Here are all the Kiwis racing at this weekend's Bathurst 12 Hour
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This weekend once again sees the motorsport world focus its attention on Mount Panorama.
Since its introduction of GT3-spec machinery in 2011, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour has grown from strength to strength. And this year’s grid of 60 cars simply furthers the plot. On that grid are 11 different brands, and professional GT drivers and teams from all over the world.
And, like last year, New Zealanders are at the forefront. Fifteen Kiwis are on the grid, with potential race winners in each of the four main classes (PRO, PRO AM, Class B, and Class C) represented.
Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber are arguably the two names most likely to challenge for overall supremacy — ironic, given they’re set to pair up for this year’s Pirtek Enduro Cup.
Van Gisbergen, a former B12 champion, will race alongside fellow Supercars star Craig Lowndes, and McLaren factory pilot and past teammate Côme Ledogar. The trio’s McLaren 650S is a proven weapon on the mountain, and all three drivers carry the experience to deliver.
Bamber, meanwhile, pairs with Porsche factory drivers Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor. Though none of them has as much of a wealth of Bathurst experience, Bamber is a former class winner, and was quick at last year’s event until drama struck.
Scott McLaughlin and Craig Baird will be among the PRO AM front runners, but driving separate cars. McLaughlin will compete in the second YNA Autosports McLaren with AGT regular Fraser Ross, and McLaren test drivers Andrew Watson and Alexander West.
Baird, on the other hand, will drive the Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes-AMG we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him in. He’ll team with the experienced Tony D’Alberto and Max Twigg. Should luck fall their way, both these cars could be capable of threatening the outright contenders.
Perhaps one of the dark horses in the event is the Objective Racing McLaren 650S, to be driven by Tony Walls, Supercars regulars Tim Slade and Warren Luff, and Australian Porsche Carrera Cup race winner and oh-so-close CAMS Australian Endurance Championship runner up Jaxon Evans. Evans gets quicker every time he hops into a GT3 car, and the PRO AM car will be on a similar level to that of McLaughlin and Baird's entries.
Two Audi R8s round out the Kiwis competing in PRO and PRO AM. First is the Auckland-based International Motorsport entry, to be shared between Andrew Bagnall, Matt Halliday, and Johnny Reid. The other is an Audi Customer Racing machine shared between former Supercars driver Daniel Gaunt, and AGT drivers Ash Samadi and Dylan O’Keefe.
While the current Audi R8 platform has struggled to be competitive in the past, it has always displayed reliability — a trait that cannot be underrated in a 12-hour race.
Two Porsches in Class B house New Zealand drivers, and both are considered to be among the contenders.
Former North Island Endurance Series champ Sam Fillmore shares a current-generation Porsche Carrera Cup car with his friend Danny Stutterd. And in the second Porsche, Carrera Cup Asia champion Chris van der Drift lines up with former Castrol Toyota Racing Series winner Andrew Tang, Chen Yi-Fan, and Paul Tresidder.
Rounding out the Kiwis is a Class C BMW M4 GT4, driven by the Kiwi crew of Kent Baigent, Neil Allport, Matt Spratt, and Ash Blewett. While Baigent and Allport carry plenty of experience, Spratt and Blewett have more recent race miles at Mount Panorama (Spratt having won there in a V8 ute last October).
Sadly a viscous crash during yesterday's testing ruled out Baigent, Allport, Spratt, and Blewett for the weekend. After colliding with the Mercedes-AMG of D'Alberto, Baird, and Twigg at the end of Conrod Straight, their car slammed the concrete wall nose first; Baigent behind the wheel.
The racer was able to hop out of the car under his own steam, and was then sent to hospital for check ups. The car's damage appeared to be relatively mild, but a lack of spare parts unfortunately mean that their weekend is over before it really even begun.
Televised live on Kiwi screens, the spectacle is one not to be missed. Qualifying takes place later today, with first qualifying at 9.05am. The race begins at 3.45am tomorrow.