Audi Sport Team WRT has won the 2018 Bathurst 12 Hour, on its debut at the event. The team’s #37 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Robin Frijns, Stuart Leonard and Dries Vanthoor completed 274 laps of the Mount Panorama circuit before the race was declared early by the organisers after a late red flag for a huge shunt at the top of the mountain.
In the closing minutes of the race, the red flags came out, after Ash Walsh’s #69 Hallmarc Audi and Bryce Fullwood’s #95 MARC Cars Mazda collided at the top of the mountain, leaving Walsh’s car stranded in the middle of the circuit. A few cars were able to avoid Walsh, but John Martin in the #19 Nineteen Corp Mercedes didn’t see it coming, and went sideways into the Audi at full speed.
Fullword and Walsh are reported as ‘ok’ after the incident, sources at the circuit telling DSC that Martin is still undergoing treatment at the on-site medical centre. The race neutralised shortly after due to the sheer amount of debris on the circuit.
In the final hour, it came down to the top eight cars left on the lead lap, and who would go longest on fuel. In the end, it didn’t matter though, as the WRT Audi, which was expected to make a splash before the end, still took the win when the organisers stopped the race.
“I want to know how the guys are, I hope they’re ok. It was a strange atmosphere in the box,” Dries Vanthoor said after the race. “But then you know it’s a win, not a win like crossing the line first, but it’s win. Great for WRT on its first time here, they are always prepared.”
Frijns added: “We were fuel saving a lot, I was trying to keep the gap at four seconds. I don’t think we would have made it, if it wasn’t for the red. We are really happy, we didn’t expect it after a lot of issues all weekend. We also had no radio in the first few hours.”
In addition to the result marking WRT’s first win in the 12 Hour, WRT has become the first Belgian team to win it in the process. Leonard has also become the first British driver, and Robin Frijns has become the first Dutchman to win the race with the result. It’s the first win for the current Audi R8 LMS GT3 in the race too, and the brand’s first since the 2012 running.
Behind, the #75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes finished an impressive second, Jamie Whincup finishing the race for the team, which emerged as a contender in the second half. The backbone for its result however, was came courtesy of strategy and an iron man performance from Raffaelle Marciello. Kenny Habul and Tristan Vautier also played their part in the team’s success.
“We couldn’t be happier with second. I believe that the best prepared team will win. The big thing was to stay out of trouble. The WRT team deserved to win, what’s Bathurst without a fuel race? We wouldn’t have made it without a splash either,” Whincup said.
Initially cmpleting the podium meanwhile, was the #991 Craft Bamboo Racing Porsche 911, which appeared to be odds-on for the win before the red flag, the car set to go the distance on fuel in the final hour thanks to the efforts of Earl Bamber saving fuel. After the race it was handed a 30-second penalty applied, not certain for what, possible drive-time infringement.
As it was applied after the race was called, instead of costing the team a single place, the team was demoted to fifth as the other cars were on the grid in Parc firm conditions. Still awaiting confirmation on the full reason for the penalty.
Black Swan wins Pro-Am
Crossing the line just off the podium, but being promoted to third was the #540 Black Swan Racing Porsche, the American-flagged team taking the Pro-Am honours too after Marc Lieb, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz and Tim Pappas’ trouble free run. Fifth (and later fourth) was the #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche, which ended up finishing second in Pro-Am, after running well all race, battling for the overall lead on multiple occasions.
“I’ve done this only once before, and it’s so cool to be back, win the class, and end up on the overall podium. It’s so cool to run here at Bathurst, it’s one of the best tracks in the world,” Bleekemolen said after the race.
The race was a real war of attrition throughout, that didn’t settle down into a rhythm until around the eight-hour mark. The first six hours saw safety car after safety car, many contenders in all the classes hitting either mechanical trouble or getting involved in on-track incidents.
Many of the GT3 cars that looked set to be in the running till the end then dropped out in the second half, including both Jamec Pem Audis which ran 1-2 at the six-hour mark. Kelvin van der Linde ended the #22’s chances when he ran out of grip going through the Dipper in traffic, clouting the wall with just over four hours left. Markus Winkelhock then had to retire the #74 car, which held a commanding lead in the 11th hour of the race, before a starter issue left him stranded at the Audi Cutting.
The Schnitzer BMW also had its chances ended in an on-track incident. After such an impressive week, Chaz Mostert collided with the #17 (contending) M-Sport Bentley at the Elbow, sending Steven Kane into a Cup car, and into back across the circuit, forcing the BMW into the wall forcing both cars into their garages for repairs. The incident occurred after a lengthy battle for third between Mastert, Kane and Kevin Estre in the Craft Bamboo car, the Frenchman lucky to escape the final hit!
Other key cars to hit trouble were the three McLarens. The #58 YNA Autosport 650S of Come Ledogar, Craig Lowndes and Shane Van Gisbergen suffered terminal cooling issues, and the #11 Objective Racing retired late on after a starter issue at a pit stop while running in the top three of Pro-Am and on the lead lap. The #47 YNA car was the only Woking-machine to limp home, after a long recovery drive following early radio issues during an early stop. Scott McLaughlin crossed the line 10th overall.
Strakka Racing’s #55 Mercedes warrants a mention too. Lewis Williamson, Nick Leventis, Cameron Waters and David Fumanelli ended up seventh overall, and third in Pro-Am, but that didn’t reflect the team’s effort.
The British squad was in the mix for the overall victory until the end, the car leading the race at points, but having to pit for fuel early in the final hour, unable to rise the order again due to the premature end to the event. It was however, an impressive start to its Mercedes programme.
Dominant runs in the other classes
The three other classes in the race also suffered from multiple shunts and mechanical troubles, effecting the final outcome.
Class B was controlled most of the way by Grove Motorsport, its Porsche of Ben Barker, Stephen Grove and (the very ill) Brenton Grove finishing three laps clear of the other two cars that crossed the line. Second was taken by the Wall Racing example, which had a steady, faultless run. The JFC Carter Garage team completed the podium.
The Invitational Honours were taken by the #91 MARC Cars MARC II V8, the new car proving both fast and reliable in most cases, the team of Rod Salmon, Will Brown, and Keith Kassulke taking the win, surviving a late penalty. The #93 MARC Mazda finished up second, following late issues.
And in the Class C GT4 ranks, Boat Works Racing handed the BMW M4 GT4 its first Bathurst victory. The team of Aaron Seton, Matt Brabham and the retiring Tony Longhurst finished up with a comfortable lead of four laps after managing to run without any issues.
The #77 Ginetta Cars Australia G55 GT4 of Mike Simpson, Lindsay Kearns and Coleby Cowham took second place honours after a steady rise up the order in the race, getting the better of the #49 M-Motorsport KTM at the end.