THIS time there was no booing, and no “You’re nothing but a pack of arseholes!” retort from the podium.
Twenty-two years after its last controversial win at Mount Panorama (in the 1992 Bathurst 1000), Nissan triumphed in a crash-punctuated 2015 Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race for GT sports cars, its NISMO Athlete Global Team GT-R blasting from a distant third to the lead in a restart and two-lap sprint to the flag.
As the clock wound down, Katsumasa Chiyo in the Nissan carved his way through a gaggle of lapped cars and, in a blink, whipped past the Audi ahead and the leading Bentley to seal a remarkable win.
Chiyo of Japan, Belgian Wolfgang Reip and late inclusion Florian Strauss of Germany combined to post the team’s first win for two years, and a pleasing reward for the weary mechanics who worked until 4.30am on race day to repair the car after a qualifying crash.
The victory was redemption for diminutive Chiyo after his crunching qualifying mistake.
Spare a thought for Alex Buncombe, who a few days earlier withdrew from the race to attend the delayed birth of his child in England. The lucky benefactor was Strauss, who got the phone call from Nissan while holidaying in Thailand.
Second in the 12 Hour was the pole-winning Phoenix Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Laurens Vanthoor, Markus Winkelhock and Marco Mapelli, with the Craft Bamboo Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Stefan Mucke, Darryl O’Young and Alexander MacDowall opportunistically snatching the final podium spot with a last-corner lunge.
This move booted the Bentley of Matt Bell, Steven Kane and Guy Smith off the podium after a brave first foray by the British factory squad to Bathurst.
Underscoring the great variety and tight competition of the international GT3 cars, seven different makes took the first seven positions.
First Australian team home was the Erebus Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Jack Le Brocq, Richard Muscat and Dean Canto – fifth outright – ahead of the Vicious Rumour Racing Ferrari and the JBS Australia Lamborghini Gallardo.
The 20 safety car interventions (collectively taking 73 laps under the yellows) turned the half-day contest into a series of short, furious sprints; but the last two were the crucial ones.
The much-publicised clash of the 12 Hour with V8 Supercars’ official test weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park meant star drivers including Craig Lowndes, Rick Kelly and Shane van Gisbergen were effectively banned from racing at Mount Panorama.
While the local heroes were missed, the 12 Hour garnered a lot of support from motor sporting enthusiasts who tended to paint V8 Supercars and its television unit as the villains.
At different times Audi, Bentley, Aston-Martin, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan took turns up front.
Fifty cars fronted the starter at 5.50am Sunday, the field reduced by the huge crash of the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari F458 Italia of Mika Salo/Ben Collins/Tony D’Alberto on Friday.
Winkelhock in the pole-starting Audi R8 set a hectic pace in the opening couple of hours, slicing through lapped traffic in an adventurous way as he banged in a succession of lap records.
Local wildlife showed no loyalty to Australian competitors, with a rather large skippy bounding into the BMW E46 GTR of Anthony Gilbertson of Queensland on lap six. The badly crumpled BMW then speared into a wall to complete the carnage.
Fourteen cars were on the lead lap after two hours. But even though crashes cut a swathe through the ranks of the outright contenders, six were still in contention at the nine-hour mark.
A beautiful sunny day for spectators translated into sometimes oppressive conditions in the cockpits, especially when some drivers’ cool suits failed.
Bentley works driver Matt Bell was forced to pit from the lead when he was physically ill during his stint. The Brit returned later in the race to relieve the workload on teammates Smith and Kane and handle the vital last battle to the 5.50pm chequer.
The lone McLaren MP4-12C of Tony Quinn/Klark Quinn/Kevin Estre was retired after losing a bunch of laps repairing its underfloor diffuser, dislodged when it received a whack from behind.
Next year, it is expected that two full factory McLarens will be on the Bathurst 12 Hour grid.
The oldest driver in the race, 1991 winner Peter Fitzgerald, was hip and shouldered at the fastest corner on the track, the entry to The Chase, by the overtaking Bentley of John Bowe. Fitzgerald’s damaged Audi was sent on a wild, gyrating ride through the sand trap; Bowe was able to fight on.
Sadly, only a half an hour or so from the finish, David Brabham in the Bentley he shared with Bowe and car owner Peter Edwards was helped into the unforgiving wall at the cutting.
Another Bentley – one of the works Continental GT3s – also tagged the Mercedes SLS of Dean Grant/Ash Samadi/Max Twigg at the Chase, sending it on a scary flight backwards into the wall and out of the event.
The official crowd for the three days of the Bathurst 12 Hour was 32,290, the best since the annual enduro was revived in 2007.
International live streaming attracted huge numbers and Twitter traffic was impressive throughout the race.
|Pos||Car||Team||Drivers||Vehicle||Laps||Fastest Lap Time|
|1||35||NISMO Athlete Global Team||F.Strauss/K.Chiyo/W.Reip||Nissan GT-R NISMO GT||269||02:04.0|
|2||15||Phoenix Racing||M.Mapelli/L.Vanthoor/M.Winkelhock||Audi R8-LMS Ultra 20||269||2:03.3091R|
|3||97||Craft Bamboo Racing||D.O'Young/A.MacDowall/S.Mucke||Aston Martin Vantage||269||02:04.5|
|4||10||Bentley Team M-Sport||G.Smith/S.Kane/M.Bell||Bentley Continental||269||02:05.2|
|5||36||Erebus Motorsport||J.LeBrocq/R.Muscat/D.Canto||Mercedes SLS AMG GT3||269||02:04.6|
|6||49||Vicious Rumour Racing||B.Simonsen/A.Montermini/R.Loberto||Ferrari F458 Italia||268||02:05.6|
|7||32||JBS Australia||R.Lago/D.Russell/S.Owen||Lamborghini Gallardo||268||02:04.8|
|8||33||Clearwater Racing||W S Mok/T.Vilander/M.Griffin||Ferrari F458 Italia||268||02:04.9|
|9||16||Phoenix Racing||F.Baumgartner/C.Haase/S.Ortelli||Audi R8-LMS Ultra 20||268||02:05.0|
|10||9||Hallmarc / Network Clothing||M.Cini/M.Eddy/C.Mies||Audi R8-LMS Ultra 20||267||02:05.1|