All on for Bathurst marathon
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In the early hours of tomorrow morning, 55 of Australasia's most exotic race cars will commence a 12-hour slog of Mount Panorama — the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
2017 marks the 16th Bathurst 12 Hour, with the event's stature on a national and international basis having grown to impressive proportions. What was once a purely production-based event now plays host to some of the quickest GT3-spec cars and teams in the world, including factory teams from Porsche, Nismo, and Bentley.
Most pre-event interest surrounds the GT3-based Pro, Pro-Am, and Am classes — and each features a number of New Zealanders. A total of 14 Kiwi drivers are lined up for the event. Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber head the charge, as two of the most highly anticipated drivers in GT3 Pro.
Van Gisbergen, the reigning Bathurst 12 Hour champion, lines up alongside fellow New Zealander Craig Baird and German GT ace Maro Engel in an HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3. Bamber meanwhile heads Porsche's maiden factory charge alongside Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor.
Although van Gisbergen and Bamber rank as two of the quickest drivers on the grid, they are not alone.
In Pro they will battle against the likes of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes, who will share a Ferrari 488 GT3 with Toni Vilander.McLaren, Audi, and Bentley's factory supported efforts include some of the biggest GT names in Europe, and Nissan's gun driver line-up is punctuated by former winners Florian Strauss and Katsumasa Chiyo.
And then there is the swell of competitive cars in Pro/Am and Am that could challenge the leading group given the right opportunity. This is where we find the likes of Dan Gaunt, Matt Halliday, Dominic Storey, and Chris Pither.
Pither, who is in the Am class, is coming off his debut as a full-time driver in the Supercars Championship. He has competed in the Bathurst 12 Hour multiple times, including during its early years.
Chris Pither’s Nissan Nismo GT-R GT3.
“The event itself has come a long way,” said Pither. “I took part in 2007 in a BMW 335i. That was a reasonable car, but I think you'd be a long way off the pace if you rolled that out today.” Pither will compete in a privateer Nissan Nismo GT-R GT3 run by Hobson Motorsport in the Pro/Am class.
Although Pither can count himself as a Bathurst veteran, many others cannot — including 12-hour debutants Andrew Waite and Simon Evans.
Evans, who will pilot a Giltrap Group-supported Audi R8 GT3 with Marcus Marshall, and Theo and James Koundouris, has raced at the mountain before in the Dunlop Development Series.
Waite, however, has not, only having turned his first laps at the unique and challenging circuit on Friday in the McLaren 650S GT3 he will share with 2016 endurance champion Grant Denyer, and the father–son combination of Tony and Klark Quinn.
“I walked around it a few years ago and was blown away at just how steep it is and blind it is,” Waite told Driven.
“Racing at the 12 hour would have would have to go right to the top the list of my achievements, especially with the calibre of drivers competing.”
Waite, Evans, and van Gisbergen remain close friends, having raced one another in multiple categories growing up.
“It's certainly another level compared to the good old karting days nearly 20 years ago where it was just us racing and our dads on the spanners,” said Waite.
Another name new to Bathurst is Kiwi Racing — a four-driver team comprising Glenn Smith, John De Veth, Nick Chester and Kevin Bell. They will pilot a Reiter Lamborghini R-EX in the Am class. Tim Miles completes the Kiwi line-up. He joins the Andrew MacPherson, Neale Muston, and the AMAC Motorsport team in a Porsche GT3 R.
The 12 Hour's top-10 shootout takes place later this afternoon at 5.40pm (New Zealand time) , with the race following at 7.45am tomorrow.
The action will be televised on Sky Sport, and streamed online at bathurst12hour.com.au.