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Lessons Learned In A Month of Action, Part 4: The Bathurst 12 Hour

Growing rapidly despite, or because of, drama on and off track!

Growth

The Bathurst 12 Hour event grows from strength to strength by whatever measure you choose:

Entry, by numbers or depth of quality, fans at trackside, up c.9% year on year (40,364).

Then there’s the reach outside Bathurst itself with an average  audience in Australia of more than 400,000 watching the race on Seven with the Sunday telecast reaching an audience of 1.2 million across the country.

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The Pirelli Top-10 shootout was watched by 315,000 people with an average of 220,000 viewers. The event was the most watched sport on Australian television across the weekend.

There were more than 800,000 streams of the top ten shootout and the race, representing increases of 300% on 2016 figures, through the official event website and streaming partners.

Website traffic to the official event site, www.bathurst12hour.com.au, was up 30% year on year while reach on Facebook ballooned to more than 3.6 million.

The event also recorded a 600% increase on video views on the event Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels throughout the weekend.

That backs up three separate, but clearly linked, factors:

The arrival last year of V8 Supercars Events as the organisers was initially greeted by some scepticism after the head to head V8 Supercars test of 2015.  The team though has blown that concern out of the water with a concerted effort to grow the event and it’s working.

The continued support from Channel 7 has clearly established the event in the annual calendar of Aussie motorsport ‘happenings’ with plenty of pre-race build-up, the introduction of the live televised Top 10 shoot-out and absolute commitment to national terrestrial coverage of the whole race.

An the rest of the endurance racing world, helped in no small part whatsoever by the support of Radio Show Limited, is coming running to join the party, the events of recent years have firmly planted the desire in the hearts and minds of fans and competitors alike to watch, listen to, attend, and if possible take part in one of the world’s newest ‘Classic’ endurance events.

All things being equal this event is here to stay, and will likely grow even further based on the dramas of the 2017 event.

Ferrari/ Vilander

This from Bathurst 12 Hour PR and DSC Ed’s fellow race commentator Richard Craill:

Vilander’s Magic 69:

ONE OF the great Bathurst 12 Hour stints of all time was responsible for giving the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 the best possible chance to win the race last weekend.

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Toni Vilander’s double stint between laps 163 and 231 of the race on Sunday were crucial in building enough of a margin over the chasing pack, to allow Jamie Whincup to be in striking distance of the #22 Mercedes-AMG GT3 when it completed its final stop.

We hailed it during the coverage for being a remarkable drive, but a further delve deep into the numbers behind it show the crushing level of domination the Finnish ace had over the field for about an hour and a half during last week’s bruising race.

Vilander jumped into the bright red 488 GT3 on lap 163, a safety car rash of stops meaning nearest rivals the #12 Porsche, the #17 Bentley and #22 Mercedes-AMG all took new drivers.

Marc Lieb jumped into the Porsche, Guy Smith the Bentley and Craig Baird the Mercedes-AMG so all four leading cars were at that point on a similar strategy, with new (highly capable, it must be said) drivers and full fuel loads.

From there, Vilander set about smashing out 69 laps of pure domination.

Of the 54 laps run under green, taking out Safety Car laps and also in/out laps from pit stops, Vilander completed the stint at an average lap time of 2m05.3s.

The stint included seven laps in the 2m03s and 25 in the 2m04s.

By comparison the other three cars only had ONE lap in the 2m04s combined: Maro Engel snapping out a 2m04.7s effort in the #22 STM Mercedes-AMG. No one else went quicker than a 2m05.0!

The Porsche and the Mercedes-AMG completed the same stint in an average lap speed of 2m06.8 seconds while the Bentley was left trailing, lapping at an average lap of 2m08.1s.

And for those of you whose maths is as dodgy as mine, that’s a 1.5 second per lap difference between Ferrari and anyone else during the green period of that stint which, on reflection, is an incredible number given how competitive the grid was.

Vilander double-stinted this run, while his nearest opposition changed drivers during a mid-stint Safety Car: Engel taking over the Mercedes AMG, Long the Porsche and Steven Kane the Bentley. But no one had an answer for the Ferrari at that point.

Between laps 216 and 220 Vilander was especially otherworldly; punching out consecutive laps of 2m03.93, 2m03.61, 2m03.64, 2m03.41 and a ‘slowish’ 2m04.07s with traffic.

At this point he was comfortably between 1.5 and two seconds per lap quicker than anything else moving on the race track. It was gobsmacking and deserved him the standing ovation the Maranello team gave him after he jumped out of the car.

In the end, the track position buffer the Flying Finn was able to create was enough to give the Maranello team confidence that they could put new rubber on the Ferrari for Jamie Whincup’s final stint to the flag.

When STM stopped for the final time, they gambled to save the thirty-seconds or so by not fitting new rubber on the basis it would give them track position, and it worked to an extent with van Gisbergen getting out of the lane about two seconds in front of the Ferrari.

However it wasn’t enough track position, and it took just a lap or two for Whincup to fight his way past SVG down Conrod the following lap. From there the pace advantage of the Ferrari was such that only misfortune was going to stop the Prancing Horse this day. In the end, of course, it was the No. 22 car that struck well documented dramas just laps from home and while in second position, leaving the Ferrari to survive one tension-filled restart to stroke the car home a lap in front.

There was some discussion on social media about our in-broadcast comments about Vilander’s drive being one of the all-time greats, but as the numbers back up the chatter.

In a stint run in the same track, traffic and weather conditions as everyone else, the simple fact is that Toni Vilander was an average of 1.5 seconds per lap quicker than anyone else on mount Panorama between laps 163 and 231 of Sunday’s 12 hour. It was perhaps THE stint that ensured Sunday, February 5 would be Ferrari’s day on the Mountain.

69 really was the lucky number for the Finn that day.

Absolutely one of the great Bathurst stints. Period.

Enough said!

SVG/ Engel

Shane van Gisbergen was one of the standout talents of the 2016 race and in 2017 one of the big pre-race storylines was his move from Tekno McLaren to HTP Mercedes AMG with the new (to Bathurst) AMG GT3.

The driver squad looked a rung above top notch with SVG joined by 2015 FIA GT World Cup Champion and 2017 Mercedes DTM man Maro Engel and  multiple Aussie Carrera Cup Champ Craig Baird.

33rd: (DNF) #22 | Scott Taylor Motorsport | Maro Engel, Shane van Gisbergen, Craig Baird | Mercedes AMG GT3 | A Pro

The storyline though unravelled just a little in qualifying where a combination of bad luck and pushing perhaps just a tad too hard saw the #22 miss out on the Top Ten Shootout.

That left the trio to fight back through the field in the race, and fight they did, and very effectively so, into the final stages, still on the lead lap and then as the field was closed up by a late race Safety Car, into real lead contention.

Thereafter came a battle that the AMG, and in particular SVG, would lose in the most dramatic circumstances, tagging the #51 Porsche into the wall as he pushed to close the lead gap, and then, just before getting the call that he was to be called to the pits for a penalty for the contact, he tagged a kerb too hard on top of the Mountain and hit the wall, effectively the race over at that point.

The drama for the team though wasn’t quite over, Channel 7’s Mark Beretta following up with a fired up Maro Engel saw Engel comprehensively unload his frustration “That wasn’t motorsport a far as I’m concerned – what I saw was a lot of mistakes from Shane.”

It prompted a sharp intake of breath in the commentary booth, and a staccato of keyboard pounding in the adjoining press room.  van Gisbergen, still at that point stationary on track awaiting recovery and transit to the medical centre for the mandatory check up, thrown comprehensively under the bus by a team-mate, whatever the justification.

In contrast when Channel 7’s Chad Neylen caught up with SVG the 2016 race winner was visibly upset at the events of the previous few minutes, apologetic, making it clear he was en route to see Andrew McPherson to apologise for the contact, and to apologise to his team-mates for the errors.

As Patrick Long later observed “That was a crazy ass race!”

Damage

A number of entrants fell victim to the unyielding nature of the Bathurst circuit. Across the Mountain in particular run-off is conspicuous by it’s near total absence as car after car pre-race, and during the race, found to their, and their pit crew’s cost!

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The reality is though that this is very much a ‘known known’ and flirting with the consequences is part of the risk of competing.

This writer would certainly not countenance a major change here to the infrastructure, Bathurst is unique, and needs to stay that way.

GT4/ GT Cup

It was great to see an increased number and variety of GT4 cars on the entry, and the contest in the class served up some real entertainment but there is a problem.  The reality is that with such a big field of GT3s the more junior classes were simply not quick enough across the mountain.  That caused real issues for both parties, the GT3s held up badly, the closing speeds at some parts of the circuit requiring avoiding action.  And when the GT4s (and Porshe Cup cars) felt it necessary to get out of the way the consequences were, rather too often, race ending in nature.

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Is there a solution? Short of excluding the GT4s from the race  it’s tricky to see how one could be introduced, though one observer did suggest that a ‘Bathurst Only’ aero pack could be considered.  That has potential, but has potential too to push the budgets out of reach of those that look to GT4 as a route into the race.