With sparks flying and the first rays of sunlight already illuminating the horizon, the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour got under way. The screams and roars of the 34-strong field – four down after two accident-filled practice and qualifying days – started the new Intercontinental GT Challenge season with Patrick Pilet in the #911 Absolute Racing Porsche 991.2 GT3R and Ben Barnicoat in the #60 59Racing McLaren 720S GT3 leading the field to the green. Going three-wide into the first corner, Maximilian Buhk pushed his #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo from the second row into the lead. Not to be outdone, Barnicoat followed Buhk past Pilet a couple of laps later. The polesitter was subsequently passed by Alexandre Imperatori in the #18 KCMG Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 as well and demoted to fourth in the opening laps.
BATHURST 12 HOUR | LIVE STREAM | EVENT PAGE | 2010s GALLERY | INTERVIEW SCOTT DIXON | FRIDAY PRACTICE REPORT | FRIDAY NOTEBOOK | QUALIFYING REPORT | RACE UPDATE 2: AFTERNOON | RACE UPDATE 3: FINISH | HIGHLIGHTS VIDEO | RACE NOTEBOOK | GALLERY
Another pass for the lead was made 22 minutes into the race – and it was made with true conviction. Under braking for The Chase, Barnicoat made a late move across the rear of Buhk’s Mercedes-AMG and with a slight tap to the Merc’s butt grabbed the lead. Doubling down on his on show of force, Barnicoat checked out and settled for a 4-second lead at the end of the first hour.
Behind the leaders battles for position were taking place as well. One of the more spectacular duels was between Mirko Bortolotti and Fraser Ross for 13th place. Having been stuck behind the #59 59Racing McLaren 720S GT3 for a while, Bortolotti decided he’d had enough of it. Waiting for the right time to make his move, the driver of the #22 Audi Sport Team Valvoline R8 LMS GT3 struck going into Forrest’s Elbow. Fraser, realising the Italian was coming in hot, left space as both men drag raced each other into The Chase, with Bortolotti standing his ground against the Silver Cup driver. Having dispatched his Australian competitor, Bortolotti left the Fraser-led group of cars behind.
Shortly after the first round of pitstops – that saw most of the frontrunners retain their pre-pit window running order – the first safety car was called for a crash of the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3. Flying into the Esses, Côme Ledogar hit the inside kerbs too hard and lost control, smacking into the wall rear-first.
A second safety car period follow 20 minutes later. Cause for the caution was another crash at the Esses, this time of the Jules Westwood-driven #6 Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3. After the #911 and #912 Porsches took a gamble at the first round of pitstops by going several laps further than the other leaders, 59Racing were the next ones to roll the dice by bringing Barnicoat in for a very early second pitstop and driver change during the caution. The McLaren’s pitstop left Maximilian Götz – piloting the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes-AMG GT3 – the bring the field to the green.
Honda’s debut at the Mount Panorama endurance was starting to look up when Dane Cameron finally found free track and began running quick laps – including the fastest lap of the race early on – but it wouldn’t last. During the second caution an engine misfire issue popped up, forcing Mario Farnbacher to bring the #30 JAS Motorsport Honda NSX GT3 into the pits for a costly repair.
Halfway into the third hour a massive impact interrupted the green flag running. Garth Tander, having taken over the #22 Audi Sport Team Valvoline R8 from Bortolotti, lost control at the highspeed McPhillamy Park corner trying to avoid teammate Dries Vanthoor who ran wide in the #2 Audi. Only barely missing Vanthoor, Tander fishtailed into the tyre wall.
Marc Cini experienced a scare in the relatively calmer fourth hour when he was spun around at Frog Hollow by fifth-placed Jamie Whincup in the #888 Triple Eight Mercedes-AMG GT3 while being lapped. The #9 Hallmarc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 scraped the wall but got away free of damage.
With different pitstop strategies being played out, several cars rotate through the lead. Raffaele Marciello in the #999 GruppeM AMG retook the lead from #7 Bentley Team M-Sport pilot Jules Gounon after the British crew went from running at the edge of the top 10 in the first hours to taking the lead in the fifth hour. Marciello reclaimed his place at the head of the field with an outbrake manoeuvre at The Chase, but saw P1 go back to Bentley after the AMG’s next pitstop. It might be awhile until the #999 reappears in the lead, however, as it will have to add an additional 15 seconds to its race which in all likelihood will be served at the next pitstop. The penalty is the result of the GruppeM’s car controller pit crew member moving away from his position at the front of the car during a pitstop.
The Black Falcon-supported #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 has become another frontrunner, the German-Hong Kong combination having steadily worked its way to the front during the morning and currently in third place a few seconds behind the #7 Bentley.
59Racing is also still taking turns in the lead due to a different pit window, albeit for a much shorter period.
Meanwhile, the #911 Porsche’s race has taken a hit. Two punctures in quick succession and a similar penalty to GruppeM’s has thrown the Absolute Racing Porsche out of contention – for the moment.
6:30 hours to go | 140 laps complete | 11:15 local time
- #7 Bentley Team M-Sport (Maxime Soulet)
- #999 Mercedes-AMG GruppeM Racing (Raffaele Marciello)
- #77 Mercedes-AMG Craft-Bamboo (Maro Engel)
- #60 59Racing McLaren 720S GT3 (Ben Barnicoat)
- #18 KCMG Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Edoardo Liberati)
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