Monday Motor Sport Report

ENDURANCE: Mercedes wins 24H Dubai

THE GULLWING Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 has taken its third consecutive outright win in the Hankook 24 Hour of Dubai to crank up a narrow favouritism for next month’s much-awaited Bathurst 12 Hour.

Globetrotting German team Black Falcon took the win in the 10th running of Dubai’s international endurance race, the long-nosed SLS driven by German Hubert Haupt, Dutchman Yelmer Buurman, Briton Oliver Webb and Saudi-Arabian Abdulaziz Al Faisal.

The multi-cultural line-up completed 604 laps of the 5.39km Dubai Autodrome, four laps up on second-placed RAM Racing’s similar SLS AMG GT3. UAE-based team Dragon Racing was third overall with its Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.

There were 12 changes in the overall lead, with four different cars taking turns to head the field.

Just off the podium was the KPM Racing Aston Martin, taking fourth ahead of the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN’s Nissan GTR GT3. Crashes and mechanical woes thinned several leading contenders from the 95-car field.

Australian team MARC Cars came out on top in the SP2 class with its MARC Focus V8 (#91, Kassulke/Alford/Leemhuis/Padayachee/Elgammal) while the sister car (#92, Kaye/Al Hamad/McLedo/Karanfilovski/Fiore) completed a one-two for the team.

ENDURANCE: Bathurst contenders gather

WHY IS next month’s Bathurst 12-hour race in history now less than four weeks so hotly anticipated? Probably because of the roll-call of impressive GT cars heading Down Under: two factory Bentley Continental GT3s, plus a local entry, Aston Martin Vantage, Ferrari 458, Porsche 911 GT3, Lamborghini Gallardo, McLaren MP4-12C, Nissan GT-R NISMO, Audi R8 LMS ultra, and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. In all, 17 brands are represented, with teams from 10 countries.

Class A (GT3), which includes the outright contenders, is loaded with 30 cars across nine makes, reasonably evenly split between Pro-Am (two seeded drivers) and ‘Am’ classes (one seeded, two amateurs).

Entries were closed at 55 cars and though one or two may drop out, organisers are expecting the grid will be about twice the size of last October’s Bathurst 1000.

The complete list of drivers will be rolled out within a few days, with announcements from Bentley, Erebus Mercedes, Nissan and AF Corse Ferrari of particular interest, but it’s already as enticing as the cars, despite the effective ban on V8 Supercar regulars.

Talents include ex-F1 pilots Mika Salo, David Brabham and Andrea Montermini, two Le Mans 24-Hour winners (Stephane Ortelli and Brabham), Nürburgring 24-Hour winner Christopher Haase, works Porsche ace Patrick Long, previous Bathurst 12-Hour winners Christopher Mies and Darryl O’Young, BTCC champ Gordon Shedden, a former ‘Stig’, and some of Europe’s finest hired guns such as Laurens Vanthoor, Markus Winkelhock, and Felix Baumgartner.

Then there are also Craig Baird, Steve Richards, Chris Pither, David Russell, Steve Owen, Ben Collins Tony D’Alberto, Matt Halliday, John Bowe, John McIntyre, James Winslow, Luke Youlden and Ben Barker for the locals to get behind.

On top of that, Greg Crick, who duelled with Mika Salo in the 2014 race, suffered serious carbon-monoxide poisoning during the event but wants to be back this year.

LEGEND: Ron Tauranac clocks 90

WHEELS recently had a pleasant chat and a glass of West Aussie red with Ron Tauranac. And on the eve of his 90th birthday, the technical genius from the glory days of Brabham and Ralt was just as forthright as ever.

Ron’s Brabham cars dominated Formula One, Formula Junior and Formula 3 during the 1960s, winning the F1 Constructors Championship in 1966 and 1967 with the Repco Brabham BT19 & BT20.

Whilst Ron still gets annoyed when people wrongly suggest Jack Brabham was the engineering force behind his triple F1 triumphs, he says Australia’s most successful F1 racer was also the smartest and most technical drivers he worked with.

Ron was perhaps the antithesis of Lotus’ flashy Colin Chapman in that he built his race cars to be reliable and practical, with safety just as important as speed. It seems Chapman once asked Tauranac to run his race team – that would have been a clash of philosophies and it’s probably for the best Ron didn’t take the job.

“I like to think any success I achieved in designing racing cars came about through being able to apply the correct balance between theory and practicality,” he once said. “Theory is very important, of course, but it is the practical application of it which makes it work on the track.”

When Jack Brabham retired from F1 at the end of 1970, he sold his shareholding in Motor Racing Developments (MRD) to Tauranac. Ron ran the outfit for a year before flogging it to a youthful Bernie Ecclestone. The transaction wasn’t as pure as it should have been, but there were no regrets.

Tauranac then set up the Ralt design group, his Ralt RT1 immediately tasting success with Larry Perkins taking out the 1975 European F3 championship. Ralt prospered, its cars amassing an astonishing number of F2 and F3 titles in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Ralt also brought on drivers including Nelson Piquet, Derek Warwick, Ayrton Senna, Mike Thackwell and Damon Hill. From 1975 to 1993 the Ralt factory produced a total of 1083 cars; Ron claims credit for 1047.

On 13 January, the Historic Sports & Racing Car Association of NSW will celebrate Tauranac’s career and his 90th birthday with a lunch in Sydney. Ron, dry as ever, isn’t so sure reaching 90 is something to celebrate. He hits the gym every day and enjoys a morning cup of coffee but he suggests life these days is boring – not enough worthy stuff to do.

Perhaps it’s that refusal to rest on his laurels that drove him through a magnificent career. Wheels salutes you, Ron!

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