Over the last decade or so, the Bathurst 12 Hour has quickly become one of the greatest sports car endurance races on the planet. Several factory efforts have been attracted to the call of the Mount Panorama circuit, and Porsche is not exempt. As the first round of the newly-formed Intercontinental GT Cup series, this dawn-to-mid-afternoon race has become a truly blue riband event. Porsche threw a lot at this race, including a series of highly talented drivers in a quartet of quasi-factory effort 911 GT3Rs, and they ran a stellar race, and were on pace to win the race on pure strategy.
As the race wound toward its final laps, it was clear that the leading WRT Audi R8, and the second placed Mercedes GT3 were going to need to stop for fuel to make it to the end of the timed distance. Porsche had fourth through sixth locked up, waiting for them to run out of petroleum go juice in order to move up into 1-2-3-4 formation. The first Porsche in line, the Black Swan Racing car of Tim Pappas, Marc Lieb, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Luca Stoltz was marginal on fuel, but had pitted two laps later than the Merc and Audi at the front. They weren't sure they would make it to the end, but even still, there were three more Porsches lined up behind them to at least lock out the podium.
The race is very long, but being in contention at the final hour is the most difficult part. This race is a sprint from the moment the flag drops, and the drivers aren't given much respite during the 12-hours. It's important to preserve the car, to not make any foolish moves, and to keep the aero clean, but you also have to be fast, and that's what the Porsches were. While a number of front runners had mechanical issues (at one point the race was being lead by an Audi when its gearbox failed and left the car stranded), or crashed (one BMW driver took out a contending Bentley in a silly pass attempt in ttime to shine.
Then, 20 minutes from the checkered flag, a huge crash happened at the top of the mountain. An Audi was involved in a quick spin while working with some slower class traffic. It was a simple and mostly innocuous spin that left the car backed into the wall, but likely not too damaged. Then, a full 12 seconds after the Audi came to a stop, a Mercedes AMG GT3 rounded the corner at full chat, passing a caution flag in the process, and smashed essentially unimpeded into the side of the Audi. The resulting carbon debris littered the entire race track, and both cars would need to be flat-bedded off of the race track. Marshalls paused the race with a full course caution, but it was clear the debris would take more than 20 minutes to clean up. After one lap of caution, the race was given a red flag stoppage, but the clock was still running. As the clock ran down to zero, the cars were sitting idle in pit lane, and the WRT Audi was named victor. Porsche's fuel strategy was completely thrown out the window, and they could do no better than third rung of the podium.
Not having to worry about fuel any longer, the Black Swan Racing team took their third place, and with it the Pro-Am class victory. Porsche will be satisfied with their class victory and overall podium, but will likely always wonder what could have been. They were so close to winning the whole thing, only to have it snatched away from them. The best you can do is shrug it off and exclaim "That's racing".
Also in the Pro-Am class was the fourth-placed Competition Motorsports Porsche of Pat Long, Matt Campbell, Alex Davison, and David Calvert-Jones. The fifth-placed Pro-class Craft Bamboo Porsche was driven by Kévin Estre, Earl Bamber, and Laurens Vanthoor, followed closely by the Pro-class Manthey Porsche of Romain Dumas, Fred Makowiecki, and Dirk Werner. The Grove Motorsports GT3 Cup of Stephen and Brenton Grove with Ben Barker also won the Class B race for Porsche.
The Porsche teams will have another chance to take the laurels at the second round of the ICGTC series with the 24 Hours of Spa in July.
Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, Vice President Motorsport and GT Cars:
“That was an extremely exciting race characterized by many safety car phases. This made it all the more astonishing that we got all four 911 GT3 R to the finish of this red-flagged race without any problems whatsoever. Four Porsche in the top six – but unfortunately not in the positions we had aimed for. Still, we can take many positives home with us from this season-opener of the Intercontinental GT Challenge. We’re not where we want to be with the pace and the qualifying results, but we can still be very happy with the efficiency and the strong team performance. We all very much hope that the driver who had the accident that led to the cancellation of the race is okay.”
Marc Lieb, Driver, Black Swan Racing 911 GT3 R #540:
“This race was typical of Bathurst. Lots of accidents, lots of drama. We did exactly what we set out to do, and that’s to get through without any problems and bring the car home in one piece. We succeeded. We may not have been the fastest Porsche out there, but we had a super strategy. So we’re pretty pleased. This is a huge success for the team, particularly considering that it’s their first time in Bathurst.”
Patrick Long, Driver, Competition Motorsports 911 GT3 R #12:
“A great team result for Porsche. Our race was good to the end and we had a very promising fuel strategy. A class victory would have been possible at least. The race suspension then threw everything upside down. Still, congratulations to Black Swan Racing for their well-deserved podium and class victory.”
Kévin Estre, Driver, Manthey Racing 911 GT3 R #991:
“If it hadn’t been for the early termination of the race, our strategy would have worked and we would have made it through to the flag. Then perhaps victory would have been on the cards.”
Frédéric Makowiecki, Driver, Craft Bamboo Racing 911 GT3 R #911:
“We knew that we first had to bond as a team. We’ve never raced together before, and now we’re contesting the Intercontinental GT Challenge together. Bathurst was completely uncharted territory for us. We managed to improve step by step from the first practice, and towards the end of the race our 911 GT3 R was running better than it had over the entire weekend. We started from 26th on the grid and came sixth – we can be proud of this team effort.”