Interventions keep teams on edge, writes Colin Smith
The hero of Sunday's Bathurst 12-Hour endurance race wasn't driving an exotic 300km/h GT racer.
It was the crew of a Mt Panorama recovery vehicle who raced to drag a beached Porsche out of the final turn gravel trap and set up a tense two-lap shoot-out involving five different marques as the conclusion to the round-the-clock enduro.
The incident-packed Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour had begun pre-dawn with 50 cars on track and was interrupted by 20 safety car interventions - including three in the final hour.
Had the race finished behind the safety car it would have been a disappointing conclusion to an enthralling day of mixed fortunes and a display of spectacular lap record pace from the front runners.
The on-track dramas and bunching of the field handed teams multiple strategy choices as they juggled maximum driver times, fuel stops and track position with the goal of being on the lead lap and near the front of the pack should a late race caution eventuate.
Leading into the final hour was the M-Sport Bentley Continental driven by British racer Matt Bell that had recovered from an earlier drive-through penalty to lead the race.
Bell was under pressure from the the pole-winning and lap-record setting Audi R8 LMS of Germany's Phoenix Racing with Belgian GT ace Laurens Vanthoor at the wheel.
That order remained when the safety made a brief final appearance on lap 267 as the stranded Porsche was efficiently retrieved.
But the driver on the charge was Japan's Katsumasa Chiyo who timed his first move to perfection to power his Nissan GT-R Nismo past the Audi on pit straight and then won a power struggle with the Bentley on the run up Mountain Straight to gain the lead.
The Japanese driver, who shared the winning car with Germany's Florian Strauss and Belgium's Wolfgang Reip, edged away to win by 2.4 seconds. It was Nissan's first victory at Bathurst since the first generation Godzilla GT-R won the 1992 1000km touring car event in the hands of Jim Richards and Mark Skaife.
The battle for the podium became a three-way dog-fight on the final lap with the Craft Bamboo Aston Martin Vantage V12 driven by Germany's Stefan Mucke joining the fray and denying the Bentley crew third place with a last corner move past Bell.
Immediately behind in fifth place was the Erebus Motorsport Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG driven at the end of the race by young Australian Jack LeBrocq.
The top five finishers - in five different marques of car - were separated by just 3.9s at the finish and the competitive depth of the FIA GT3 category was reflected with a Ferrari and a Lamborghini in sixth and seventh places.
The top-placed New Zealand driver was Chris Pither teamed with factory Porsche driver Patrick Long (USA) and Australia's Dean Calvert Jones. They brought their Porsche 911 GT3-R home in 11th place.
The Kiwi Family Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia of John McIntyre, Jono Lester and Graeme Smyth - which had run in the top 10 before losing a wheel - rejoined the race and were classified 32nd. The Ferrari team had been one of the race's quiet achievers. They ran as high as second during the first quarter and looked set to achieve a finish in the lower half of the top 10 until the wheel retainer broke.
The multiple incidents and safety car interventions meant this year's winners completed 269 laps, well down from last year's record of 296 laps.
2015 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour - results
The Trass Family Motorsport Ferrari hits heavy traffic through the Michelin Chase at the Bathurst 12-Hour endurance race on Sunday.Picture / Colin Smith
1. NISMO Athlete Global Team (Florian Strauss/Katsumasa Chiyo/Wolfgang Reip) Nissan GT-R NISMO, 269 laps. 2. Phoenix Racing (Marco Mapelli/Laurens Vanthoor/Markus Winkelhock) Audi R8-LMS, 269 laps. 3. Craft Bamboo Racing (Darryl O'Young/Alex MacDowall/Stefan Mucke) Aston Martin Vantage, 269 laps. 4. Bentley Team M-Sport (Guy Smith/Steven Kane/Matt Bell) Bentley Continental, 269 laps. 5. Erebus Motorsport (Jack LeBrocq/Richard Muscat/Dean Canto) Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, 269 laps. 6. Vicious Rumour Racing (Benny Simonsen/Andrea Montermini/ Renato Loberto) Ferrari F458 Italia, 268 laps. 7. JBS Australia (Roger Lago/David Russell/Steve Owen) Lamborghini Gallardo, 268 laps. 8. Clearwater Racing (Mok Weng Sun/Toni Vilander/ Matt Griffin) Ferrari F458 Italia, 268 laps. 9. Phoenix Racing (Felix Baumgartner/ Christopher Haase/Stephane Ortelli) Audi R8-LMS Ultra, 268 laps. 10. Hallmarc/Network Clothing (Marc Cini/Mark Eddy/Christopher Mies) Audi R8-LMS Ultra, 267 laps.