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Bathurst 12 Hour Preview: One For The Ages?

So many big names....

The 2017 Bathurst 12 Hour has all the makings of an all-time classic. With an astonishing set of cars in each class, and a remarkable collection of star drivers across the board, and one of the world’s most picturesque and challenging circuits, this year’s race should be one to remember.

Across the three sub classes in Class A all bar two lineups feature at least one Champion either at State, National or International level, with several featuring more than one!

Here’s a run down of all the key runners and riders set to feature in this weekend’s race, across the four classes:

Class A

Reserved for GT3 cars, Class A is split into a further three sub categories, Pro, Pro Am and Am, defined by the teams’ driver sets.

This year’s entry features 32 GT3 cars, almost as many as the entire entry from 2016, with an incredible selection of factory drivers, teams and Supercars talent across the board!

Here’s a look at class A, marque by marque:

Aston Martin

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Aston Martin will be represented by just one customer team for this year’s 12 Hour, with Miedecke Stone Motorsport fielding a V12 Vantage GT3 in Class A Am.

The team’s Vantage – which in the hands of Craft Bamboo finished third in 2015 – will be driven by team owner George Miedecke, Ash Walsh and Tony Bates and is certainly one to look out for in the race.

Miedecke Stone Motorsport is an Australian-based GT team which in 2016 competed in the Australian Endurance Championship – which it finished third in – and select rounds of GT Asia. If the team has a clean run it should be there or thereabouts in the running for silverware in the competitive Pro Am class, as the Aston is still capable of winning races.

Audi

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Seven R8 LMS’ are set to take the start on Sunday, with two of them gunning for the overall win in the Pro class, two looking for Pro Am trophies and three set to compete in Am.

At the top of the tree Jamec Pem Racing’s pair of R8s should be considered among the favourites in a class which let’s face it, is stellar top to bottom.

Its cars will see Garth Tander, Chris Mies and Chris Haase team up in the #74, with Markus Winkelhock, Frank Stippler and Robin Frijns in the #75. It’s a good mix of Bathurst experience with Tander, youth with Frijns and general talent with Mies, Haase, Stippler and Winkelhock who all know how to win big GT races.

Down in Pro Am, Hallmarc and Team ASR are due set to tackle the race, with Hallmarc’s Lee Holdsworth the big name among the two lineups, Holdsworth having multiple Aussie Supercars wins under his belt.

And in Am, GT Motorsport Pty and Superbarn will do battle for the class honours.

Audi has quite a history at the Bathurst 12 since the GT3 era, with Joest and then Phoenix Racing winning the race outright in 2011 and 12. But that was with the old car, this time round – the second for the newer R8 LMS – could very well add to the marque’s record if the car is as strong as it usually is though straight line speed has been an issue for the Audi.

Bentley

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Bentley returns to the Mountain this year courtesy of Team M-Sport, and after coming so close the past two years – finishing fourth in 2014 and third in 2015, the British team returns looking to take that extra step.

The six drivers representing the brand are all capable of winning, though one of them will have a lot of getting used to do.

In the #8 alongside Bentley’s 2003 Le Mans winner Guy Smith and Steven Kane is the team’s latest driver signing Oliver Jarvis, the ex-Audi LMP1 man making his Bentley debut at the race. It’ll be a baptism of fire for Jarvis, but he’s proven over the years to be adaptable, so it shouldn’t take long for him to fit in.

The team’s second car meanwhile features three of the team’s Blancpain regulars in Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril.

BMW

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A quartet of BMW M6 GT3s are set to race in this year’s Bathurst 12, the car’s debut in the event. The BMW M6 being a robust GT3 machine should suit the physical nature of the Bathurst 12 Hour and with the lineups set for the race, could feature at the head of the field by the end.

BMW Team SRM is the most prominent team racing with BMW at the race, with a pair of M6s featuring star-studded Pro lineups.

In the #7, former F1 driver Timo Glock will be joined by a trio of experienced locals in Mark Skaife, Russell Ingall, Tony Longhurst. The sister car meanwhile will see BMW factory driver Marco Wittmann share duties with Supercars regulars Steve Richards and Mark Winterbottom, the team looking to keep itself in the running my making the most of its drivers’ encyclopaedic knowledge of Mount Panorama.

The other two M6s meanwhile will be run by German VLN regular Walkenhorst and MARC GT. Walkenhorst’s lineup is an intriguing one in the Pro class.

Ageless Jörg Muller joined by fellow German and Carerra Cup stalwart Nico Menzel and the up and coming BMW Junior Ricky Collard (son of BTCC star Rob), who in January was tasked with driving BMW’s M4 GT4 in its global race debut in the Dubai 24.

MARC Cars Australia meanwhile will race in Am, with Morgan Haber, Max Twigg and 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner Chaz Mostert.

Ferrari

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A single Ferrari 488 GT3 is set for the Bathurst 12 Hour this year, but it’s a strong one, as Melbourne-based Australian GT team Maranello Motorsport returns to the mountain to debut the 488 in the event, while searching for its second overall win.

The Australia team, which won the race back in 2014, will race with Supercars stalwart Craig Lowndes – who won the race with them three years ago – Ferrari GT star Toni Vilander and six-time V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup who need little introduction.

The 488 GT3 can be fragile at times, but it has all the traits needed to tackle the Mountain and like the 458 before it, come away with a victory.

Lamborghini

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With no Pro entry from a Lamborghini team in the race, it’s unlikely that the Italian marque will take the overall win. But down in Am, Lago Racing, Trofeo Motorsport and Kiwi Racing could be strong finishers in their sub class.

Lago, with its older R-EX has plenty of experience taking on the mounting, This year in terms of drivers David Russell – who had a tough outing with Bentley last year – Steven Owen and Roger Lago will take turns in the cockpit.

Kiwi Racing also field a Reiter-built Gallardo R-EX for a quartet of – guess what? Kiwis!

Trofeo meanwhile brings a Huracan to the party, with veteran Supercars driver Dean Canto alongside former F1 driver Ivan Capelli, Aussie GT regular Ryan Miller and team owner Jim Manolios. The Huracan most certainly has the pace but the jury is still out on its durability over longer races.

McLaren

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Reigning champions McLaren heads to Bathurst this year with four cars entered across all three Class A categories.

The main focus for McLaren GT though will be its pair of Tekno Autosport run 650S GT3s in Class A Pro which will look to score the back-to-back wins in the race.

McLaren will have a good chance to win it all again too, with the #58 featuring factory drivers Rob Bell, Come Ledogar and Alvaro Parente, all of whom have won titles in the past year – Parente in particular who won at Bathurst. It’s second car could spring a surprise too, with Strakka Racing star Jonny Kane making his debut for the marque, McLaren GT Driver Academy newcomer Ben Barnicoat and Supercars star and two time and reigning Bathurst 1000 Champ Will Davison.

In Pro Am and Am, Objective Racing and Keltic Racing are running a car apiece, both with lineups capable of winning their respective classes. Look out in particular for the combination of Tony Walls, Warren Luff, Alex Davison and Tim Slade, who are capable of finishing well up the overall leaderboard for Objective Racing if they have a clean run.

The 650S GT3 may not have the ponies down the Conrod Straight to match the likes of the Nissan GT-R, but it’s a good all-round package which is nimble through the tight and twisty mountain top sections. Everyone remembers Shane van Gisbergen’s record-breaking lap right?

Mercedes

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The Mercedes AMG GT3 is another GT3 car making its Bathurst 12 Hour debut this weekend, with three set to line up on the grid, two in Pro Am and one in Pro.

The AMG GT3 needs little introduction as a package, it proved in 2016 that it was capable of winning both sprint and endurance races, it’s quick and rarely misses a beat.

In terms of the teams making the trip to Mount Panorama this weekend, Scott Taylor Motorsport and HTP will be representing the Stuttgart-based manufacturer.

Scott Taylor’s entry is the Pro effort here, in concert with HTP, and with Craig Baird, Shane van Gisbergen and Marc Engel driving will be a formidable force. Engel proved at the Nurburgring 24 Hours last year what he can do behind the wheel, van Gisbergen is the reigning Bathurst champion and was arguably the strongest driver in 2016 at the race and Kiwi Baird has more Porsche Cup titles to his name than you can shake a stick at.

HTP should also be strong in Pro Am too. Paul Dalla Lana and his WEC GTE Am teammates Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda are unusually not driving with Aston, but should be quick up against the rest of the class. They’re also being joined by Mercedes legend Bernd Schneider on short notice. Not a bad quartet then?

The third Mercedes is entered for the Hogs Breath Cafe outfit – Supercars star David Reynolds is joined by Mark Griffith and Dominic Storey in their Pro-Am effort.

Nissan

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It’s hard to believe that Nissan’s big Bathurst win was two years ago. The Japanese brand is back though in 2017 in an attempt to recapture that form with a pair of Pro class GT-R GT3s run by the works team.

The #23 features Katsumasa Chiyo – who impressed mightily in its run to victory in ’15 – Alex Buncombe and Nissan Supercars star Michael Caruso who will add a bit of local knowledge and experience to the mix. The #24 also features a star Supercars driver in Todd Kelly, to partner Florian Strauss and Jann Mardenborugh.

Outside of the two factory entries, Wall Racing is set to compete in Class Am with their pair of ex Pirelli World Challenge Always Evolving racing GT-R GT3s. It’s lineup in the #38 features Daniel Bilski – who has experience racing at the 12 Hour as well as the Sepang 12 Hours, winning his class only two months ago, Carrera Cup Australia driver Adrian Flack and Kiwi Chris Pither who as recently as 2011 won the Aussie V8 Utes title.

The sister #66 car came together quite late and sees IMSA GT3 Cup regular Fred Poordad joined by Brett Hodges and Erik Davis.

2016 was a tough season for Nissan in GT3 racing, after such huge successes in 2015; though it did finish a close second at Bathurst. What better way for the brand to get its programme back on track though, than with a win on the Mountain to kick off the year?

Porsche

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Porsche’s GT3 presence in the race is down to four cars after the late withdaawl of Craft Bamboo Racing’s entry. Porsche’s still got strong set of cars spread across the three Class A categories though.

The headline entry for Porsche comes in the form of Walkinshaw GT3, the Aussie GT team bringing 2015 Le Mans winner Earl Bamber, rapid Porsche factory drivers Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor, who is making his first GT3 start with Porsche at Bathurst after racing for the brand last weekend in GTLM at Daytona. The Porsche GT3 may not be the strongest across the board, but with a trio like that driving, it has every chance to gun for a podium here.

Competition Motorsports meanwhile will race in Pro-Am and have potential for a podium, with Porsche factory stars Marc Lieb and Patrick Long joining David Calvert-Jones, while AMAC Motorsport and Walkinshaw will field cars in Am, both with significant talent aboard, the Walkinshaw effort featuring 2016 Blancpain GT Am champ Liam Talbot and serial FIA WEC LMP2 race winner John Martin.

Other notables

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Outside of the GT3 entries, classes B, C and I are packed with with interest also.

In B, which is reserved for Porsche Cup entrants, had some names readers will recognise, in particular from 2016 Class B winners Grove Motorsport, as WEC drivers Alex Imperatori and Ben Barker will compete with Stephen Grove.

Down in Class C, there’s eight strong GT4 entries to keep tabs on during the race. Ginetta’s G55 makes its debut with a pair of strong crews.

For the Yorkshire brand RA Motorsports have entered both of them, and in the #55 will field Ginetta factory driver Mike Simpson along with Peter Paddon and Tim Berryman.

R-Motorsport has a star driver too, as its Aston Martin GT8, which it ran at the Nurburgring 24 Hours last year, will be driven by 2016 ELMS GT Champ Darren Turner.

Tomas Enge will also take part, with M Motorsport’s KTM X-BOW GT4. After briefly taking a managerial role in Dubai for Reiter Engineering, he’s straight back behind the driving seat it seems!

The remaining entries are filled by Porsche Caymans. PROsport Performance is bringing its in-house sped Porsche Caymans, while Brookspeed has a pair of Clubsport MRs – which DSC can confirm are now both filled in terms of drivers.

And last but certainly by no means least, you have the Invitational category, which is once again propped up by an armada of well run MARC Cars Focus’ and Mazda 3s.

For MARC Cars, it has managed to assemble four 2016 Australian national championship winning drivers headline tie driving squad.

Australian Formula Ford Champion Leanne Tander, Australian Formula 4 and Toyota 86 Series Champion Will Brown, Australian Production Car Champion Beric Lynton and Australian GT Trophy MARC Cars class winner Jake Camilleri are amongst the group of drivers spread through the six entries.

British Touring Car Championship frontrunner Jeff Smith, Dunlop Series runner Bryce Fullwood, Aaron Seton (now joined at the last moment in the car by his dad, Aussie racing legend Glenn Seton), F4 ace Nick Rowe and two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner Rod Salmon are also featured in the lineup.

Outside of MARC Cars’ six entries, Daytona Sportscars will race a Dodge Viper Coupe instead of the evergreen and popular Daytona Coupe and On Track Motorsport’s BMW 335i is set for its 11th run in the big race (including two overall wins and 9 finishes), as it continues its VLN Manta-esque appeal with the fans.

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