Bentley wins: British brute claims Bathurst 12 Hour as Kiwis star
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After years of trying and positioning as motorsport bridesmaids, Bentley's M-Sport team has won the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 hour with drivers Maxime Soulet, Jules Gounon, and Jordan Pepper.
Gounon guided the team's No. 7 entry home in tricky, nail-biting conditions. The final hour was underlined by the threat of rains and storms that were hitting all around Bathurst's surrounding cities. It had been a difficult build-up to the race for Bentley, having had a large crash with its No. 8 sister car earlier in the weekend (that car then crashing while in contention during the race).
In the end Gounon coasted to a deserved win with a 37-second margin in hand — the rains finally opening as the rest of the field crossed the line. The 314 completed laps is also a new race-length record.
Raffaelle Marciello took second as the first Mercedes-AMG across the line with co-drivers Felipe Fraga and Maximillian Buhk. But the No. 999 AMG's result was later handed a penalty, following debate around legitimacy of the team's last pit-stop. Third place, upgraded post-race to second, went to Kiwi-bred driver Tom Blomqvist.
He and 59Racing McLaren teammates Ben Barnicoat and Alvaro Parente were in the mix to win all race long, and held second place with the end of the race in sight until Blomqvist was suddenly caught and passed by an energised Marciello before those positions were reversed.
Another Kiwi — Shane van Gisbergen — also benefited from the penalty. The 2016 Supercars champ initially finished fourth with co-drivers Jamie Whincup and Maximillian Gotz after a fascinating late dice with Porsche's Matt Campbell. They were then promoted to the third step of the final podium.
Campbell/Patrick Pilet/Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche) and Maro Engel/Luca Stolz/Yelmer Buurman (Mercedes) rounded out the top five; the latter having fallen off the podium with a late puncture. Sixth was where Marciello/Fraga/Buhk wound up following the penalty.
Among the other New Zealanders to star was Dominic Storey. The McLaren 720S pilot and co-drivers Fraser Ross and Martin Kodric finished eighth overall, and first in the Silver class. Kodric in particular hurtled to the chequered flag at an alarming rate of knots, having held the lap record for a period of time in the dying laps with a handy 2:03.3958 (pipped eventually by a 2:03.2789 from Audi's Kelvin van der Linde).
It was a rough day for some of the other Kiwi contenders. Earl Bamber's Porsche squad (co-drivers Laurens Vanthoor and Craig Lowndes) were in the picture early but lost laps with a brake issue, eventually finishing ninth. The high profile Castrol Aston Martin Vantage shared between Scott Dixon, Rick Kelly, and Jake Dennis struggled in the early stages, before also getting dogged by mechanical issues. It ended up being classified in 16th.
After Saturday's day of carnage, there was less crashing on race day. Among the few big incidents was an early crash that claimed the Audi R8 of Garth Tander. The former Supercars champ was navigating his Valvoline sister car at McPhillamy Park (after it had made a mistake and run wide), only to snap sideways as he crested the hill and lose control at high speed into the tyre wall — narrowly missing the team's other car.