The lap of the Gods
One of the most exhilarating circuits in racing history is Mount Panorama, known also as Bathurst. It’s simply got everything: a swooping mountain section, some rapid straights, tight corners and stunning views wherever you look. Situated around 200 kilometres northwest of Sydney, this epic track is the home of the Bathurst 12 Hours, which takes place this weekend with Pirelli as sole tyre supplier. Last year, a new official lap record was set by Shane Van Gisbergen in a P Zero-equipped McLaren 650S GT3: 2m01.567s. But that’s not the absolute lap record: in 2011, as part of the build-up to the Australian Grand Prix, Jenson Button took a McLaren MP4-23 around Bathurst in 1m48s. Because this was just a publicity stunt, no official time was registered as a lap record. But that’s still the quickest that anyone has ever lapped Bathurst – also on P Zero tyres.
The closest endurance race in the world
They may not be Formula 1® regulars, but the drivers taking part in the Bathurst 12 Hours – the first round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge – are the best GT drivers in the world. Not only but there’s some of the most stunning cars and closest racing you will ever see. Here’s some proof: there have been 2160 minutes of racing over 5355 kilometres at the last three Bathurst 12 Hour races. The combined total of three winning margins from that period? 3.72 seconds.
So who’s coming out to play?
McLaren will be out to defend the title it won last year with the Tekno Autosports team, and has three reigning Pirelli GT champions teaming up in its lead entry. Alvaro Parente, who won Bathurst last year as well as the Pirelli World Challenge, is joined by reigning Blancpain Endurance champions Rob Bell and Come Ledogar. The sister car includes Australian ace Will Davison as well as Englishman Ben Barnicoat, who makes his McLaren GT debut having previously been part of the company’s Formula 1® young driver programme.
Second last year and winners in 2015, Nissan returns with a stellar line-up including Japanese driver Katsumasa Chiyo as well as two graduates of its famous GT Academy programme: Florian Strauss and Jann Mardenborough. Bentley brings a full factory roster across its two cars, including new recruit Oliver Jarvis. Ex-Formula 1® driver Timo Glock and DTM champion Marco Wittmann make their Bathurst debuts for BMW alongside circuit heroes Mark Skaife, Russell Ingall, Tony Longhurst, Mark Winterbottom and Steve Richards.
Earl Bamber, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor will share a Porsche, with multiple Blancpain GT champion Vanthoor having recently moved across from Audi after famously winning the FIA GT World Cup in Macau on his roof. Last year’s Blancpain Sprint winner Christopher Mies will be part of the Audi assault together with Christopher Haase, Garth Tander, Robin Frijns, Markus Winkelhock and Frank Stippler.
Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes, two of the most successful drivers in Australia, will share a Ferrari with Finland’s Toni Vilander, while Shane van Gisbergen – champion in both the Blancpain Endurance Series and the domestic V8 touring car series – switches to Mercedes after winning last year’s race for McLaren.
Why you can’t miss it
This year, the field is stronger than it's ever been, and there are also some amazing new cars: such as the very first mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR as well as the latest machinery from Mercedes and BMW. It’s also the first time that Pirelli is supplying the entire field: previously there was open competition among tyre manufacturers. Chances are the two-minute mark will be broken this year (although Button’s unofficial lap record is probably safe).
Most of all though, it’s a race where absolutely anything can happen. In 2010, the race was red-flagged for an hour as a tree fell across Conrod Straight and had to be removed…