The Bathurst 12 Hour is Australia’s longest road race and a marathon endurance event for GT sports cars. The race is held at the famed Mount Panorama circuit, well-known to motor sport enthusiasts for its association with the Australian V8 Supercars. However the Bathurst 12 Hour lives in the shadow of the V8 Supercars Bathurst 1000, which captivates the country each October. The Bathurst 12 Hours is the opening round of the new-for-2016 SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge, which also comprises the Spa 24 Hours and the Sepang 12 Hours.
Apart from the daunting 6.2- kilometre Mount Panorama track, the only other common ground of the two Bathurst races is that several stars of V8 Supercars moonlighted in Sunday’s running of the Bathurst 12 Hour. And as fate would have it, it was one of V8’s leading lights who stepped up to take first place on the podium.
Hard-charging New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen dominated in his factory supported McLaren 650S. It was a case of the fastest driver in the fastest car who won, with van Gisbergen maintaining his record-breaking qualifying form, and his pace to overcome pit lane setbacks.
After winning pole position with the fastest Mount Panorama lap in history, van Gisbergen signaled his intentions in his opening stint by setting a new outright race lap record of 2:01.567. However despite three pit stops and a drive-through penalty in the final quarter of the race, van Gisbergen, Alvaro Parente, and Jono Webb won the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour.
During a pit stop van Gisbergen stalled while trying to pull away. Adding insult to injury, he was then caught speeding in the pitlane, incurring a drive-through penalty. Yet crucially, van Gisbergen managed to not go a lap down. The Tekno squad then opted to pit twice within the next hour, once under safety car and once not, keeping the stops short enough to jump the #2 Phoenix Audi, the #10 M-Sport Bentley, and the race-leading #1 Nissan GT-R.
From there, with next to no fuel concerns, it became a straight fight between van Gisbergen and Katsumasa Chiyo in the Nissan, the lead starting at around 12 seconds. Chiyo, who has fast-built a reputation with Australian fans for his daring abilities in the thrust of wheel-to-wheel combat, wowed on-lookers and viewers with a series of courageous moves as he pushed the rapid GT-R closer to the lead. But while Chiyo had moments where he could begin to close on the McLaren, van Gisbergen always had enough in hand to respond.
The gap did ultimately come down, setting up a grandstand finish. Chiyo, who was co-driven by Nissan V8 driver Rick Kelly and Germany’s Florian Strauss a former Nissan PlayStation GT Academy winner, chased van Gisbergen all the way to the chequered flag, closing ominously on the last of a record 297 laps to finish just 1.2 seconds behind.
“Thanks to the team,” said an elated van Gisbergen. “The car has been fastest all weekend, so to win on strategy and pace is amazing, we had [Chiyo] covered. Every time he did a [quick] lap, I stuck the knife in and did the same.”
“The team was working very well and the car was just fantastic. It is such a great team and my co-drivers were great. We were doing really well until the last few minutes, but the McLaren was so fast,” said Chiyo. “I want to say thank you to everyone in the team and to my teammates. And thank you for such a great car. I want to come back again next year.”
Steven Kane brought the #10 Bentley home in third place, pulling away from the #2 Phoenix Audi in the closing stages of the race to secure the final spot on the podium for him, Guy Smith, and Matt Bell. That resigned Laurens Vanthoor, Markus Winkelhock, and Alex Davison to fourth – still a remarkable result given that the car was a lap down mid-way through the race.
David Reynolds was fifth in the #36 Erebus Mercedes, a lap behind the winner, with the #5 GT Motorsport Audi of Greg Taylor, Barton Mawer, and Nathan Antunes taking fifth outright and first in Class A-Am. All four of the McLaren 650S GT3s were in contention at various points, with the #60 car of Bell, Davison and Watson running P3 before the charge was brought to an unforced end after sustaining damage when one of the chasing pack misjudged an overtaking maneuver. The damage was quickly repaired by the Tekno Autosport pitcrew, and despite losing four laps to the leaders, the team managed to recover to finish P9 overall.
However there was absolutely no contest in Class B, the #4 Grove Porsche winning by a whopping 16 laps. The team even had time to make an extra stop to put car owner Stephen Grove into the car for the finish, co-drivers Earl Bamber and Scott McLaughlin watching from the sidelines. Class I was a drubbing as well, the #93 MARC Mazda 3 of Jake Camilleri, Morgan Haber, and Aaron Seton winning by eight laps.
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