Eight different leaders from five different manufacturers, a record 29 lead changes, a new outright lap record for Shane Van Gisbergen (2'01.567) and a new distance record with 297 laps: the spectacular and closely-fought 2016 edition of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the first round of the inaugural season of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, was definitely one for the history books. But after twelve hours of non-stop on-track action, it was Tekno Autosports, and their McLaren 650S who triumphed, after their pit-stop strategy put them in the lead when it counted most.
As polesitter Shane Van Gisbergen led the 36-car strong field away at 5.45 am on Sunday morning, the New Zealand driver immediately made his mark on the race, claiming the outright lap record on the Mount Panorama Circuit. The orange machine stayed in contention for the lead all through the race, although there were some hectic moments. In the early hours, Alvaro Parente came to a halt on the pit straight with electrical problems, but a reset got the #59 McLaren going again, having lost some 45 seconds. The Portuguese driver and Jonathon Webb, from Australia, then drove the middle stints of the race, climbing back up the order.
When Shane Van Gisbergen got back behind the wheel for the final hours of the race, he immediately lost ground due to a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane. The last of 13 safety car-interventions, some 90 minutes before the end of the race, and a perfectly executed pitstop strategy allowed Gizzy to close on the leaders again and when the #1 Nismo Nissan made its final pitstop 50 minutes before the end, Van Gisbergen was back on top.
An inspired drive by reigning Blancpain Endurance champion Katsumasa Chiyo saw the Nissan claw back in the final laps, reducing the gap from over 13 seconds to less than 1,5, but Van Gisbergen kept his bearded head cool and took the victory, claiming the first major endurance win for McLaren in over twenty years.
Behind the McLaren-Nissan duo, #10 Team M-Sport Bentley driver Steven Kane held off Laurens Vanthoor in the #2 Phoenix Audi to claim the final podium position. Both manufacturers went through some tough times on the mountain. The two MPC Audi cars, that managed to qualify on the front two rows of the grid, were both hit by a spectacular punctures in the opening hours. On the #74 R8, the flailing rubber caused terminal suspension and oil cooler damage, while the #75 eventually finished in eighth. The #2 Phoenix Audi had lost a lap early on as well, but determined stints by Vanthoor and Winkelhock saw the car back on the lead lap at the beginning of the second half of the race, even claiming first position just before the 200-lap mark. The gamble not to change tyres for the final stint did not bear fruit however, and the Phoenix crew had to settle for fourth.
In the Bentley camp it was the #31 Continental that gave the team the most work. The car had made contact with the #60 McLaren early on - the Tekno Autosports machine never got back into contention - but it managed to get back to the top of the leader board, with both Bentleys lying in first and second positions for a while. However, a second contact proved to be too much for the #31 Continental, and the car eventually finished in seventh, four laps down.
The Mercedes of Erebus Motorsport and Mishumotors might have been the oldest GT3 machines among the Intercontinental GT Challenge cars, but they were more than a match for the other contenders. Even though the #33 and #63 SLS did not cross the finish line after making contact with the hard walls surrounding the Mount Panorama circuit, the #36 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes was at the sharp end for most of the race, leading the pack on four different occasions. In the final hours the Erebus drivers lost position on the lead lap and could not recover from that, finishing in fifth.
In the Intercontinental GT Challenge AM driver classification, the top points looked set to land in Tony Quinn's pocket, with the #37 Keltic Racing McLaren enjoying a five-lap lead halfway through the race and even running in fifth overall. Soon after, an incident with the #32 Lago Racing Lamborghini - both cars swerving to avoid debris on track - left the McLaren beached on a curb in Griffins Bend and any chance of victory was gone.
A great comeback after the early tyre problems gave the AM win to Steve McLaughlin, who shared the #75 MPC Audi with René Rast and Garth Tander. Roger Lago (#32 Lago Racing Lamborghini) and Rick Armstrong (#82 International Motorsports Audi) were second and third among the Intercontinental GT Challenge AM drivers, after a race in which both had to recover from a number of setbacks.
Next stop for the Intercontinental GT Challenge is the Total 24 Hours of Spa from 28 to 31 July 2016.
Shane van Gisbergen (#59 Tekno Autosports McLaren): “It was a pretty long day. The first stint was really awesome, I really enjoyed myself out there. It was pretty tough, I had never driven around here in the dark and we didn’t have our big lights on so couldn’t see much. After a few laps I started pushing but there were kangaroos coming out and there were warnings every lap so, I am a Kiwi and I am not used to that either! When I saw the car stop going to the last corner, I was heart in mouth, but thankfully it refired and gave us no more issues for the rest of the day. At the end, we had the Nissan covered, no need to do a 2'02 when you have a 15-second lead. But it was a pretty cool way to finish as well.”
Alvaro Parente (#59 Tekno Autosports McLaren): “That was fantastic, I don’t know what to say – thanks to my two team-mates, Shane and Jon, they have been fantastic all week. What a fantastic track you guys have here. I really enjoyed it and was on the pace quickly. That is always important. We had a few issues today, but at the end we went with the right strategy options and everything went smoothly. I couldn’t be happier."
Jonathon Webb (#59 Tekno Autosports McLaren): “Yeah, this probably is the biggest win of my career. To go out there on the podium at Bathurst is massive – a huge thanks to these guys and all the crew. For Tekno to debut with the McLaren GT and come away with a win is a huge thing for me. It was fantastic to come back here with Shane and we had our third man here this weekend, who has done an awesome job. He certainly picked up quick. Both the guys did an awesome job.”
Matt Bell (#10 Team M-Sport Bentley): “It is great to take third for sure, certainly after last year. We had a pretty good race, the three of us had good pace throughout the race. When we were in the lead with about four hours to go things were looking quite good. We thought we had the strategy covered and the legs to go the distance, but we just couldn’t quite match these guys in the last few hours. After the way it ended last year we were all just a little bit down and deflated after that, so it is great to stand up here and represent Bentley on the podium at Bathurst and to share it with these two guys who have done a great job. It is a big step up from last year and next year we will come back and try and catch these guys.”
Guy Smith (#10 Team M-Sport Bentley): “We found that as the track rubbered in and got a little warmer we struggled a little bit more. We had a bit of understeer in the car and it just got worse and worse and our pace definitely suffered. Really at the end there we didn’t really have the pace to challenge these guys, they were in a different league. So at that point it was a case of trying to consolidate third place, Steven was taking some pressure from Laurens Vanthoor and did a great job to hold him off and get the podium position. So we are happy with that, and we will come back next year and try again.”
Steven Kane (#10 Team M-Sport Bentley): “The final stint was quite tricky. Vanthoor had a lot of speed over the top of the hill, and the Audi was very, very fast. We had a bit of a straight line speed advantage, so it was just a matter of using that and trying to get through traffic, keeping our position and trying to bump in the lap times that we could achieve. Congratulations to these guys, they have been really fast all weekend and we are going to come back next year and try and go two better.”
Results Intercontinental GT Challenge – Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour
1 - #59 Tekno Autosports McLaren –Shane Van Gisbergen/Alvaro Parente/Jonathan Webb – 297laps
2 - #10 Bentley Team M-Sport – Steven Kane/Guy Smith/Matt Bell - +1:18.503
3 - #2 Phoenix Racing Audi – Laurens Vanthoor/Markus Winkelhock/Alex Davison - +2:05.621
4 - #36 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes – David Reynolds/Thomas Jaeger/Nico Bastian – 296 laps
5 - #31 Bentley Team M-Sport – Andy Soucek/Maxime Soulet/David Russell – 293 laps
6 - #75 Melbourne Performance Center Audi – Steve McLaughlin/Rene Rast/Garth Tander – 293 laps +47.366
7 - #60 Tekno Autosports McLaren - Rob Bell/Andrew Watson/Will Davison – 292 laps
8 - #32 JPS Australia Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX – Lago/Youlden/Owen – 291 laps (AM)
9 - #82 International Motorsports Audi – Bagnall/Armstrong/Halliday – 287 laps (AM)
#11 McElrea Racing McLaren – Tony Walls/Warren Luff/Matt Campbell/Tim Slade
#33 Mishumotors Mercedes – Marco Schutis/Renger van der Zande/Patrick Simon
#37 Keltic Racing McLaren – Tony Quinn/Klark Quinn/Craig Baird
#63 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes – Bernd Schneider/Maro Engel/Austin Cindric
#74 Melbourne Performance Center Audi – Christopher Mies/Christopher Haase/Marco Mapelli
1 McLaren 31points
2 Bentley 28 points
3 Audi 21points
4 Mercedes 12points
link to : Drivers overall
link to : AM Drivers
Intercontinental GT Challenge 2016 Calendar
Australia : 6–7 February 2016 - Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour
Belgium : 28–31 July 2016 - Total 24 Hours of Spa
Malaysia : 10–11 December 2016 – Sepang 12 Hours