Jules Gounon proved why he’s one of the most respected GT drivers currently competing as he put on a final-hour masterclass to seal Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour victory for SunEnergy1 in a captivating battle for the win.
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The Mercedes-AMG GT3 driver pitted more regularly in the Pro-class car he shared with Gentleman driver Kenny Habul and fellow Pro Luca Stolz, but the joy of having no mandatory number of stops – or minimum pitstop time – allowed the distinctively coloured car to cycle through into the lead, helped no-end by some absolute blistering stints from Gounon.
Into the final hour, controversy took hold of the lead battle. Being chased lap-after-lap by Maro Engel – in the pole-starting GruppeM Mercedes-AMG – the German lined up a move going up Gounon’s inside into The Chase. He tried it a lap earlier but backed out as they reached the apex of the left-hander, a lap later and Engel kept his foot in and tried it again but with Gounon taking the racing line into the corner it meant his rear was clipped by Engel – who came from under Gounon’s rear wing to try and make the move – and sent the Frenchman spinning.
Thankfully for him, the car spun through 360 degrees and he lost just five seconds to now leader Engel. It didn’t take race control long to act, and slapped Engel with a drive-through penalty for a driving infringement which released Gounon back into the lead and dropped the GruppeM entry to third when he served the penalty with just over 30 minutes of the race to go.
Dropping to third, Engel channeled his frustration into chasing down both Gounon, and Matt Campbell in the Manthey EMA Porsche 911 GT3R who got through to 2nd.
Closing back onto the pair in rapid fashion, Engel was taking out chunks of time every lap on the pair – assisted in no small part to SunEnergy1 electing to double-stint Gounon’s Pirelli rubber at the final stop – giving the German a slight edge in his quest to get back onto terms at the front.
Despite the charge, and Campbell’s own pressure in the bright green Porsche, neither could force a change to the lead with Gounon absorbing it all to become just one of a handful of drivers to take three consecutive victories on the Mountain, adding him to a rarified list including Supercars legends Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup.
In a race which covered more than 2000km and 323 laps, the top three were covered by just 1.418sec as Campbell finished nine-tenths behind and Engel less than half-a-second down again – needing just one more lap to try and force a move for the second step on the podium despite being more than half-a-minute down after serving the drive-through.
The end result came off the back of more than four hours of green flag running which allowed teams to play strategy to the maximum and gave the drivers the opportunity to put in some blistering laps in what was the fastest Bathurst 12 Hour in history.
Behind the podium finishers, there was more of a gap to the runners behind with Team WRT’s Charles Weerts, Dries Vanthoor and Sheldon van der Linde powering the BMW M4 GT3 to fourth – the last car on the lead lap in what was a solid run for the car’s debut in Australia.
Fifth went to the Triple 8-run Supercheap Auto Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Shane van Gisbergen, Broc Feeney and Maxi Götz with Team WRT’s second entry of Augusto Farfus, Valentino Rossi and Maxime Martin rounding out the top six.
Just behind, Melbourne Performance Centre took the Pro-Am honours in its Audi R8 LMS as Liam Talbot and Fraser Ross combined with the super-quick Chaz Mostert to take a comfortable class victory.
The next round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge – which counts Bathurst as its opening round – sees the field head to South Africa and the Kyalami 9 Hours on 23-25 February.
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