Oliver Gavin clearly got the taste for the Bathurst 12 Hours last year with his run in the Rotek Audi R8 because the 2015 race will see him return to the Mountain, this time as part of the driving strength for the Skwirk.com.au Audi R8 team of dual Bathurst 12-Hour champion Rod Salmon.
Gavin will join the car owner and his 2014 Australian GT co-driver Nathan Antunes in the team’s fully rebuilt Audi, the car that took the Trophy Class victory in the six round Australian GT Championship last year (and ironically the same car that Rotek used at the race last year!).
Sadly, despite setting the Class B pole, then leading the class – and at one point the race outright. Gavin and the Rotek team were forced into retirement just after the four hour mark.
Rod Salmon has his 2014 Bathurst 12-Hour contender back in action after a complete rebuild and upgrade by the Melbourne Performance Centre team.
“We felt we were in with an outside chance last year, but never had the chance to prove it,” Salmon reflected. “This year though, with a completely rebuilt car in 2014 R8 GT3 ultra-specification, we have a very strong lineup.
“Nathan and I are ready to go, and to kick off preparations with the new car with a podium (second) in the three-hour ‘Highlands 101’ last year in New Zealand showed the car has the pace. Olly [Gavin] is a great competitor with a wealth of experience in GT cars as a factory Chevrolet driver that has taken four class wins at Le Mans, and he also drove with Nick Percat in the 1000 last year making the podium on debut, so he’s quick, and he knows the circuit.”
“I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of an Audi at Bathurst,” Gavin admitted. “After last year I feel there’s some unfinished business for me, and I think the team that Rod has put together will give us as good an opportunity to race at the front as any team in the field.”
Antunes, whilst a Bathurst rookie, admitted that he was relishing the opportunity to drive alongside one of the world’s premier GT drivers.
“I’m very excited to have Olly join Rod and me for the Bathurst 12 Hour,” Antunes said. “He is a consummate professional in GT racing worldwide and I’m looking forward to seeing what he will bring to the team. The car is strong and our driver lineup is strong, so I’m confident we will be battling for a podium position.”
As for Antunes lack of miles at Mount Panorama.. “Look, I’ve been there a number of times, I’ve coached drivers there and I’ve done thousands of kilometres on the simulator. I know the car very well, we have one of the best engineers in the country in Ric Kemp, and one of the best Audi customer teams in the world, so I’m not too phased about what to expect in the car. 12-hours is a long time, and I think with the experienced crew we have, I can work my way up to the pace and ensure that we stay within striking distance of the leaders for when it really counts.”
For Salmon a strong result at the 12-Hour in a GT3 car is one of the bucket-list items he’s keen to tick off, and whilst he has elected to sit out the 2015 Australian GT ‘sprint’ rounds, he still believes that he can match the best of the part-time drivers in the enduros.
“We haven’t had great luck during our last couple of Bathurst attempts,” he admitted. “We had a crash whilst running strongly in 2013, and last year unfortunately we weren’t able to make it past qualifying after a rare Jason Bright off, so I feel personally that it’s unfinished business.
“This year will clearly be the toughest on record, and whilst some of the teams and equipment coming in from overseas will likely impact the starting order, I think you’ll find that the major competition will come from the local teams at the end of the 12 hours.
“Bathurst is one of those circuits that rewards experience, and with the Skwirk.com.au/Beechwood Homes Audi we have the right car, with Melbourne Performance Centre we have the right team, and with an experienced GT driver lineup I think we have as good a chance as any of them to finish on the podium. Whether that’s the top step or not, only time will tell, but if we can stay out of trouble in the 55 car field, I think you’ll find we’ll be right in the mix!”