The endurance sports car season is in full stride after an already impressive run for Porsche teams, having already taken the overall win in the Dubai 24, and the GTLM class victory at the 24 hours of Daytona. Attempting to capitalize on that momentum, ten teams will compete in Australia's 12 hour endurance race at Mount Panorama, "the 12 hours of Bathurst", driving Porsche's proven 997 GT3 platform.
The race begins this Saturday, February 8th at 2:15 PM EST/11:15 AM PST, which translates to a 6:15 AM local time drop of the green flag. One of the only endurance races that begins in the early morning light and ends before darkness falls, the drivers will have to contend with a full range of sunny conditions as they pound up and down the mountainside raceway. The drivers will have to work their way through a multi-class field of GT cars, making sure to keep their passes clean, and maintain an easy rhythm, so as not to cause component failures. The circuit itself involves a wide range of elevation change, and in some areas is quite narrow. There are concrete walls on both sides of the racing surface, and navigating the traffic requires a deft and precise driving style. Surely a challenge, this race is always one for the ages.
Introduced in 1991, the 12 hour race was originally staged for production touring cars, sedans, and sports cars, and continued with this format until it was dropped after 1995. In 2007, the race was resurrected, and again showcased production cars. In 2011, though, the race format was modified to include FIA GT rules and regulations, allowing a class for GT3 competitors, as well as GT4 cars, to compete alongside a handful of modified production sports cars. This year the race is absolutely dominated by FIA GT3 cars, numbering 28 in total.
Interestingly, there are two tiers of GT3 competition in this event. The top tier, Class A for "GT3 Outright", is run to current regulation FIA GT3, and allows cars built to the 2013 balance of performance rules. The second tier Class B for "GT3", is run to 2012 specifications, and allows for a lower cost of entry, primarily for smaller teams to be able to compete. While, unfortunately, there are no Porsche cars registered in the "GT3 Outright" class, the "GT3" class is absolutely chock full of 997 competition machines. Ten of the 13 cars in Class B are Porsche 911s, so by sheer force of number, there is a good chance a Porsche will take the class victory. While it would be difficult going for a 2 year old machine to take the overall victory, it surely isn't impossible.
One team in Class B that looks the best prepared for the event is one Competition Motorsports, owned by Bob Faieta. Faieta has hired some excellent drivers to push his #12B 997 toward the lead, in the form of American Ace Patrick Long, Australian V8 Supercar driver Alex Davison, and California Helicopter pilot turned GT3 Cup car star David Calvert-Jones. The car started life as a 2012 spec ALMS GTC car, and has received a few modifications to be legal for competition at the mountain, and is ready for an all out assault. In my humble opinion, they'll be the car to contend for the Class B victory, but they'd be wise to keep their eyes on the Rotek Racing Audi R8, as that is a strong organization.
If any of the Porsche teams are to contend for an overall victory, they'll have to get past former winners in the form of Erebus Motorsport's pair of Mercedes SLS AMG, and the always resilient Audi R8 of Phoenix Motorsport. Throw in a handful of Ferrari, and a couple McLaren and Lamborghini for good measure, and this is starting to shape up into a masterful field of GT cars.
At the tail end of the field, in the invitational classes, a trio of Ford Focus GTC V8 cars, and another three Fiat Abarth 500s will provide some slower traffic to look out for. Last year, the Competition Motorsports Porsche was leading their class by a large margin when they were taken out of the race through contact with a backmarker, so it wouldn't be wise for them to disregard them this year. The Abarth team is expecting lap times somewhere in the 2:35 range, while the best GT3 cars are touching 2:06 around a lap.
Just in case this wasn't enough to get you excited to watch the race this weekend, the following promotional video for the event will get your blood pumping, for sure.
As an amazing show of gratitude for their fans, and in a bid to draw in more fans, the LiquiMoly Bathurst 12 Hour will be live streamed on the race website in its entirety, across the globe, absolutely for free. Live race commentary will be provided by the adept vocal talents of the Radio Le Mans crew, who are also providing audio commentary for every practice and qualifying session leading up to the race.
Complete event entry list available here.
To give you an idea of just how tight and treacherous the Mount Panorama circuit is, here is an on-board video of Jeroen Bleekemolen driving an ex-Penske Porsche RS Spyder around on an exhibition lap in 2012.
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All photography provided by bathurst12hour.com.