Kiwi up and comers enjoy opening Bathurst laps
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Simon Evans, Andrew Waite, and Dominic Storey are three of the most anticipated New Zealanders making their debut this weekend at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
All three drivers clocked their first laps at the Mount Panorama circuit earlier today in the weekend's opening test sessions, with all three drivers praising the challenging 6.2-kilometre circuit.
For Evans, while he had raced at Bathurst before with an ex-Supercars Ford Falcon in the Dunlop Development Series, it was his first time ever driving the track in a GT3-specification machine.
“It was pretty awesome. Being on the other side of the car, lots of aero, ABS, and a lot of other bits and pieces — I'm just building up into it. There's lots of time to find in me as a driver, but I didn't want to be that first guy that put it in the fence,” Evans told Driven.
“I'm just enjoying all of it. Obviously the fast flowing sections up the top, the braking zones, and the slow precision stuff down the bottom. Loving all of it.”
Evans, his co-drivers Marcus Marshall, James Koundouris, and Theo Koundouris started the day by posting the ninth and 27th best times respectively in the opening two practice sessions by the final session of the day they were 18th overall on a 2:06.875.
“I think any car you drive around this place, it's pretty daunting. I haven't driven this car before, so it's fair to say I was pretty nervous before I jumped in. But the first time you go up the mountain and back down, it's pretty steep,” he said.
“I'm just taking my time to build up to it.”
Fellow former NZ SuperTourer driver Andrew Waite also makes his mountain debut this weekend. However, unlike Evans, Waite has never raced at the mountain — let alone driven a GT3-spec car like the McLaren 650S that he is sharing with Tony Quinn, Klark Quinn, and Grant Denyer.
“Mega, it's insane. There's nothing that can prepare you for this place,” said Waite.
“After the first few laps I came in for a brake change, and just sitting in the car I was on another planet, trying to work it all out. Words can't describe it, it's pretty cool.
“But there's still a job on hand yet, so, soak it up, but at the same time I've got to stay focused and keep moving forward.”
Waite and his co-drivers ended up clocking the 12th quickest time in the first session of the day, before fading to 31st in the second. Technical dramas halted any further progress for the team, with a reported oil leak prompting the STIX crew to dismantle the rear end of the McLaren.
“The hardest part is that I'm trying to learn the car as well, and high-speed stuff is the hardest place to learn the car. And at this place you don't want to make a mistake in that high speed stuff. There's no way to learn but just to take baby steps,” Waite added.
“So rather than making a mistake, I've got to chip away, chip away chip away.”
The quickest of the trio at the end of the day was Dominic Storey. Driving a Mercedes-AMG GT3 — similar to the car he drove throughout the 2016 Australian GT Championship season — Storey was able to match his Supercars Championship co-driver in the second session of the day, posting a 2:06.479.
“First time at full attack around Bathurst — f**king sensational,” said a delighted Storey.
“I did a 2:06.4 in my first ever session at Bathurst, which apparently is pretty good. Dave Reynolds got in the car after me and did the same time, so that's a good reference for me.
“It's the same as in a Supercar, there are those points on the track where you're millimeters from the wall, so we've really just got to I guess just build up to it.”
Storey and Reynolds, with third co-driver Mark Griffith, will be pushing for honours in the Pro/Am class this weekend. However, their pace could see them challenge some of the Pro competitors. By the final Friday practice session the Hogs Breath Cafe team had trimmed another second off their best time, raising them to 11th overall in final practice with a 2:05.286.
All drivers ended the day chasing the BMW M6 GT3 of Mark Winterbottom, Marco Wittman, and expat New Zealander Steve Richards — the trio lapping the Bathurst circuit in 2:03.219.
The Garth Tander/Christopher Mies/Christopher Haase Audi R8 GT3 ended the session in second, almost seventh tenths adrift. Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup, and Toni Vilander's Ferrari 488 GT3 ended the day third, ahead of the David Calvert-Jones/Patrick Long/Marc Lieb/Matt Campbell Ice Break Porsche 911 GT3 R and the Kiwi pairing of Shane van Gisbergen and Craig Baird, with third driver Maro Engel.
The first qualifying session for the 12-hour enduro will take place at 12.40pm NZDT tomorrow afternoon, with the top-10 shootout following later on at 5.40pm NZDT.