Monday Motor Sport Report

GT: Betty has some decisions to make

THE 2015 season has barely begun and Betty Klimenko, the wealthy team owner of the Erebus GT sports car team (and the Erebus AMG V8 Supercar team), is already thinking about 2016.

Klimenko and husband Daniel, who runs the GT program, will be doing their usual double-barrelled act this season contesting the two series with AMG products – the E63 AMG in the Australian V8 Supercars Championship and the Mercedes SLS 63 AMG GT3 in the Australian GT Championship.

Speaking to Wheels at last weekend’s Bathurst 12 Hour about the raft of new GT cars coming on stream this year and next, including a replacement for the gullwing SLS 63 AMG GT3 racer, Klimenko declared candidly: “I’m already thinking about Mercedes’ move to the new AMG GT coupe and what I’ll do.

“Do I stay [in GT racing]?  Do I go?  If I stay, do I change brands?”

Trailblazer Klimenko, the first woman team owner to win a Bathurst 12 Hour (in 2013), has been a long-time Mercedes loyalist.  But her relationship with Mercedes-Benz Australia has been stretched occasionally, mainly over the carmaker’s indifference to being part of V8 Supercars.

She has made it clear that, as she considers her options among the next generation of GT3 rockets, she won’t necessarily stick with the three-pointed star, if she elects to continue racing GT sports cars at all.

MOTOGP: Naked ambition from the Mountain

AS MICHAEL Caton’s character in The Castle might say, “Tell ’em they’re dreamin’!”

The Bathurst Regional Council wants to build a second circuit at Mount Panorama on the eastern side of Conrod Straight for motorcycle racing.

But here’s the interesting bit: it intends to steal MotoGP and World Superbike championship events from Phillip Island, a venue adored by riders and punters alike, and rated the best circuit on the planet.

The Bathurst council has long indicated it wants its famous facilities used more often to help with the upkeep.  Getting motorcycles back to Bathurst is part of the justification of the not inconsiderable spend on the second layout.

Phillip Island  held its first 500cc/MotoGP  world title race in 1989 and, but for the time it shifted to Sydney’s Eastern Creek (aka SMP) between 1991 and 1996, has been the regular home of the championship in Australia since.

The Victorian venue has hosted World Superbike Championship racing since 1990 (apart from 1993).

Phillip Island managing director Fergus Cameron said he was confident the circuit had the history, location and rider-appeal to thwart any rival tracks.

WORLD RALLY: Ogier takes dramatic Sweden

WORLD champion Sebastien Ogier charged from third overnight to win a tense and tight three-way snowfight in Rally Sweden, round two of the WRC.

Heading into the final day, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Volkswagen drivers Andreas Mikkelsen and Ogier were covered by just 9.6 seconds, setting the scene for a gripping final three stages and 46.76 kilometres of craziness.

Trailing by just 1.5 seconds  after two days, Mikkelsen, the Norwegian from central casting, said on Saturday night: “The same thing applies tomorrow as has applied throughout the entire rally for us… flat out, no tactics!”

Struggling with an intercom problem on SS19, Neuville was distracted and hit a snow bank, losing time and the lead.  Then just 6.8 seconds covered the top three.

On the penultimate stage, Ogier took his brave pills and went 3.8 seconds faster than Mikkelsen, who in turn was 0.8s quicker than Neuville.  So 4.6 seconds covered the first three – Mikkelsen leading Ogier and Neuville - with just one Power Stage remaining…

Even with Ogier on the charge and Neuville intent on glory, Mikkelsen looked set to post his first WRC victory. 

A lead of 2.7 seconds should have been enough. But, almost unbelievably, Mikkelsen smacked a snow bank and spun  on that deciding 5.37km Power Stage, allowing Ogier to take a win that had looked out of reach. 

Neuville finished the rally in second with the shattered Mikkelsen third.

“An unbelievable finale,” said Ogier. “I am incredibly proud of this win. It is certainly one of my best. The first victory in Sweden two years ago, when I beat Sebastien Loeb, was fantastic, but this was even harder-fought.”

“We gave everything and we loved it!” said Neuville after his spirited run, which confirmed the Hyundai’s increasing competitiveness.

“We did our utmost right up until the final metre – but unfortunately lost out in the end,” reflected Mikklesen. 

“I never dreamed that I might one day be disappointed with a podium finish. After all, I have not won all that much yet in my career.

“I had the chance to clinch my maiden WRC victory and came very close to doing so. But I made a slight mistake, spun, and missed out on this opportunity. That is very bitter and very disappointing at the moment.”

Hyundai’s Kiwi, Haydon Paddon, also impressed with an excellent fifth place, his best WRC result.

Rally Sweden has an iconic and infamous jump called Colin’s Crest, named for the always brave Colin McRae.

Mikkelsen set the mark on the first run with a leap of 41 metres. The sensors on the Polo R WRC registered a speed of 151.23km/h as it took off. Team-mate Ogier was more cautious, recording 135.87km/h at take-off and taking flight for just 34 metres.  But Mikkelsen’s jump was bested on the second pass by Hyundai’s Neuville, who flew for 44 metres.

GT: Bowe fighting fit and wanting to race on

HE LOOKS as fit as he did back when he was winning a couple of Australian Drivers’ Championships, a pair of Bathurst 1000s with Dick Johnson, the 1995 Touring Car Championship and an Australian Sports Car Championship.

And John Bowe, who is officially 60 but may be fudging his age, wants to race on.

Last weekend he shared a Bentley Continental GT3 with the car’s owner Peter Edwards and Le Mans winner David Brabham, who crashed late in the race. A year earlier Bowe was part of the winning Bathurst 12 Hour crew driving a Ferrari F458.

The Victorian-based Tasmanian says he’s truly grateful to still be racing at a top level. 

“I’d love to race one of these GTs cars with 700 horsepower,” Bowe says wistfully.

“Racing makes me get out of bed in the morning. I dunno how long I can keep doing it. This takes a lot of concentration and fitness.”

Bowe also competes regular in historic Touring Car Masters racing.  At the pointy end of course.

BATHURST 12 HOUR: Strong numbers for GT enduro

BATHURST 12 Hour race crowds were up, and so were television ratings last weekend. 

Importantly, too, the endurance race for glamour sports car brands is attracting the kind of up-market corporate names that other forms of motor sport would kill for.

The marathon live coverage of the race (5.30am to 6pm) dominated Sunday on Seven and 7Mate, the coverage peaking at 730,000 viewers across metropolitan and regional markets, with an average metropolitan and regional combined audience of 396,000.

Across the five major metropolitan markets, the Bathurst 12 Hour delivered an average audience of 238,000 viewers on Seven and a peak audience of 368,000. 7mate’s coverage delivered an average audience of 98,000 viewers and a peak audience of 229,000 viewers across the five major metropolitan markets.

The standard measure across five capital cities between 11am and 5pm (on 7Mate and then 7) was an average of 218,000.

It still has a long way to go to match the Bathurst 1000’s 1.35 million-plus viewers last year, but the TV ratings last Sunday were described as “pretty good” by an independent TV analyst who said they were nearly 12 times greater than the live coverage of the V8 Supercars test day at Sydney Motorsport Park on Fox Sports.

Unique 12 Hour website visits were up more than 40 percent on 2014 with more than one million pages viewed across the race weekend – half of them on race day alone.

Demonstrating the growing international audience following the race, 53 percent of all web traffic came from overseas.

More than 100,000 unique viewers watched some part of the free live streaming coverage of the race provided on the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour website. This is a surprisingly strong number given the availability of live, free-to-air television in Australia throughout the race. 

During the 12 hours of the race itself, the #B12hr hashtag directly reached 2.7 million twitter accounts. More than 23,000 tweets utilising the hashtag were lodged during the race from 4400 unique authors.

Meanwhile, more than half a million people were reached via the Bathurst 12 Hour Facebook page across the three days the cars were on track.

The good news extended to the corporate suites, too, where premium brands Audi, Bentley, McLaren and Mercedes all did corporate entertaining, plus the Liqui-Moly, Michelin and Pirelli.  For the first time at the 12 Hour, all suites were sold, and populated by guests with influence.

Mercedes-Benz Australia, which is also involved with high-profile activities at the Grand Prix, Australian Fashion Week and golf, hosted 150 of its AMG owners (who paid for the weekend) in a trackside hospitality room and deck at the hotel at the foot of Conrod Straight, where they schmoozed, sipped and ate with other well-to-dos.

“They loved watching the brand they own – in some cases the model they own – racing on an iconic circuit against competitive makes,” said PR chief David McCarthy, who also spoke of the “incredibly positive” feedback from customers.

“It really rang their bell that they were in a facility commensurate with their high expectations and being at Mount Panorama watching a particularly exciting motor race.

“We will be back bigger and better.

“The Bathurst 12 Hour has had one of the best responses from our customers of any event we’ve ever conducted.”

TOYOTA SERIES: Teen prodigy stars in NZ

CANADIAN wonderkid Lance Stroll nailed a weekend to remember, wrapping up a big double – the Toyota Racing Series and the New Zealand Grand Prix – at Manfeild, New Zealand.

Put his name into the memory bank; this teenager from Montreal is all class.

The consistent but quick Stroll sealed his series triumph with a third in the 15-lap preliminary race bagged by 16-year-old American Santino Ferrucci from England’s Sam McLeod.

There was no joy for Thomas Randle, the only Australian contesting the TRS. He retired on lap 13 of the 15-lap journey.

It was Stroll’s second series win within a few months, having also snared the Italian Formula 4 title last year.

Having clinched the series, 16-year-old Stroll cut loose to win the 60th NZ Grand Prix, beating Irishman Charlie Eastwood by a little more than one second, with France’s Brandon Maisano third.

The 35-lapper unfolded into a three-way scrap between Stroll and his two M2 Motorsport team-mates, Indian Arjun Maini and Maisano. However, Maini and Maisano came together battling for the lead, opening the door for Stroll.

Stroll’s next step is to take on European Formula 3 with the Prema team.

Victorian Randle, who showed plenty of pluck at different times during the TRS, endured a difficult finale but took a fighting ninth in the NZGP.

WORLD SUPERBIKES: Melcher’s pinch-me moment at Phillip Island

AUSTRALIAN rider Jed Metcher takes on the cream of the globe’s superbike stars this coming weekend in the opening round of the 2015 World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island.

Metcher, from the Melbourne suburb of Eltham, won the 2011 European Supersport 600 championship, but

has put together a small team – most of them mates and volunteers – to go into the fight with the mega-buck factory-backed operations of Kawasaki, Ducati and Honda.

"We've been putting this thing together for about 12 months now, and a number of people have worked tirelessly to make it happen," said Metcher. "It's been a big team effort on a limited budget, but that really gives me extra motivation to go and rattle the big international teams.”

Despite the David versus Goliath scenario, Metcher at least feels the new standardised world superbike rules – superbike chassis and superstock-type engines – are at least marginally in his favour compared to Aussies who have toiled as wildcards in past years.

“Engine-wise it's going to help as the top factory bikes shouldn’t have the horsepower edge as they once did, but it's the chassis development and electronics side of things where we are left behind – and it's nearly impossible to bridge that gap as it takes a lot of time, money and effort."

Metcher will ride a Race Center-backed RC-10 machine based on the Kawasaki ZX-10R.

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