Bathurst 12 Hour 2020 (Qualifying)
Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.
This weekend my motorsport event of choice was the Bathurst 12 Hours, the first round of the 2020 Intercontinental GT series. Unlike last week, where rallying was a fairly new-found motorsport love of mine, I have been watching and loving the Bathurst 12hr for the last 3 years or so.
What initially drew me into the event was a number of unique characteristics of the event that were fairly novel to me, for example the top 10 shootout during qualifying, and the start in the darkness despite no night-time practice, and therefore the racing through the sunrise made for a great spectacle.
This year, the event could have been summarised by two events. Red flags and punctures.
For Mount Panorama, red flags are certainly no rarity. Given the tight, twisty nature of the challenging mountain section, almost any wreckage that occurs during practice or qualifying makes the red flag a necessity. The sheer number of crashes that occurred before race day had even begun, however, was bordering on the ridiculous. One of the KCMG Nissan GT-R’s had to withdraw from the race after a shunt during Friday practice, whilst on Saturday the No. 8 Bentley had brake failure at the the fastest section of the track, The Chase. This prompted a full rebuild for the M-Sport team, who had to miss qualifying and begin the race from the pitlane. Saturday practice also marked the end of the weekend for the No. 27 Ferrari, after losing the rear of the car at McPhillamy Park, a fast, downhill left-hander with a blind turn-in.
During qualifying itself, there were no less than 4 red flag periods. First of all was the No. 2 Audi R8. The Audi had a very similar accident to the Ferrari, losing the back-end on turn-in to McPhillamy, before skipping across the gravel and into the tyre barrier. The Audi was lucky, however, as the angle of the car’s impact with the tyres meant considerably less damage was caused in comparison to the Italian car, and so the team were able to repair the vehicle in time for the race.
The No. 2 wasn’t even the first car to have a moment at that particular corner in qualifying, and it certainly wasn’t the last. The first off during qualifying was actually another of the 3 Valvoline-sponsored Audi’s, No. 22. Pilot Christopher Mies was much more fortunate than his teammate though, as he was able to just drift through the gravel and back onto the circuit. There were more to come, however, that weren’t so fortunate.
The second red flag of the session was caused by an unusual incident. One of the invitational-class Marc cars had a big moment just before the Skyline turn (just after McPhillamy), losing wheels and almost bouncing up and over the concrete barrier. As a result, the 777 Mercedes-AMG braked before the corner, exercising caution, yet the Lamborghini behind 777 was following too closely to react to the AMG’s brakes, and could only tap the Merc into the barrier at the side of the circuit.
Into the second part of qualifying, and the session that mattered for the GT3 machines. Marvin Kirchhofer, in the 62 Aston Martin, was pushing hard. A little too hard, as it turned out, as he ran wide going into The Grate (just before McPhillamy), tapping the barrier on the outside. This caused the driver to lose control, and the car oversteered into the outer barrier on the exit of the corner, where it slid for a while before flipping. It was a nasty hit, as Kirchhofer would have been flat out on the accelerator, with the car going at a fair few clicks. This particular accident spelt the end of the weekend for the 62 Aston team, with chassis damage too extensive to repair.
The final red flag in qualifying involved another Lamborghini, and once again occurred at McPhillamy’s. On this occasion, it was the No. 29 Huracan, losing the rear end much like the Ferrari and the R8 had before it. Instead of coming to rest in the tyre barrier, though, this Lambo decided to hop it, landing on the grass verge above it.
Throughout all the crashes, an actual qualifying session took place, and after the conclusion of the Top 10 Shootout, it was a Porsche 911, driven by last year’s winner Matt Campbell, at the top of the timing sheet for the first time in a Bathurst 12 Hour qualifying. Other notable performances included Alvaro Parente guiding his Mclaren 720s GT3 to second on the grid during the car’s maiden Bathurst outing, and Jake Dennis wrestling his Aston Martin Vantage GT3 into the top 10, despite the car not seeming to quite be on the pace all weekend.
In my opinion, though, the single best outcome from qualifying was the sheer evenness across the manufacturers. At the end of qualifying the top 11 spots on the grid were occupied by 8 different car-makers. To me, that shows just how well the GT3 regulations have been written, enabling the FIA to create the healthiest, most competitive field across motorsport. The Balance of Performance regulations have their opposers, but to me they were absolutely nailed this weekend.
What are your opinions. Are you a fan of BoP or are you against a ‘gimmick’ that unnaturally levels the playing-field? Let me know in the comments below!
So much happened at Bathurst that this article is already as long as last week’s Rally Monte Carlo edition, and I don’t want to bore you all! As a result I’m going to end this one here, and my review of the race itself will be out tomorrow, at the same time as usual!