Bathurst 12 Hour 2020 (Race)
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.
And so, we progress to Sunday. Race Day. 12 non-stop hours of dazzling headlights, exhilarating exhaust notes and, as expected, spine-chilling shunts.
The cars get underway before the Sun even begins its daily ascent, compounding the difficulty of the hectic race start for the drivers, who have not had the opportunity to acclimatise themselves to night-time running during practice. It was the 999 Mercedes-AMG who combatted this challenge best, storming up the inside of both the Porsche 911 (brilliantly also carrying the race number of 911) and the No. 60 Mclaren 720s to emerge from the first corner in the lead after starting third.
Early on the Porsche struggled for pace, whilst No. 60, piloted by British racer Ben Barnicoat, was flying. A magnificent move at the end of Conrod Straight outwitted the 999 AMG, enabling the 720s to lead the first Bathurst 12 Hour it had entered. The move itself was stunning, a dummy to the outside followed by a quick cut-back to the inside of The Chase was executed with such precision it seemed as though the front bumper of the Mclaren actually brushed against the rear of the Merc, yet there was not a mark on either vehicle.
Simultaneously, the No.8 Bentley, who had not qualified due to its brake failure during Saturday practice, was carving its way through the field. Having started in 34th (and last), driver Seb Morris had managed to move his way into 12th at the end of the second hour.
They were certainly aided by early safety car stoppages, the first resulting from the No. 188 Aston Martin. Coming through Skyline at the peak of the mountain, the rear of the car squirmed under braking, meaning driver Come Ledogar was unable to make it through The Esses, and the car was collected by a wall. A good piece of reactive driving from the sister Garage 59 machine avoided collateral damage, which could have been a horrendous end to the team’s weekend.
Safety car number 2 was deployed at the expense of the No. 6 Lamborghini. A magnificent concentric-circle livery on the Italian vehicle was unable to save driver Julian Westwood from running out of talent, as he hit the left-hand wall on the approach to The Dipper. This caused significant damage to the car’s left-hand side, ending the team’s hopes of a win.
The third deployment of the Mercedes-AMG E63 safety car occurred in the third hour of the race. The No. 22 Valvoline Audi – one of a trio of nearly identical R8’s – came to rest in the infamous McPhillamy gravel-trap, where the majority of the mistakes in qualifying occurred. On this occasion local driver Garth Tander lost the rear-end whilst attempting to pass another of the Valvoline machines, causing him to sustain quite a hard impact into the tyre barrier.
In the midst of these crashes, the No. 60 Mclaren had regained control of the race at the 4-hour mark. They were immediately followed, however, by the No. 7 Bentley. The M-Sport car run by Frenchman Jules Gounon, South African Jordan Pepper and Belgian Maxime Soulet had been making quiet inroads on their competitors. Having started the race in 11th they first inherited the lead of the race around 100-laps into proceedings, and had cemented their front-running status after 150 laps, leading from the 77 AMG and the 60 Mclaren halfway through the race.
It was also around the 150-lap mark when the race’s recurring theme (other than safety cars) began to rear its head. That theme was punctures. The No. 911 Porsche 911 was the first car bitten, as it had a puncture right at the top of the mountain, meaning the team fell off the lead lap due to the time lost in returning to the pits.
This was soon followed by an identical puncture for the No. 222 Audi. Admittedly this one was expected, as damage to the bodywork had been rubbing against the tyre for a number of laps, yet the team elected not to pit whilst the car was still setting competitive lap times. This did, however, effectively end the race for the Audi team as a whole, after the 2 car had crashed and the 22 suffered from mechanical issues. In short, it was a weekend to forget for the Valvoline team, with pretty much every possible problem occurring at one point or another.
As the race wore on, the cars wore down. The No. 63 Lamborghini, having been running fifth overall, suffered a mechanical issue down the long mountain straight, and driver Dennis Lind had no choice but to abandon the car at the side of the road, leading to, that’s right, a safety car! In all fairness the 4 hours and 10 minutes between safety car periods stood as a new record for the Bathurst 12 Hour race, and significantly closed up the field, ensuring that the eight remaining cars within a lap of the lead were all in contention.
As the racers entered the ninth hour of the twelve, the astounding comeback drive for the No. 8 Bentley came to an end. Having driven valiantly to consolidate a top-10 position, the rear-left tyre gave way as Oliver Jarvis navigated his way through the dipper. Stranded and facing the wrong way on the track, the safety car had to be deployed to enable the recovery truck to assist the broken Bentley, ending the possibility of what would have been a remarkable last-to-first win.
As tiredness kicked in, mistakes began to occur. Mclaren, Mercedes and Porsche all fell victim to penalties for pit stop infractions, and yet more tyres blew. The No. 7 Bentley spectacularly lost a tyre coming down Conrod straight, having been on course for the fastest lap of the race. Luckily, due to how close the car was to the pit lane and the scheduled stop only being a couple of laps later, the car only lost a few seconds of time. This puncture was quickly followed by similar incidents to the 77 and 999 Mercedes’, taking the race total to six isolated incidents.
It was this puncture that ultimately led to the 999 car losing second place, as a 30 second penalty awarded after the race for not switching the engine off during the stop. This penalty threat did not, however, hinder young Italian Raffaele Marciello from making a boisterous pass on the No. 60 Mclaren at the final corner of the penultimate lap for second on the road, yet it was in vain, as they were reclassified sixth at the flag.
As the time elapsed, though, there was a clear winner. With the winning margin being over 40 seconds, the No. 8 Bentley cruised home at the hands of Jules Gounon. Having previously competed in every round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge since the competition’s inception in 2016 to no avail, it was finally the Bentley Boys’ time to shine, breaking Bathurst records in the process after beating the distance travelled record, with a staggering 314 laps, and becoming the first car from outside the top seven to win the event, having started 11th.
Second was the No. 60 Mclaren 720s GT3 in its Bathurst debut, and the 888 Mercedes-AMG GT3 rounded off the podium. Audi’s torrid day did at least have a small silver-lining, as Kelvin Van Der Linde managed the fastest lap of the race in the No. 222 R8 LMS.
One of the many reasons why I love the GT3 class is due to the variety. This weekend saw GT3 machinery from 10 different manufacturers, and with 8 of those manufacturers occupying space within the top 11 after qualifying, it really shows how competitive the series is. What are your thoughts? Did you watch the race? Who were you rooting for? Let me know in the comments!