After a famous endurance race in America, the Bathurst 12 Hour will take place in Australia just one week later. It’s a race that’s growing in stature and it will have the very best Virgin Australia Supercars Championship drivers as well as some of the best GT drivers in the world taking part in this one around the clock race.
As a huge VA Supercars fan, that Bathurst 12 Hour is one of my favourite races because it’s the only time that the very best of Australia joins forces with the rest of the world. The 4 current best Supercars drivers (in my opinion) Jamie Whincup, Scott Mclaughlin, Shane Van Gisbergan and Chaz Mostert will all be in the A class (highest class) and battling it out for overall victory. Legend Craig Lowndes will be in contention as well as Cameron Waters, Garth Tander, Will Davdison and the latest Bathurst 1000 winner, David Reynolds will be there as well.
To see what cars they will be in, click here for the Entry List.
There are 4 classes (Class A, Class B, Class C and Class I). It’s Class A were most of the attention will be on and were most fans will be hoping their favourites can win. McLaren, Bentley, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lamborghini and Porsche will all be battling it out for victory. All different shapes and sizes with different strengths and weaknesses but a very similar lap time which will create a mega race. Sadly, Nissan have decided to not have any entries this year and Ferrari have decided to not have a car which is a massive shame because they’re the defending champion, nevertheless it will still be a fierce battle on one of the greatest circuits in the world.
I love the Bathurst circuit and if I had to choose a favourite circuit then it would be Mount Panorama. It’s a racers circuit. It rewards those who take risk but don’t overdo it. You can attack hard and set up overtakes, something you can’t really do on the Nordschleife which is regarded as the best by many. Mountain Straight and Conrad Straight will offer the best overtaking opportunities as you can slipstream the car in front and make a move into Griffins Bend or The Chase. But, you can really apply the pressure and be ultra aggressive by being millimetres away from the wall on the mountain section. You go uphill through the cutting and Reid Park were we’ve seen lots of incidents over the year with lots of mirrors lost as the drivers push the limits of their car and the circuit. Then, you go through Sulman and McPhillamy Park were you can easily lose the race by smacking into the wall or going into the gravel by being slightly off-line of taking a bit too much speed.
Over Skyline and down the hill through the tight and twist part of the course known as, The Esses. It’s one way traffic through there so you can lose a lot of time in traffic as you go down the hill. The Dipper is a huge gradient drop were Van Gisbergan lost the race when chasing down the leading Ferrari in dramatic fashion in the final part of the race last year. Forest’s Elbow is vital to get a good exit out of as you down Conrad Straight at over 300KPH into the fastest corner in Australia. The Chase is a right-hand kink quickly followed by a really heavy braking zone for a medium-speed chicane towards the final corner. It’s a brilliant circuit which creates lots of on track battles and classic moments as even the very best can makes mistakes. Get it right though, and it’s so rewarding and the feeling as a driver must be special.
Circuit Length: 6.213km
Length of Conrod Straight = 1.916km
Length of Mountain Straight = 1.111km
Highest Point: 862m above sea level
Going back to the drivers, a host of international GT stars will be lining up alongside the top Supercar drivers. It’s time to look at the contenders. The #43 BMW will be one of many favourites with Chaz Mostert, Augusto Farfus and 2-time-DTM champion, Marco Wittmann forming a strong line-up. This is probably BMW’s best chance to win the race. The two Maximillian drivers, Buhk and Goetz will team up with Alvaro Parente which is a very good GT line-up. They will drive the #56 Mercedes. The defending champions are split up, one of whom will be driving a McLaren. That man is Craig Lowdnes who will drive with the fearless Shane van Gisbergan and Come Ledogar.
Christopher Mies, Christopher Haase and Markus Winklehock may form Audi’s best shot at winning the race in the #74 car. The Audi cars have tended to struggle at Bathurst because the strength of the Audi is on the mountain section were high-speed downforce is vital but their big weakness comes on the straights were they lack top end speed which means it’s harder for them to overtake lapped cars on the straight compared to the other GT cars and were the Audi is strong, it’s mainly one way traffic or you have to go off line and lose a lot of time overtaking a car. This is were the likes of the Bentley cars and the Mercedes AMGs can gain time because they can slipstream a car, draw alongside it and clear it much more easily than the likes of the Audis or McLarens which historically aren’t quite as good on the straights.
It will be tough to follow all of the action live in the UK and Europe but if you’re going to, then these are the crucial times. Qualifying starts at midnight (Friday night). The Top 10 Shootout starts at [05:15] later that day were the fastest 10 cars will go out one by one to see who will start on pole and who will take the Allan Simonsen trophy. Race action starts at [18:45] on Saturday 3rd February and ends on Sunday morning at [06:45].
The second and final defending champion (no Toni Vilander) Jamie Whincup will drive the #75 Mercedes this year with Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier and the Italian youngster, Raffaele Marciello. Porsche’s best chance surely falls into the hands of Le Mans winner Earl Bamber, the speedy Kevin Estre and GT1 champion Laurens Vanthoor. This is a fantastic team of drivers and if they’re given a good car, they will be contenders. But you can say the same for the Manthey-Racing Porsche which has Romain Dumas, Frederic Makowiecki and Dirk Werner. If you had to look at the standard of the grid, then Porsche has some excellent drivers who will look for the German manufacturers first victory in the race since the GT3 cars started coming to the race.
Scott Mclaughlin will have to carry his team to an overall win because he has some “amateur” drivers on his team. Amateur means that the drivers are still quite good but they don’t have the extra edge compared to the best GT racers. The young Kiwi will drive the #47 McLaren.
A 63-year-old John Bowe is joint first on the most Bathurst 12 Hour wins and will embark on another 12 hour journey. He’s also a double Bathurst 1000 winner and an Australian Touring Car champion. He must know Bathurst inside out and he will definitely know that anything can happen.
12 HOUR RECORDS:
Qualifying Record: 2m01.2860s (Shane van Gisbergen, McLaren 650S GT3, 2016) (Fastest ever official lap of Mount Panorama)
Race Lap Record: 2m01.5670s (Shane van Gisbergen, McLaren 650S GT3, 2016) (Also outright Mount Panorama lap record)
Most laps completed by Winners: 297 (1,845km) – Shane van Gisbergen / Jonathon Webb / Alvaro Parente, 2016 winners
Least laps completed by Winners: 202 (1,255km) – Garry Holt / John Bowe / Paul Morris, 2010 winners
Smallest Winning Margin: 0.4132 (2014)
Largest Winning Margin: 1 Lap (2017, 2013, 2010)
Whether it’s kangaroos on the track, all 4 seasons in one day or just stunning racing it’s hard to think of something that hasn’t happened at Mount Panorama. The Bathurst 12 Hour race has had some stunning moments and finishes since the modern GT3 era has started. In fact, across 2014, ’15 and ’16 there was 2,160 minutes of racing. The combined winning margin was just 3.72 seconds.
Early forecast suggest that it will be very dry with temperatures in the mid 20s (degrees celsius). It means that the 2 minute barrier might not be broken this year but if it is, it will be in the Top 10 Shootout when the temperatures drop and there will be some shade on most of the track which means that the engines will have a bit more power and there will be a bit more grip on the track. It will need an unbelievable lap to get under the 2 minute mark. It will have to be even better than the Scott Mclaughlin lap at the Bathurst 1000 last year. If someone does it, then they will have to be driver of the year and it will be the lap of the year in the whole of motorsport. I don’t see it happening yet but Bathurst creates special moments and we just don’t know when they’re going to happen.
The race itself comes down to strategy and luck, much like Daytona. Silly mistakes which result in a drive through penalty are common and it always happens to at least one of the race favourites every year. You don’t want it to be you. Whether it’s in the pit lane, on a safety car restart or touching a backmarker and causing a collision, it seems that no matter how hard you try to avoid making a silly error, you just can’t help it because you want to lose as little time as possible and maximise your stint so that you don’t let your team down.
Like all endurance races, you must not go a lap down and without the “wavearound” rule, it’s very hard to get a lap back. Go more than one lap down and it’s more or less impossible to win the race. When there’s a safety car, you want to be near the front for the crucial restart because if you’re in the middle of a 53 car field then you’re putting yourself in big danger of getting caught up in a collision. It’s also the best time to make something happen like Katsumasa Chiyo did in 2015 with just 2 laps remaining.
One of the greatest circuits in the world will play host to the fastest drivers from Australia and some of the very best GT drivers and cars that we have ever seen. A record starting field of 53 will take on the mountain in 2018, it will not disappoint.
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