the country, never mind that Formula One thing in Melbourne, the 12 Hour forms the first round of SRO’s Intercontinental GT Challenge and as such this year’s field is one of the biggest to take on Mount Panorama, with entries ranging from GT3 to touring cars via spec Cup cars and a stronger than ever GT4 class.
The biggest class though, is easily the combined GT3 class incorprating Pro, Pro/Am (featuring a maximum of two Pros), and Am (with only one Pro per car). Factory-backed efforts from Nissan, McLaren, Bentley, BMW and Mercedes has seen 34 machines take to the New South Wales tarmac.
Compare that to the 26 car overall entry that tackled the race in 2011 – the first year GT3 machines were allowed into the race – and it is clear to see the hardwork the organisers have put in to make the race what it is today.
Class A – GT3 Pro
The top class for all-pro line-ups is where defending champions McLaren GT can be found as they partner with Tekno Autosports to run the #1 for Alvaro Parente, Rob Bell and Come Ledogar. With last year’s rapid racer Shane van Gisbergen moving to HTP Motorsport, and Jonathon Webb not returning to the team, only Parente remains from last year’s winners. However, in the form of fellow factory faces Bell and Ledogar, the #1 should have enough talent to keep themselves in the mix.
Indeed even the second McLaren 650S GT3 is loaded with talent as GT debutant Ben Barnicoat joins Jonny Kane and Will Davison to provide a second chance of claiming victory.
Elsewhere though, teams are not taking the McLaren challenge lightly – especially fellow British manufacturer Bentley as the factory M-Sport squad enters two Continental GT3s.
Featuring the line-ups that had mixed seasons in the Blancpain GT Series – as well as new recruit in the shape of former Audi regular Oliver Jarvis – with the #8 made up of Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril, while the #17 comprises of all-British line-up Oliver Jarvis, Guy Smith and Steven Kane.
Also in the class is possibly one of strongest trios on the grid as Walkinshaw GT3 enter a Porsche 911 GT3R for Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Earl Bamber.
They’re taking on a rather strong Aussie line-up though – which includes a Finn for good measure – as Maranello Motorsport fire up a Ferrari 488 for Toni Villander and Antipodean legends Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup.
However, the sole Mercedes AMG in the class might have something to say about that as Craig Baird and Maro Engel welcome Kiwi missile SVG into the Mercedes-AMG Team STM/HTP Motorsport stable for a distinctly Germanic push for the victory.
Class A – GT3 Pro/AM
In the six car Pro/AM class, almost all of the entries have a shot at category glory – if not a chance at overall success – but three certainly stand out.
The first is an all-Australian McLaren 650S featuring Warren Luff, Tony Walls, Tim Slade and Alex Davison who are combining for Objective Racing.
They’ll be facing a strong Porsche line-up though as Competition Motorsports pair David Calvert-Jones and Matt Campbell with Porsche stars Patrick Long and Marc Lieb to launch a strong attack on Mount Panorama.
However, the final line-up may seem more familiar in the World Endurance Championship as Paul Dalla Lana leads semi-regular team mates Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy into battle with new addition Bernd Schneider in a HTP Motorsport Mercedes.
Class A – GT3 AM
The AM class is where the Lamborghinis can be found as a variety of machines do battle to determined who can be the fastest all-AM line-ups and stick it to at least their Pro/AM counterparts.
Those Lamborghinis come in the form a Huracan for Trofeo Motorsport featuring former Formula One driver Ivan Capelli as the lynchpin of that four-driver team.
The second is a lesser-spotted Lamborghini R-EX of Lago Racing with Roger Lago joining Steve Owen and David Russell.
Elsewhere, the only Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 in the field comes from Australian GT regulars Miedecke Stone Motorsport with team owner George Miedecke partnered by Ashley Walsh and Tony Bates.
Class B – GT3 Cup Cars
As you might expect, the class for cup cars is just a battle between the various types of spec-machinery Porsche has made over the years but that doesn’t mean there is a lack of talent in the class.
Arguably the strongest entry in the class is that of Grove Motorsport driving the newest, 911, version of the GT3 Cup. Team boss Stephen Grove is joined by Euro stars Ben Barker and Alexandre Imperatori for their attack on the class.
The four other cars joining Grove Motorsport in the Cup class are littered with noted driving talent including Jamie Winslow, Jordan Love and Dylan Okeeffe.
Class C – GT4
Bucking the worldwide trend, the GT4 class at Bathurst has expanded into a very tough-to-choose-from field of entries including the debut of Ginetta’s G55 GT4 at the Australian circuit.
The top of the class entry list is four Porsche Caymans but of two different styles. The first two are the now well-traveled PROsport Performance Cayman PRO 4, the first car has a very American feel as Charles Espenlaub, Charles Putnam and Joe Foster are joined in the second car by Andrew Pilgrim, Max Braams, Jorg Viebahn and Nicolaij Moller-Madsen.
The second pair of Caymans are the factory made GT4 Clubsports of Brookspeed. The first car has Team HARD racer Aaron Mason paired with David Drinkwater and Adrian Watt, while the second car has Coleby Cowham, Lindsay Kearns and Ashley Jarvis.
Behind them is a trio of Ginettas, two for RA Motorsport with factory racer Mike Simpson joining Peter Paddon and Tim Berryman in one car with Zen Low, Shinyo Sano and Jake Parsons in the other.
M Motorsport are the team running the third car in a four-driver team with Tomas Enge leading a team featuring Justin McMillan, Glen Wood and Reinhard Kofler.
The final car in the class is the R-Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage of Andreas Baenziger, Peter Leemhuis and Jan Struve who will be wanting to claim glory for the Gaydon manufacturer.
Class I – Invitational
The final class taking on Mount Panorama really should be called the MARC Cars Australia class with a few others thrown in for good measure.
MARC machines will make up six of the nine car class with four Focuses and two Mazda 3s, one notable driver amongst the MARC hoards is BTCC regular Jeff Smith who has gone out to New South Wales to soak up the best of the down-under Summer.
Also making up the last class is the On Track Motorsport BMW 3 Series – a former winner of the race overall in the pre-GT3 era – as well as a former British GT winning Dodge Viper of Daytona Sportscars and finally the R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT8 which is being anchored by Darren Turner.
The 2017 Bathurst 12 Hours takes place on Saturday, starting at 6.45pm.