Quality drivers keep Bathurst 12 Hour on the move

Speed machine: Rick Kelly will drive a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 in the Bathurst 12 Hour.With Australian motor sport dominated since the mid 1990s by the trumpeting, elephantine presence of V8 Supercars, other forms of racing have had to battle hard to be seen and heard. V8 Supercars tended to grab the lion’s share of sponsors, attract more mainstream media coverage and fan support, and collar strong television deals.
Nanjing Night Net

While not yet threatening the top-dog status of V8 Supercars, the revived annual Bathurst 12 Hour has been inexorably growing in popularity here and internationally. It cheekily uses ”The Ultimate Aussie Endurance Race” as its catch cry.

Next Sunday’s Bathurst 12 Hour has pulled a bumper entry of 44 cars, many from abroad. But it is the quality of the driver entry and the long list of explosively quick, technically fascinating, production-based GT3 cars that impress most.

Among the drivers are a DTM champ, a world touring car champ, three with formula one experience, five Bathurst 1000 winners, three V8 Supercars champions and three FIA GT world champions.

If the weather co-operates, count on a GT3 car or Radical SR8 smashing the lap record of two minutes, 4.6 seconds (set by a formula three car) at the recently resurfaced 6.2-kilometre circuit. The lap record for V8 supercars is Jamie Whincup’s 2:08.46 in 2007. Some leading GT drivers believe the 12 Hour pole next Saturday could be a 2:03. Last year’s winning team Erebus, returns with two Mercedes-Benz SLS AMGs and a stellar line-up led by the world’s most successful GT endurance racer, Bernd Schneider, who last year enjoyed wins in Dubai, Bathurst, the Nurburgring [twice], Spa and Abu Dhabi. The DTM legend will share the No.1 SLS with Maro Engel and Nico Bastian. The regular Mercedes successes in GT endurance races last year suggests the SLS V8 remains the benchmark.

New Erebus Motorsport V8 recruit Will Davison will take the wheel of the No.63 SLS – last year’s pole winner – for his sportscar debut. Youngster Jack Le Brocq and seasoned Greg Crick are co-driving that SLS.

Favoured too are six Audi R8 LMS rockets with a driving line-up that includes gun Brits Oliver Gavin and Rob Huff, Germans Christopher Mies and Markus Winkelhock and local V8 goers Jason Bright, Warren Luff and Dean Fiore. Mies was part of the winning Audi squads in 2011 and 2012, Gavin is a four-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner and Huff a past world touring car champion.

A growing number of V8 Supercars drivers have chased starts in the Bathurst 12 Hour because the cars are so enjoyable to drive, and a good result could springboard them into major GT races overseas.

Ex-formula one driver Mika Salo will to share a Ferrari F458 Italia GT3 2013 with Craig Lowndes and John Bowe.

Benefiting from his V8 Supercars links with Nissan is Rick Kelly, sharing a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 with a mixed bag of foreigners from the Nissan family: Katsumasa Cyio, Alex Buncombe and Wolfgang Reip.

Actor Eric Bana, a previous Bathurst 12 Hour competitor, returns to share a Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 with mates Peter Hill and Simon Middleton. Ferrari and Lamborghini are not the only Italian marques on the grid. Three tiny Abarth 500s (based on the Fiat 500) have more than one mountain to climb. Their initial hurdle is to qualify, which means lap times within 130 per cent of the pole car. They’re aiming at a lap of 2:40 to make the cut.

The final three hours of the Bathurst 12 Hour will be shown by SBS on Sunday.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.