Mt Panorama is nestled in the town of Bathurst, some 200kms west of Sydney, Australia. The town’s history started in the early 1800’s and was the first town in Australia to discover gold and experience the gold rush. Nowadays it’s more synonymous for its 6.213 km stretch of public road that winds up and down the mountain. It only gets used for a few events every year,the Bathurst 12 Hour, Bathurst Motor Festival & the Bathurst 1000. With the latter of the three more well-known around the world due to its running of the famous V8 Supercar race.
People have been racing around the Mt Panorama since 1938, and the circuit has undergone many changes and upgrades over the years. Specifically the first 12 Hour race was held in 1991, originally for production cars, and moved to a different circuit closer to Sydney in 1995, after which it was stopped. A 24 Hour race was held in 2002 & 2003, until promoters were forced to abandon the race due to costs. The race was revived again for production cars in 2007, but in 2011, GT cars were eligible to enter, this was in addition to the production cars. This is the current incarnation we see today.
The categories that run are quite diverse; Class A includes the eligible GT3 cars that are homologated to current FIA GT3 specifications. Other classes consist of older GT3 cars, GT4, and various classes of production cars.
With the wide range of entries and classes, it can be likened to the Nürburgring 24 Hour. As well as that, many international drivers have compared the track to the infamous Nordschleife.
The growth of the event since the introduction of GT cars, and as a result making the event more international has been quite remarkable. And the future of the event is very exciting and promising. The amount of international teams and drivers is certain to increase as the years go on, unfortunately as a result of this growth, it may mean space for some of the lower categories might be limited.
Friday got underway for the field and consisted of three practice sessions split throughout the day. The day was all about lap records, firstly with David Russell in the JBS Swift Lamborghini Gallardo. In first practice he set a time of 2m05.9377. This time would end up getting beaten by the end of the day, when with just 10 minutes remaining, German ace Maro Engel set a time of 2m04.4533s in his Erebus Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3. The fellow Erebus Motorsport SLS came in at second. As reigning champions, this proved to be an ominous warning of things to come for Saturday’s qualifying session.
The weather on Friday reached into the 30’s, and the forecast was for the same, if not more, for the rest of the weekend. The hot temperatures will obviously lead to very hot track temperatures in the vicinity of +50C and also very hot cabin temperatures for the drivers to deal with. Whereas the last few year’s race was hampered by rain, this weekend it does not look to be the case.
Qualifying day started off with the unveiling of the Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy, which as the name suggests will be presented to the team that manages to claim pole position. It is a tribute to the late and great Allan Simonsen, who tragically passed away at the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hour. Allan competed in a number of Bathurst 12 Hours with Maranello Motorsport, and famously recorded the fastest ever lap time during last year’s race. Former Finnish Formula 1 driver Mika Salo presented the Trophy to the media. It’s a trophy that Maranello are sure to want to claim after qualifying.
Qualifying was split into three sessions, the first a 1 hour session, the second a 40 minute session, and lastly a 15 minute sprint for Class A cars only. Mika Salo managed to grab provisional pole position in the first session by smashing the event lap record with a 2m03.9421s. Salo admitted that he had more time in him, “It was a clear lap from the traffic but it wasn’t a clean lap, there were a few mistakes from me. I don’t know how hot it will get this afternoon, but there is more in the car, definitely.”
Times were not improved in the second qualifying session, so pole position would be decided in the final 15 minute session. It ultimately came down to the last few minutes when reigning Erebus Motorsport snatched pole position from the Maranello Motorsport crew by only 0.08 seconds. The Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy was presented to Erebus, but as a goodwill gesture, team owner Betty Klimenko herself presented the trophy to the Maranello Motorsport crew as goodwill gesture and tribute Allan.
Well it’s that day, the all important race day, where the next 12 hours will undoubtedly create drama, disappointment and excitement. It’s a very early start to the day for teams, drivers & spectators with the race scheduled to begin just before sunrise at 6:15am. It gets underway with a rolling start and Nico Bastian leads the field away in his Erebus. There was no drama at the start but it didn’t take long until the first casualty when Dutchman Peter Kox collided with a Kangaroo, causing extensive damage. Peter has had a very unfortunate run in the 12 Hour with not even having a racing lap under his belt in the last 2 events. This was remedied when it was decided this year that he would be the starting driver in the JBS Swift Lamborghini Gallardo, but the run was not as long as he or his team had hoped. Disappointment, but hopefully he will be back for another crack.
The safety car came out a few times in the first two hours for minor offs and collisions, but nothing too serious until the third hour when the #33 Clear Water Racing Ferrari attempted to pass a slower car, which resulted in contact to its right rear. Fluid started leaking and the Ferrari spun out into the gravel at McPhillamy Park. The resulting dust cloud obscured the vision of the following field, many avoided the stricken car, but the #32 Nissan GT-R did not and contacted heavily with the front of the Ferrari. Japanese driver Katsumasa Cyio managed to limp the Nissan away, but ultimately ended up at the Dipper, a few hundred meters down the road, a surprising feat considering its whole right rear wheel assembly was missing.
After 3 hours the #1 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes continued to lead, although he was starting to get pressure from the #37 McLaren piloted by New Zealander Shane Van Gisbergen. Van Gisbergen hovered all over the back of the Erebus Motorsport Mercedes, which was piloted by German legend Bernd Schneider. Van Gisbergen tried several times to pass, but was unsuccessful. The safety car was brought out after the #48 M Motorsport Lamborghini ran wide on a kerb and collided heavily with the wall at the top of Skyline.
Schneider pitted under the safety car and continued to lead when he re-joined, and continued to do so at the 4 hour mark. Shane van Gisbergen continued his charge for first after pitting. He managed to set a new event lap record with a 2m03.8s whilst on his charge. Both drivers had several breathtaking moments at the top of the mountain, but ultimately Van Gisbergen was let through by Schneider on Mountain Straight. Meanwhile the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari served a drive through penalty for an infringement. After this was served it dropped them down the order to 7th at the end of the fifth hour.
Schneider and Van Gisbergen both pitted at the same time and also changed drivers. The Erebus was quicker and Maro Engel grabbed the lead from Andrew Kirkaldy. The #1 Erebus continued to lead the race at halfway, after Maro Engel squeezed out a lead of five seconds. The Erebus pitted again and this time Nico Bastian took over, Erebus continued to lead at the halfway mark despite a safety car which was brought out after the #45 Rentcorp Porsche had an off at the chase. The team were successful and managed to repair the damage and get it back out in the race.
Nico Bastian continued to lead at the end of seven hours. Even after it’s penalty, the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari managed to make up some positions and was now with Mika Salo at the wheel was in hot pursuit. Salo caught the second placed #37 McLaren and overtook Kirkaldy on the run down Conrod Straight. Salo eventually pitted and handed over to Craig Lowndes. Meanwhile the #63 Erebus Motorsport SLS came in contact with the #65 Daytona Coupe, causing damage to the right front of the SLS. Erebus decided against extensive repairs due the time involved and rather let the car run. It suffered a loss of front downforce, but was still drivable.
Going into hour 8 the #1 Erebus Motorsport SLS looked set for victory as it built up a lead of 13 seconds over Craig Lowndes in the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari. The #37 McLaren settled into third spot with Klark Quinn at the wheel. However right on the hour, the #1 Erebus struck trouble and was forced to pit with brake issues. This handed the lead to the #37 McLaren, although short lived as the #88 Ferrari took over and built up a healthy lead. The #1 Erebus re-joined the race after repairs, but this dropped them down the order in ninth place, some six laps behind the leader. By this time the experienced Bernd Schneider was at the wheel.
During one of the #88 Maranello Motorsport’s pit stops it was apparent they had left a pit board in pit bay as the Ferrari left. This resulted in a black flag, and the team was given a drive through penalty. The Ferrari re-joined still in the lead although its gap over the second placed McLaren was halved. The McLaren of Tony Quinn was unable to keep pace with the Ferrari causing it todrop back and into the hands of the #63 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes of Will Davison. Davison overtook Quinn without much trouble.
Going into the 10th hour the safety car was deployed causing the field to bunch up. But when it went green, Craig Lowndes in the #88 Ferrari put in some great laps to build a buffer. But he couldn’t relax as Shane Van Gisbergen in the #37 McLaren put in a string of hot laps to reduce the lead to 17 seconds. The #84 HTP Motorsport had a quiet race up until now and hadnot really featured, but they took advantage of an earlier safety car period and managed to get themselves up into third. Maranello Motorsport pitted their Ferrari and Lowndes handed the wheel to Mika Salo. This played into the hands of the #63 Erebus of Greg Crick who took over the lead.
Salo managed to get onto the tail of Crick and an almighty scrap for the lead ensued. The Finn had numerous opportunities to pass, but the Ferrari could not get the job done due to the Erebus cars having a top speed advantage. This meant the HTP Motorsportrunning in third was able to catch up and an almighty battle for the lead was on. Maximilian Buhk was at the wheel of the HTP Motorsport Mercedes and quickly passed Salo going into the Chase, and then was able to take the lead at Hell corner a lap later. Buhk pulled away while Salo eventually managed to pass Crick for second place.
Maranello Motorsport pitted and Salo handed over to Craig Lowndes who would see the car to the finish. The HTP Motorsport Mercedes also pitted but had a lengthy stop as they were forced to change brake pads and this dropped them down to third, although Buhk managed to fight back to second just 18 seconds behind Lowndes. Van Gisbergen was in third just four seconds behind Buhk.
With just 20 minutes remaining the safety car was deployed to retrieve a car stopped on the top of the mountain. This closed the field right up and the battle for victory between Lowndes and Buhk was on. Buhk drove very hard and had an opportunity to pass on the inside at Quarry but Lowndes shut the door and forced Buhk to the outside for the upcoming left hander.
Traffic played a part in the closing stages but Lowndes managed to hold onto the lead, and after 12 hours of racing the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari prevailed for their first victory with the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes coming in at second only four tenths behind. The #63 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes came in at third.
It was a truly emotional victory and a well-deserved one after the loss of the late and great Allan Simonsen. Despite all that was thrown at the Maranello Motorsport crew, two infringements and some intense competition from behind, it was meant to be.
The 2014 running of the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour saw some 26,131 people attend over the three days, up nearly 4,000 on last year. The future of the event is a very strong one and if it can continue to see growth it will definitely be ranked amongst some of the greatest endurance races in the world.If that’s not the case already.
To learn more about the race head over to www.bathurst12hour.com.au. Next years race is already locked in for the 6-8 February 2015, and with the organisers offering numerous means of listening and watching the race live, it is a leader in free digital streaming technology.
To view a replay of this great race, head over to www.livestream.com and search for Bathurst.
Words & Photos: Marcel Stawiczny