Friday, February 6, 2015

2015 Bathurst 12 Hour Preview

The winter of endurance races heads to Mount Panorama for the 14th running of the Bathurst 12 Hour. Twenty-eight Class A GT3 cars are entered alongside 11 Class B Porsche GT3 Cup cars, three Class C GT4 cars, six Class D Invitational Production cars and five Class I Invitational Non-Production cars.

The event has already had a major development as defending champions Maranello Motorsport are on the brink of withdrawing the #88 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 after a practice accident. Australian Tony D'Alberto was involved in an accident with the #99 Craft Bamboo Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Jean-Marc Merlin. D'Alberto was taken to hospital for precautionary measures. He has since been released. Mika Salo is slated to be in the #88 and is looking to go back-to-back after winning last year. British journeyman Ben Collins is set to round out the driver line-up. The team is trying to repair the car and make it to the grid.

Peter Edwards and John Bowe still have the opportunity to win back-to-back Bathurst 12 Hours in the #8 Flying B Motorsport Bentley Continental GT3 alongside David Brabham in what could be the final professional race in the Australians decorated career. Bowe has the most Bathurst 12 Hour victories with three. Brabham won the 1997 Bathurst 1000 with his brother Geoff. Two factory M-Sport Bentley are also on the entry list with an all-British line-up in the #10 with Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Matt Bell. The #11 features recently signed 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series Champion Maximilian Buhk joined by Formula Two champion Andy Soucek and Harold Primat.

A British driver has never won the Bathurst 12 Hour. Only seven European drivers have won the event with Salo being the only non-German to stand on the top step of the podium.

The #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 of David Russell, Steve Owen and Roger Lago was fastest in first practice with a time of 2:05.923. The other Lamborghini on the entry list is the #48 Interlloy/M Motorsport Gallardo featuring three-time Bathurst 1000 winner Steven Richards, 2007 Bathurst 12 Hour winner Craig Barid and Justin McMillan.

NISMO with their #35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Florian Strauß, Katsumasa Chiyo and Wolfgang Reip. They were third fastest in first practice with the #88 Maranello Ferrari second. The Nissan was sandwiched between Ferrari as the #27 T F M Ferrari Motorsport NZ 458 Italian GT3 of Jono Lester, John McIntyre and Graeme Smith was fourth quickest.

The #36 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Jack LeBrocq, Richard Muscar and Dean Canto rounded out the top five. Erebus's #63 Mercedes features a line-up of promising talent. Simon Hodge, the holder of the all-time fastest lap at Mount Panorama will be joined by ADAC GT Masters driver Nathan Morcom and Mazda Road to Indy driver Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske's team president Tim Cindric. The final Mercedes on the entry list is the #7 VodkaO SLS AMG GT3 of Dean Grant, Ash Samadi and Max Twigg.

Austin Cindric isn't the only America down under. Patrick Long leads the #12 ICE Break Porsche GT3 R with Australian David Calvert-Jones and New Zealander Chris Pither as his co-drivers. Long and Calvert-Jones finished second in Class B last year. The only other Porsche in Class A is the #51 IMAK-KWIKMIT 911 GT3 R of Andrew MacPherson, Brad Shiels and Matthew Campbell.

We have yet to mention an Audi of which there are seven R8-LMS Ultras entered, the most entries from any manufacture in Class A. Phoenix Racing has entered two cars. The 2014 Blancpain GT Series champion Laurens Vanthoor leads the #15 Audi alongside Markus Winkelhock and Marco Mapelli. The 2012 Blancpain Endurance Seris champions Christopher Haase and Stéphane Ortelli will be joined by former record holder for highest place dive Felix Baumgartner in the #16 Audi.

Jamec Pem has also entered two Audis with Alessandro Latif, Warren Luff and Greg Crick in the #75 Audi. Steve McLaughlin, James Winslow and Dean Koutsoumidis will be in the Jamec Pem #76 Audi. Fitzgerald Racing/Evolve Technik will run the #2 Audi with Peter Fitzgerald, Michael Almond and former Champ Car driver Matt Halliday as the drivers. Oliver Gavin is the lead driver in the #5 Skwirk Audi and will be joined by Rod Salmon and Nathan Antunes. The final Audi is the #9 Hallmarc/Network Clothing Audi and will bring back the same driver line-up from 2014 with Christopher Mies, Marc Cini and Mark Eddy. Mies is a two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner.

With the withdrawal of the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari, the leading prancing horse is arguably the #33 Clearwater Racing 458 Italia GT3. Asian Le Mans Series race winner Mok Weng Sun is joined by World Champion Toni Vilander and European Le Mans Series champion Matt Griffin. The #29 PIRELLI Ferrari features former Formula One driver Ivan Capelli being joined by Jim Manolios and Ryan Miller. Another former Formula One driver is in the #49 Vicious Rumour Racing as Andrea Montermini splits the seat with veteran Benny Simonsen, brother of the late-Allan Simonsen and Renato Loberto. The final Ferrari comes from who else but AF Corse as the Italian team brings back their Gulf 12 Hours winning combination of Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and Davide Rigon in the #77 458 Italia GT3.

Three Aston Martins are entered, two belonging to Craft Bamboo Racing. You know about the #99 with Merlin which will also feature Frank Yu and Jonathan Venter. The #97 Craft Bamboo Vantage V8 GT3 features a world class line-up with two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner Darryl O'Young being joined by AMR factory drivers Alex MacDowall and Stefan Mücke. The final Vantage V8 GT3 belongs to with former British Touring Car Champion Gordon Shedden being joined by Peter Storey and Ben Gower in the #52 Aston Martin. All three drivers competed last year in Class C.

The only McLaren is the #59 VIP Petfoods MP4-12C of Tony Quinn, Klark Quinn and Kevin Éstre. Tony Quinn and Klark Quinn won the 2008 Dubai 24 Hour and finished fourth last year. Éstre was runner-up in the 2012 Porsche Supercup championship to René Rast and holds the fastest lap on the Nürburgring Nordscheilfe/GP combined circuit.

Should Maranello Motorsport withdraw, only 27 cars will compete in Class A.

The #32 JBS Australia Lamborghini was fastest on the day and fastest in two of four Friday practices with the #15 Phoenix Racing Audi fastest in the second session and second fastest on Friday. Third fastest was the #9 Hallmarc/Network Clothing Audi, which was fastest in final Friday practice. The #35 NISMO Nissan GTR was fourth quickest Friday was the #33 Clearwater Racing rounding out the top five.

Qualifying schedule is scheduled to take place Saturday at 12:55 p.m. local time (8:55 p.m. ET Friday night) with Class A qualifying scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Saturday (10:05 p.m. ET Friday night).

The 14th Bathurst 12 Hour will start Sunday at 5:50 a.m. local time (1:50 p.m. ET Saturday).