On-track action has started for the 2023 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, with Friday and Saturday practice sessions providing plenty of excitement and drama.
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Separate incidents has already seen the loss of two invitational entries, although that doesn’t mean the end of the weekend for at least one team.
The #50 M Motorsport / Vantage Racing KTM X-Bow GT2 weekend came to an early end due to a terminal engine failure during practice 2, with the five cylinder Audi engine being hard to source replacement parts for in time for the race. The team has decided to move up to the Silver class in GT3, leasing a current spec Audi R8 LMS GT3, which increases the number of GT3 entries in the race to 22. Team owner David Crampton (Bronze), Glen Wood (Silver) and Trent Harrison (Silver) take driving duties with Jayden Ojeda (Silver) giving up his spot as the four-driver line-up would be too high for the class.
The #52 Wheels / FX Racing MARC II V8 Invitational entry suffered the mother of all crashes into the fast Chase section of the track during practice 4. The car became airborne and hit the tyre barriers hard. Driver Keith Kassulke suffered minor injuries as the car ended up on its roof. It is not known if a replacement can be found in time for the totalled car.
Friday practices were frantic and provided an interesting insight into which drivers are on the pace around this year’s cooler conditions.
Practice 1 on Friday morning was lead by Chaz Mostert in the #65 Audi R8 LMS GT3 with a 2m04.0897sec, narrowly jumping Fred Vervisch in the #55 Schumacher Motorsport Audi entry who clocked an early 2m04.3509sec. Wall Racing’s Lamborghini Huracán GT3 rounded out the top 3 with a 2m04.4467sec set by Tony D’Alberto. All three cars are in the Pro-Am class.
Bronze drivers got the track all to themselves in the second session, with the exception of Silver-rated Valentino Rossi due to making his track debut. The former multiple MotoGP champion proved he has made big strides in his one year of full-time GT3 racing, topping practice 2 with a 2m05.4486sec in his Team WRT #46 BMW M4 GT3 ahead of local man Brad Schumacher aboard the #55 Audi who clocked a 2m05.5182sec and last year’s winner Kenny Habul with a 2m06.1350sec in the #75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Practice 3 was another Bronze driver session, and this time Kenny Habul found his stride to take out the fastest time with a 2m05.3096sec, ahead of Liam Talbot in the #65 Melbourne Performance Centre Audi R8 LMS GT3 with a 2m06.2644sec and Brad Schumacher close by with a 2m06.4028sec. Rossi did not take part in this session.
The final session on Friday saw a total of 40 minutes running before the red flag for the MARC Cars #52 entry which as previously mentioned had crashed heavily at The Chase. With limited time remaining before the close of the day, the session was called with the #999 Gruppe M Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Raffaele Marciello setting the fastest time of the day with a 2m03.9958sec, followed by the SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Luca Stolz who set a 2m04.1362sec and the #912 Manthey EMA Porsche 991.2 GT3R of Mathieu Jaminet recording third-fastest with a 2m04.2938sec.
Saturday running commenced with opening practice at 8:35 local time. Weather has proven to be cooler than usual with mid to high 20 degrees Celsius running, instead of the seasonal highs of 30 to 40 degrees Celsius.
Saturday morning practice 1 saw Matt Campbell top the times in his Manthey EMA Porsche 911 GT3R, with a blisteringly fast 2:02.7513 and the top times start pushing below 2:03 seconds. Jules Gounon in the #75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes-AMG GT3 closely followed with 2:02.8282 and former Aston Martin GT factory driver Ritchie Stanaway in the #99 Triple Eight run Mercedes-AMG closed out the under 2:03 club with a 2:02.8574.
Final Practice went by the way of Sun Energy 1 in the #75 Mercedes-AMG GT3. Luca Stolz reeling off a 2.02.4337 ahead of the #999 GruppeM Racing car of the same model, which logged a best time of 2:02.6148 with Marciello at the wheel. Keeping its pace consistent was the #65 Sportsbet Team MPC Audi R8 with local gun Chaz Mostert taking a 2:02.6587 tour of the circuit.
The teams then stopped and prepared for the afternoons qualifying sessions, with the mornings pace indicating a very real threat to Shane van Gisbergen’s 2016 Lap Record of 2:01.5670 set in a McLaren 650s GT3.
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