The #7 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental scored a huge victory at the Bathurst 12 hour today, after an enthralling finish following a race with so much green flag running that saw a new distance record (314 laps) set.
The team was in the mix from the early stages, swapping the lead with the off-sequence #999 GruppeM Mercedes AMG, which finished second at the line. However, the #999 was given a 30-second time penalty just after the finish, following a late pit stop to rectify a puncture saw the engine remain on during the stop. This elevated the #60 59 Racing McLaren to second, and the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes AMG to third.
This win was far from easy for so many reasons, but mainly because late in the race disaster struck when the car suffered a puncture at top speed on Conrod Straight just on an hour to go. But, Gounon managed to bring the car to the pits, and a quick stop on strategy meant he emerged in the lead after the final stops anyway.
There was further threat from oppressive conditions, with howling winds blowing in a storm towards the town of Bathurst.
“I can’t believe it, Jordan, Jules, all three of us did an amazing job, we pushed the whole way through, and we had luck with us as the rain has started now!” Soulet said after the race.
“Unreal,” added Gounon after stepping out the car. “I was seeing the thunder and I was like ‘please not now’! The car has been unreal all race long. M-Sport has done an amazing job. Bathurst 12 Hour, I can’t believe it. This is huge, we’ve had huge potential with this car but we’ve only had bad luck until now.”
The win comes after the M-Sport team worked incredibly hard over the weekend, undertaking three significant repairs on the pair of Continentals including an overnight engine change on the #7 on Friday and a rear-end rebuild for the #8 overnight on Saturday.
The racing look set for a grandstand finish between five marques, as Bentley, Mercedes AMG, Nissan, Porsche and McLaren were on the lead lap at the end of the last caution period, three hours from the end of the race. Ironically, the caution was caused by the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental, after a puncture on the exit of the dipper saw the car spin twice and end up facing oncoming traffic, unable to move.
Soulet in the #7 Bentley Continental led a trio of Mercedes AMG’s at the restart, with Maxi Goetz in the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering AMG acting as the cork in the bottle to Maxi Buhk in the #999 GruppeM AMG and Luca Stolz in the #77 Craft-Bamboo Black Falcon AMG. Goetz struggled at the restart with old tyres, allowing the Continental to stretch out a 10-second lead before Goetz was eventually overtaken by Buhk, while Stolz, Eduardo Liberati in the #18 KCMG Nissan, and Alvaro Parente in the #60 59 Racing McLaren elected to pit to remove themselves from the train.
GruppeM elected to not put tyres on the #999 car, handing Rafaelle Marciello a 10-second lead ahead of Jules Gounon, now installed in the #7 with two hours remaining. Gounon managed to haul the Mercedes AMG in, and sat behind Marciello for the second half of the stint.
While the pair drove away at the front, the conditions took a turn for the worse. Strong westerly winds brought a storm to the area surrounding the circuit, TV pictures showing gazebos and flags on top of the mountain on the verge of blowing over, prompting the local broadcast team to show a warning to patrons at the track to seek shelter with half an hour remaining.
Further afield, the #18 KCMG Nissan and #912 Absolute Racing Porsche had attempted to gain track position at the expense of tyre life, which came back to bite them as both began to drop through the field. Ben Barnicoat in the #60 59Racing McLaren, Maro Engel in the #77 Craft-Bamboo Black Falcon AMG, and Shane van Gisbergen in the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering AMG all made gains as tyre life for those around them began to fade.
Marciello brought the #999 AMG to the lane with 65 minutes remaining, inviting Gounon to attempt the undercut. Gounon set a race-fastest sector 1 on the following lap, but a puncture approaching top-speed down Conrod Straight halted his charge and brought him immediately into the lane. The M-Sport outfit turned the car around in record time, giving the car a full service, and returning the #7 Continental to the lead by 7 seconds over the GruppeM Mercedes.
With the constant threat of rain overhead, the pace began to leave the teams, as lap times stretched from mid 2:04’s to high 2:05’s. Gounon and Marciello matched each other’s laps, until an unexpected pit stop for the #999 GruppeM Mercedes. The car had suffered a puncture, and in the process of changing the right rear tyre, received a 30 second time penalty applied post-race for leaving the engine on during the stop.
This allowed Gounon to cruise to the finish, with rain threatening the circuit from all sides. The rain held off just long enough; the #7 crossing the line to complete a distance record 314 laps before the heavens opened, and torrential rain fell onto the circuit.
The #7’s win was the first win for Bentley at The Mountain, six editions after their first attempt in 2015. This marks the second win for a British team or manufacturer in the event (after the McLaren win in 2016), and arguably the most significant race victory for Bentley since the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans triumph.
Marciello returned to the track in third place and managed to catch and overtake Tom Blomqvist for second at the line. It was all for nought, however, as a 30-second post-race penalty relegated the #999 GruppeM machine to sixth place.
The final stages of the race saw a thrilling battle for third between local heroes Shane van Gisbergen in the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering AMG and Matt Campbell in the #911 Absolute Racing Porsche. The pair, who raced as co-drivers in the 2017 Bathurst 1000, were nose to tail for the last 20 minutes, with van Gisbergen managing to hold off last year’s race winner to secure a place on the podium.
The top five was completed by the #911 Absolute Racing Porsche, and the #77 Craft-Bamboo Black Falcon Mercedes. The #77 was headed for a podium, until a puncture half an hour from home. The Mercedes was one of a number of cars affected by punctures late in the race, as the wind blew debris onto the circuit.
Absolute Racing’s second Porsche 911 finished in 7th; the team hoping for a late safety car to extend the #912’s stint. Thomas Preining managed 40 laps before needing a splash and dash with 20 minutes remaining.
The lead Silver class car finished 8th overall; the #59 59Racing McLaren of Fraser Ross, Dominic Storey and Martin Kodric, winning the class ahead of the #46 Black Falcon Mercedes. Kodric was one of the fastest on-track in the final stint, trading the fastest lap with Kelvin van der Linde (18th) in the latter stages, finishing up with a 2:03.3981. The #159 Garage 59 Aston Martin completed the Silver class podium.
Earl Bamber Motorsports, the defending champions, finished 9th, suffering delays in the middle of the race replacing the brakes on the #1 Porsche to finish 2 laps down. The Pro-Am winning #4 Grove Motorsport Porsche rounded out the top 10, with the Pro-Am podium completed by the #12 Earl Bamber Motorsport 911 and the #9 Hallmarc Racing Audi. The SunEnergy1 #75 Mercedes AMG were leading the class with 4 hours remaining, but a problem in the drivetrain reduced drive to only one rear wheel, necessitating lengthy repairs.
This class victory for Steven Grove ties the record for class victories at the Bathurst 12 hour, along with Mark Brame who won the Production A Class in a Suzuki Swift each year from 1991 to 1995.
Nissan’s challenge was ended with brake problems, necessitating a brake change with half an hour remaining. The #18 KCMG GT-R dropped out of the top 10 to finish 13th, ending what has been a rollercoaster weekend for the team.
While Bentley, McLaren and AMG had strong races, it was a race to forget for most manufacturers. Single car Pro efforts from BMW, Honda, and Lamborgini not making it to the finish, while Audi had all three factory cars suffer incident or issues, with the lead Audi the #9 Hallmarc Racing effort, finishing in 17th. Aston Martin had a similarly disastrous race, with another heavy crash and a broken splitter delaying the remaining Pro effort.
Earlier, Ben Barnicoat set the early pace in the #60 59Racing McLaren, stretching a small advantage over Maxi Buhk in the GruppeM Mercedes. The race was neutralised after 90 minutes due to a heavy crash for Côme Ledogar in the #188 Aston Martin.
Côme ran wide over Skyline, bounding over the kerbs in the Esses and hitting the concrete wall drivers right. The Aston Martin then bounced across the track, making secondary contact with the wall drivers left, peeling the right rear wheel and passenger side door off the car and over the fence.
— Bathurst 12 Hour (@Bathurst12hour) February 1, 2020
Côme managed to remove himself from the car unassisted, although the car finished up in much worse shape.
The race was suspended soon after for a similar incident half an hour later, as the #6 Wall Racing Lamborghini fired into the wall just ahead of the dipper with Jules Westwood at the wheel. Then at the two-and-a-half-hour mark, a major incident saw the first Audi scratched from the race.
A rear-end lose at McPhillamy for Garth Tander at the seat of the #22 Audi Sport Team Valvoline car spearing the car across the front of his teammate in the #2, missing the sister car by millimetres on its way to the barriers.
Strategies began to vary, with the #999 GruppeM Mercedes electing not to pit at the second Safety Car, offsetting them from the rest of the field by half a stint.
The middle part of the race saw the longest green-flag run in Bathurst 12 Hour history, with the lead firmly controlled by the #7 Bentley after they jumped the #60 McLaren in the pits.
The #911 Earl Bamber Motorsports Porsche suffered a puncture, before earning a 15-second time penalty, along with the #999 GruppeM Mercedes. The penalty for the two cars was given for an identical infringement in the pit lane regarding the car controller; both cars had their car controller become involved in the pit stop, while the regulations require the car controller to remain at the front of the car and separate from the stop.
Oppressive conditions started to cause reliability problems throughout the field, starting with a trio of Audis coming to grief. First, the #24 Bostik machine came to a stop on Mountain Straight, after an engine failure. Heads up driving from Max Twigg left the car in a safe position, allowing the race to continue.
Just before halfway, The #222 Audi Sport Team Valvoline car had an issue with a rear-right tyre, which delaminated at The Chase towards the end of Winkelhock’s second stint. Smoke was observed pouring out of the rear of the car after a tyre change but slowly cleared throughout the stint. Minutes later, the #2 example was pulled into the pits with an engine rev sensor issue, just before the halfway point. While the team was initially confident of repairing the car, the issue proved terminal. The #222 Audi’s tyre issue then returned, forcing the car into the garage to rectify the problem.
The Walkenhorst BMW was the next car scratched; an earlier hit with a kangaroo under Safety Car causing problems at the front of the car, ultimately resulting in overheating.
The record-breaking 4 hours, 10 minute and 40-second green-flag run ended as to the #63 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini ground to a halt on Mountain Straight; the fuel pump breaking, leaving the car stranded on it’s way up the mountain. As it was being recovered, the Honda NSX with Renger van der Zande stopped on top of the mountain, leaving van der Zande stuck in the recovery pen at McPhillamy Park.
The last car to retire was the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental; starting from pit lane after missing qualifying, the team had managed to breach the top 6, before their puncture ended their weekend. While this result is certainly frustrating, the triumph of the sister car will be the focus for the team.
Second-placed 59Racing may rue what could have been for the debut of the McLaren 720S at the Bathurst 12 Hour, as the team was dealt two penalties through the race. The first was a 30-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane, while the second was a pit-lane drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flag instructions. These two penalties could have made the difference, with the final gap to victory 41 seconds.
The #91 Racer Industries MARC II won the invitational class, finishing an impressive 15th overall. The #91 was the last MARC standing, after significant rebuilds for both the #20 T2 Racing and #95 GJ Motorsport teams. The gap for class honours at 107 laps.
GT4 went to the #13 RHC Jorgenson-Strom BMW, overcoming the #19 Griffith Racing Mercedes in a head-to-head battle. The Mercedes suffered issues mid-race, spending over half an hour in the pits, allowing the RHC Jorgenson-Strom BMW to win by 7 laps.