In Part 2 of DSC’s extensive Bathurst 12 Hour preview, we’re going to look at the cream of the crop, the 25 cars gunning for the class honours and the overall victory in the GT3 ranks.
As usual, the 12 Hour has attracted an astonishing entry of GT3 cars, representing most of the key marques, run by some of the best teams worldwide.
The only key omissions really, are from 2015 winner Nissan (which will still stream the race) and reigning champion Ferrari (Maranello attempted to put together a title defence, but was unable to secure the finances needed to join the field).
Nevertheless, of the returnees and newcomers, there’s as strong a field as there’s ever been.
So, let’s run down the field, brand by brand:
For this year’s running, the marque with the most in GT3 is Audi, which will be edging on the desperate side to win it this time round; the Bathurst 12 Hour one of thew very few significant races which its current R8 LMS GT3 hasn’t won yet.
It still feels like a new car, but against the current crop it isn’t; its debut in the 2015 Nurburgring 24 Hours almost three years ago now.
For its 2018 Bathurst attack, it will race with three Pro cars, three in Pro Am, and two in Am. The big name entries here come from Jamec Pem Racing and WRT in Pro.
In the former’s two R8s, Supercars fan favourite, and former Bathurst winner Garth Tander will race with the experienced hands of Audi Sport drivers Kelvin Van der Linde and Frederic Vervisch will team up in the #22, while Chris Mies, Chris Hasse and Markus Winkelhock make for a potential world-beating German trio in the #74. The team knows the circuit, and up against a lot of new teams, that could be key in them finishing high up the order.
WRT meanwhile, will race at Bathurst for the first time this year, the Belgian team, which needs no introduction after winning all the major 24-hour races and titles in Europe in recent years, should be a contender right away.
Its #37 car will run with Robin Frijns, Stuart Leonard and Dries Vanthoor – a pacey combination. It also has a car in Pro-Am for 2017 GTE AM WEC champions Pedro Lamy, Mathuas Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana and Superars ace Will Davison. They may well prove to be the best line-up in the class top to bottom, that coupled with the fact that the former WEC trio are fresh from Rolex, where they raced a Ferrari.
The remaining Audis come in the form of Hallmarc’s single car, with Lee Holdsworth as its standout talent, and International Motorsport, which has signed ex-Team New Zealand A1 GP drivers Matthew Halliday and Johnny Reid for the race.
In Am, Supabarn and Team ASR will line-up, and providing they finish, will get a podium.
Lovers of loud, big and British GT3 machinery will be pleased to see that Bentley is back for another crack at the 12 Hour, in what will serve as the swansong for its outgoing Continental GT3.
The current model, which has yet to win at Mount Panorama (but came so, so close back in 2015 (4th overall) and 2016 (3rd)), will have one last try to win it all, in the hands of Team M-Sport, which is currently developing the new model, that’s set to debut in a few months time.
For M-Sport’s attack, it will run two cars in the PRO class, with six Bentley factory drivers behind the wheel.
In the #17, Steven Kane will race with 2003 Le Mans winner Guy Smith and brand newcomer Jules Gounon, who moves over from the Callaway Corvette programme which won the 2017 ADAC GT title. And in the #18, Andy Soucek is back, with Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril, who’s beginning his second season as a ‘Bentley Boy’ this year.
The size, and straight-line speed which the Continental GT3 is known for has always suited Mount Panorama, the car both quick, and reliable, one of the better weapons to muscle through traffic with.
While there’s a lot of newer kit out there in the Pro class, M-Sport could still win this. Has the Continental GT3, which over the years has narrowly missed out on so many big endurance wins, got what it takes to score a big Bathurst win in it?
BMW’s Pro class hopes this year rest on Team Schnitzer and Team SRM, not bad outfits really! Both are factory backed teams, racing with stellar driver crews in their respective M6 GT3s.
Schnitzer, now in its second year with the M6 GT3, has Augusto Farfus (who will fly straight from Daytona for the drive), rapid Aussie Chaz Mostert and factory DTM ace Marco Wittmann.
SRM (which is running a GT4 M4 too) on the other hand, will run with inaugural Bathurst 24 hours winner Steven Richards, ex-F1 driver Timo Glock and Spa 24 Hours winner Phillip Eng.
The M6 GT3, which has proven to be a winner of longer races after its big Spa win two years ago, can certainly challenge here.
For the sole Italian marque on the GT3 list, Lamborghini, there’s no Pro challenger this year, but two Pro-Am entries capable of winning the class and mixing in with the front runners.
One of the three is a Huracan GT3, entered by Trofeo Motorsport, its car set to have the same crew as it did in 2017: team owner Jim Manolios and regular co-driver Ryan Millier, ex-Formula One driver Ivan Capelli and Supercars co-driving ace, Dean Canto aboard. A real contender!
The other two in the field are older Gallardo GT3 R-EXs. They bring welcome variety, and while it may not be the quickest, with Australian GT regular Lago Racing, it can still win races. The Bathurst 12 Hour regular will compete with, as usual, Roger Lago, David Russell and Steven Owen.
The second Gallardo in the field will be fielded by Buik Motorworks, with Thomas Enge, Luke Youlden and Yasser Shahin driving.
And the fourth Lambo in the field, another Gallardo, can be found in the three-car AM class, run by Safe-T-Stop.
With the 720S GT3 still in development, the 650S GT3 is remains as McLaren’s GT3 weapon. This year, two years on from its astonishing victory in 2016 with Tekno Autosport, the brand returns with a reduced Pro effort, but another bumper Pro-Am attack.
YNA Autosport is due to run the single Pro car, with an extremely capable crew of Shane Van Gisbergen, a former McLaren factory driver, who won the race with it in 2016, Craig Lowndes, who won the 2017 edition with Maranello, and Come Ledogar, who last year was named a McLaren factory driver and starred in the 2017 12 Hour en route to a podium.
It’s a formidable trio, who will have the speed, and shouldn’t be overlooked. The question is, how much will the lack of a second car affect the Woking brand in its quest to win a second 12 Hour?
In Pro-Am meanwhile, YNA will run a second car for Supercars regular Scott McLaughlin, Fraser Ross, McLaren academy driver Andrew Watson and International GT Open driver Alex West.
Objective Racing, always in the mix for Pro-Am honours, is back too, with Tony Walls, Warren Luff, Supercars race winner Tim Slade and Jaxon Evans.
A total of five AMG GT3s will tackle ‘the Mountain’ this year, three of which are in the Pro division.
The headline here is the addition of Strakka Racing to Mercedes’ customer base. The former WEC team, turned McLaren customer outfit, is now running with the German marque and set to take on the Intercontinental GT Challenge this year (of which Bathurst is the opening round) with AMG GT3s.
After last year’s tough season racing in Blancpain with McLaren, Strakka has scaled back to a two-car programme, both with very notable line-ups.
The stronger of the two is undoubtedly the #56 car, which will run with Maxi Buhk, Maxi Gotz and McLaren refugee Alvaro Parente in the cockpit. The other features team owner Nick Leventis, his young partner in crime Lewis Williamson, Cameron Waters and David Fumanelli, who joined the team in Blancpain in 2017.
Strakka’s only issue is its lack of experience with the car. It has been out testing, but has yet to race the AMG GT3. However, it has got the personnel, and driving talent to overcome any teething troubles.
The third Pro car is from SunEnergy1 Racing (run by Scott Taylor Motorsport), the team also down to compete in Daytona the weekend before in GTD; what a fortnight it’s going to be for the boys traveling between the two!
Its #75 car will run with Cadillac IMSA DPi driver Tristan Vautier, Kenny Habul, Supercars legend Jamie Whincup (who also won last year’s edition of the race) and Raffaele Marciello.
In Pro-Am, a further two AMG GT3s will compete, from Scott Taylor Motorsport and Nineteen Corp P/L.
Scott Taylor’s Pro-Am car is strong here, featuring 2017 Australian GT Highlands 501 winners Max Twigg and Tony D’Alberto, and 2007 Bathurst 12 Hour winner Craig Baird.
In Pro, Porsche has two bullets in its gun, and a pair of Pro-Am entries.
It’s Pro cars are star-studded: a 911 GT3 Rs run by Manthey Racing with Le Mans winner Romain Dumas, GTE driver Fred Makowiecki and Dirk Werner, and a Craft Bamboo car with another Le Mans winner, Earl Bamber, and rapid factory drivers Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor.
Take your pick there as to which crew is the strongest? At DSC we really can’t separate them!
Hoping for Pro-Am honours with Porsche meanwhile, are Competition Motorsports – back with long-time Porsche factory man Pat Long, David Calvert-Jones, Matt Campbell and Alex Davison – and Black Swan Racing – with Tim Pappas, uber-quick Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz and Le Mans winner Marc Lieb.
Both cars on paper are contenders, but as with all the other stellar collections of talent, poor luck can strike at any moment on the notoriously tricky Mount Panorama circuit.
And that just about wraps it up! What. A. Field.
Sunday’s Bathurst 12 Hour is set to get underway at 5:45am local time in Australia, and can be streamed live HERE.