Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing is leading the wild Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour at the halfway mark. Having started from the back after spending the whole of Saturday changing the engine, the team from Hong Kong made an early first pitstop to go out-of-sync and with the right strategic decisions grabbed the lead after four hours of racing.
Although Audi teams had led the race for the first hours, Mercedes-AMG’s squads seem to have the upperhand as the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing and #888 Mercedes-AMG Team Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes-AMG GT3s have joined at the front as well, although the #777 Audi Sport Team Valvoline is still hunting down the Mercedes-AMGs.
Sunrise was still an hour and a half away when the 2022 Bathurst 12 Hour got underway when the full field of 20 cars for the first time climbed Mount Panorama in darkness and with patches of fog scattered across the track.
Polesitter Chaz Mostert held on to first place in his #65 Coinspot Audi R8 LMS GT3 with Kelvin van der Linde in the #74 Audi Sport Team Valvoline close on his tail. Within a few laps, a group some seconds behind the two leaders emerged with most of the remaining Pro drivers, led by the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Luca Stolz followed by the #777 Audi Sport Team Valvoline with Markus Winkelhock, #888 Mercedes-AMG Team Triple Eight Race Engineering of Broc Feeney and finally Ben Barker in sixth place aboard the #4 Grove Racing Porsche 991.2 GT3R.
The first yellow came out 45 minutes into the race – neutralising the race to recover the crashed #52 MARC II Mustang of Zane Morse who had run wide on the mountain and hit the wall. This set off the first round of pitstops for driver changes, with no change in the running order at the front.
At the restart Liam Talbot in the #65 Coinspot Audi was quick to the green, holding the lead ahead of Audi compatriots Brad Schumacher (#74 Audi Sport Team Valvoline) and Yasser Shahin (#777 Audi Sport Team Valvoline). The latter, however, had to make a trip through pitlane as penalty for speeding in the pitlane. Not waiting for the #777 Audi to get to the pits, Broc Feeney took his chance when Shahin’s car stepped out at the exit of Forrest’s Elbow. The #888 Mercedes-AMG driver didn’t stop there and quickly swept into the lead overtaking Schumacher and Talbot in quick succession.
The driver changes put amateur racers such as Talbot and Schumacher up against Pro drivers like Broc Feeney, Brenton Grove and Joey Mawson. In the great tussle, Schumacher lost a heap of places, dropping all the way back to twelfth while the Pros pushed forward. Talbot didn’t try too hard to fend off Mawson’s #17 Team BRM Audi R8 LMS GT3, letting the group of Pro drivers by on Conrod Straight.
While that happened, rain started to fall on the start-finish straight and quickly covered the whole track. This caught out Brenton Grove who missed his corner and beached it in the gravel trap of turn 1 – aptly named Hell Corner – and calling for the second caution of the race just under 90 minutes into the race. The safety car phase gave everyone a chance to switch to rain tyres and also saw another round of driver changes. There was no luck under yellow for Jack Perkins, however. Having taken over the #19 Mercedes-AMG from Will Brown, Perkins lost control on the slippery track at The Chase, slid into the wall and damaged the suspension.
Racing on the increasingly wet track got back to green with Fraser Ross leading, having retaken the lead in the #65 Coinspot Audi through the pitstops, with Paul Stokell in the #47 Supabarn Audi R8 LMS GT3 in second place before Nick Percat got around the both of them to bring the #17 Team BRM Audi back into the lead. Within a few laps, it was back to yellow when the KTM X-Bow GT2 came to a stop on the top of the mountain.
After the extended yellow flag, racing returned with Percat leading but with a reshuffled field behind him. Uncontested in the first laps after the return to green, Ricardo Feller was working his way forward in the #777 Audi, and finally moved the Audi into the leading position after two and a half hours. A splash-and-dash for Feller 15 minutes later gave back the lead to Percat.
Now racing well into the morning, a band of fog rolled in, obscuring vision on the mountain. This meant the next full caution – although short-lived.
Having pitted right at the yellow, Ricardo Feller handed over the #777 Audi in the lead to Markus Winkelhock who would bring the field back to green. Behind him, Jules Gounon – in the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 – and Chaz Mostert cut through the field in the next laps, slotting into second and third.
Serving the mandatory long pitstops under full course yellows and correctly anticipating the weather conditions gave Daniel Juncadella the lead in the #91 Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 going into the fifth hour. While the sun slowly began cutting through the clouds and a dry racing line emerged, the Spaniard built a gap of over 20 seconds to Shane van Gisbergen (#888 Mercedes-AMG GT3) and, banking on all the right pitstop calls, the much slower #95 MARC Cars Australia V8 from the Invitational class with Jake Camilleri at the wheel.
With the mid-point in sight, bad luck befell early race leader #65 Coinspot Audi. A gear shift problem, fixed after a long repair, has cost the Audi R8 LMS GT3 10 laps and taken it out of contention for the win.
Where Audi was looking strong throughout the opening hours, approaching the halfway mark Mercedes-AMG has taken over the top three spots – Kevin Tse in the #91 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG still leading ahead of the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Jules Gounon in second and #777 Audi Sport Team Valvoline of Yasser Shahin. However, the current extensive green flag running offers teams choices in their pitstop strategies, making it unclear who will hold the best cards come go-time.
Watch the rest of the race live on GT.REPORT/live.
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