Rewind to the 2010s, the decade when GT3 made its entrance to the Bathurst 12 Hour and changed the endurance race at Mount Panorama forever. Starting in 2011, these were the years of Joest Racing and Phoenix Racing bringing Audi its very first Bathurst victories in the GT3 era, homegrown wins for Erebus Motorsport, Maranello Motorsport and Tekno Autosports, and an Aussie-celebrated victory for the factory-entered Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.
Originally from New Zealand, McLaren always seemed like a perfect fit for the Bathurst 12 Hour. The McLaren MP4-12C had been a longtime participant in the Australian GT Championship, but things really started to take off in 2016 with the introduction of the McLaren 650S GT3. In its debut at Bathurst, Tekno Autosports and McLaren GT gave the 650S GT3 its first victory of the year before embarking on two successful campaigns in the Australian GT and Blancpain GT championships.
First thing Australian fans ask when Nissan announces its return to the Mountain is, ‘is Chiyo also coming?’ Nissan has always had a popular following in Australia so when the brand won in 2015 with Katsumasa Chiyo, Wolfgang Reip and Florian Strauß piloting, it cemented the trio of drivers as fan-favourites. Chiyo has been a regular in the 12 Hour since, taking on the race in 2020 with KCMG driving the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 alongside fellow Japanse driver Tsugio Matsuda and Australia’s own Josh Burdon.
The Bathurst 12 Hour’s unique feature is its start time. Unlike most of its 12-hour race counterparts, the Bathurst 12 Hour ends in daytime, meaning the start is at an unholy 5:45 in the morning. Waving the green in pitch black was a feature of the earliest editions of the 12 Hour in the 1990s – forced by the local government not allowing a 21:00 hour finish – and brought back in 2012. Darkness in the middle of Australian summer doesn’t last long: One hour later and the sun is up over the horizon, usually painting the track in a beautiful orange glow. Until then, dawn brings its own dreamy colours, while the cars put on a light show of their own.
Another fan-favourite is the Bentley Continental GT3, its rumbling noise heard up and down the mountain as the British machine works its way around the track. Works team M-Sport as well as customer team Flying B Motorsport first brought the Bentleys to Bathurst in 2015, instantly fighting for the win and stealing the fans’ hearts, eventually finishing fourth. Bentley has been a front runner ever since.
Phoenix Racing has a history racing Australian themed Audis. From the team’s first victory at the Mountain in 2012 to its last appearance in 2016, the Germans have always gone out of their way to show their love for this modern classic race. The Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3 that raced the 2015 12 Hour is still occasionally seen in its original colours at the Nürburgring doing practice laps at the hands of Johannes Stuck on Friday before VLN.
Marc Cini is one of the longest returning drivers to the Bathurst 12 Hour. The Australian gentleman driver first came to Mount Panorama in 2011, racing a Porsche 997 GT3 Cup S under his own Hallmarc Racing banner. Switching to an Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3 in 2013, he finished a career-best 5th place. Cini has raced with Dean Fiore and Lee Holdsworth since 2017 and is bringing the band back together for 2020 as well. As per usual, their Audi R8 LMS GT3 will be run by Melbourne Performance Centre.
Photos by Stuart Bowling.