A raft of Blancpain GT Series teams and drivers will be in action this weekend when they contest the annual Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race.
Staged at the famed Mount Panorama Circuit in New South Wales, the Australian endurance event acts as the opening round of the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Audi, Bentley, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG, BMW and Porsche will all field Pro class entries, with each represented by at least one Blancpain GT Series regular.
The race comes hot on the heels of last weekend’s 24 Hours of Daytona, where Blancpain GT Series champions Grasser Racing secured victory in the GTD class with Mirko Bortolotti and Franck Perera among their crew.
They joined a large Blancpain GT Series contingent at the Florida race, several of whom have flown straight from the United States to race Australia.
Audi will field a trio of Pro class cars in this year’s event, led by multiple Blancpain GT Series champions Team WRT.
The Belgian outfit will run the #37 Audi R8 LMS for reigning Sprint Cup holders Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard, with rising star Dries Vanthoor completing the three-man crew. Team WRT will also field an entry in the Pro-Am class.
Blancpain GT Series fans will require no introductions to the drivers of the #74 Audi R8 LMS. Run by Australian outfit Jamec Pem Racing, the car features an all-German line-up of Christopher Mies, Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Haase.
Mies in particular knows what it takes to conquer Mount Panorama having triumphed in 2011 and 2012. Only John Bowe has won the race on three occasions, meaning victory this weekend would see Mies join the Australian on top of the Bathurst 12 Hour mountain.
Finally, a third Pro class Audi sees Belgian ace Frédéric Vervisch join Australian racing veteran Garth Tander and young South African Kelvin van der Linde in the #22 Jamec Pem machine.
When it comes to drivers, continuity is the watchword for Bentley this season. At Bathurst they will field a line-up with just one change from their 2017 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup roster, and the very same that will contest the 2018 campaign.
But Bathurst also signals impending change for the British marque. This will be the final outing for their current Continental GT3 before the new model makes its competitive debut in the opening Endurance Cup event at Monza.
As such, they will be hoping for a winning send-off for a car that has secured multiple Blancpain GT Series victories.
Their #18 entry will feature the tried and test talents of Andy Soucek, Vincent Abril and Maxime Soulet. In the #17 Continental GT3 long-time Bentley Boys Guy Smith and Steven Kane are joined by Jules Gounon, who made a name for himself at last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Kane and Smith took a podium finish at last year’s race and, alongside highly-rated new teammate Gounon, they’ll be hoping to climb the top step this time around.
Blancpain GT squad Strakka Racing make their first competitive outing with Mercedes-Benz equipment this weekend, with their AMG GT3 set to debut for the team at Bathurst.
Team founder Nick Leventis is joined in their #55 car by regular drivers Lewis Williamson and David Fumanelli, with Australian ace Cameron Waters adding local know-how to their four-man crew.
Strakka regular Alvaro Parente provides continuity in the #56 car and is joined by a pair of Mercedes-Benz factory drivers in Maximilian Götz and Maximilian Buhk.
Buhk finished as overall Blancpain GT Series runner-up in 2017, while Götz is also no stranger to Blancpain GT Series competition and clinched victory in the Pro-Am class at the 2017 Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Also competing in Mercedes-AMG equipment are Blancpain GT Series regulars Tristan Vautier and Raffaele Marciello. They will share with V8 Supercars legend – not to mention reigning Bathurst 12 Hour winner – Jamie Whincup. Fellow Aussie Kenny Habul completes the crew, who will be run by SunEnergy1 Racing.
The Manthey Racing Porsche, which will carry the #911 at Bathurst, travels to Australia with a formidable line-up.
The same car and crew is set to tackle this year’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, with Romain Dumas spearheading their attack alongside Dirk Werner and Frédéric Makowiecki.
Bathurst represents the competitive debut for this all-star team, which will contest the full International GT Challenge alongside the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.
A second Porsche – carrying #991 – will be run by the Craft-Bamboo squad. The Blancpain GT Series is represented here too, with Laurens Vanthoor joined by Kévin Estre. Two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner Earl Bamber completes their crew.
Blancpain GT Series regular Côme Ledogar will also compete in the Pro class this weekend. The McLaren drivers will pilot the British marque’s 650S GT3 for local outfit YNA Autosport together with Craig Lowndes and 2016 Endurance Cup champion Shane Van Gisbergen.
Another McLaren driver will represent the YNA Autosport squad in the Pro-Am class, with Andrew Watson set to join a line-up that also includes V8 Supercars ace Scott McLaughlin.
Jeroen Bleekemolen will join Watson in the Pro-Am class, driving a Black Swan Racing Porsche alongside Marc Lieb, who contested last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
BMW is represented by BMW Team Schnitzer with Pro-drivers Augusto Farfus, Chaz Mostert and Marco Wittmann at the wheel of the M6 GT3.
Finally, occasional Blancpain GT Series racer Tomas Enge will drive a locally-entered Lamborghini in the Pro-Am class, while Nico Verdonck competes in the GT4 class. The Belgian will drive alongside Max Braams, Jörg Viebahn and Marco Schelp for the PROSport Performance squad.
Following this weekend’s Bathurst contest, the next round of the four-event Intercontinental GT Challenge will be the Total 24 Hours of Spa, which also represents the blue riband race for the 2018 Blancpain GT Series.
The Bathurst 12 Hour is scheduled to get underway at 05.45 local time on Sunday morning, concluding at 17.45. The event will be streamed live on the Intercontinental GT Challenge website, on its Facebook page, and on the GTWorld YouTube channel.
(photo Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour)