In their first visit to the Mount Panorama Circuit, Audi Sport Team WRT has taken the win in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour. Robin Frijns, Dries Vanthoor and Stuart Leonard took victory when the race was declared with some seven minutes to go, after a heavy crash involving three cars at the top of the Mountain. Three manufacturers were represented on the Bathurst podium, with the #75 Mercedes-AMG Team SunEnergy1 Racing car taking second, and the Pro-Am #540 Black Swan Racing Porsche claiming a well-deserved third.
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The finale of the 2018 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour was set up when the leading #74 Audi Sport Team MPC car hit drive-shaft problems with some 90 minutes of the race to go. Reigning Intercontinental GT Challenge champion Markus Winkelhock could not believe his bad luck, for the car that he shared with Chris Mies and Christopher Haase had not missed a beat all week.
The following safety car intervention gave some cars an opportunity to take a gamble with the fuel, but to complete the remaining 80 minutes without refuelling was always going to be a big ask. Even though the top five drivers did their utmost best to be as frugal as possible, they would probably need another safety car intervention to make it to the end.
Twenty minutes from the end that race neutralisation became fact when three cars made contact on the top of the Mountain. Fortunately, none of the drivers involved were injured. Meanwhile, the tactical minds of most of the front-running teams immediately understood that it would take some time to clean the debris, and left their cars out on track. A good decision, for a couple of minutes later, the race was first red-flagged and shortly after that stopped for good. The #37 Audi Sport Team WRT car of Robin Frijns, Dries Vanthoor and Stuart Leonard – leading the race for the last 40 minutes – was declared the winner.
Not far behind the #37 Audi, the spectacularly-liveried #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG of Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier, Jamie Whincup and Raffaele Marciello took second. Third went to the first of the Pro-Am teams, the #540 Black Swan Racing Porsche of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz, Marc Lieb and Tim Pappas. The latter also becomes the first leader of the new Bronze Driver Intercontinental GT Challenge classification.
Other contenders fell by the wayside early in the race. The #56 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG was the first to lose time after an unfortunate contact with the #75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG, the #18 Bentley was first hit by gearbox troubles and then had a spectacular puncture, while the #58 YNA Autosport McLaren was parked with overheating issues.
While it looked that they would be at the sharp end until the finish, the #22 Audi Sport Team MPC and the #17 Bentley Team M-Sport fell victim to the Mountain in the second half of the race, after separate incidents and hard contact with the walls in the spectacular descent towards Conrod Straight. And when Winkelhock’s Audi came to a halt at the Cutting the scene was set for the spectacular showdown.
With seven cars finishing on the lead lap – a record for this race – the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour has again lived up to its reputation. Now it is time for the manufacturers to celebrate or to analyse what went wrong. The next round of the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge is the Total 24 Hours of Spa, from July 26th to 29th, followed by the first edition of the Suzuka 10 Hours on August 26th and the season finale to be held at Laguna Seca with the California 8 Hours on October 28th.
Robin Frijns (#37 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi, 1st): “Last year we did not have the luck on our side, and this year we had a difficult start to the race as well. The first three hours we did not have a radio, which made the timing of the pitstops difficult. At the end we had to try and save fuel but keep the gap as well, which was tough. I’m so happy we made it. We had a difficult week, but the race went perfect.”
Stuart Leonard (#37 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi, 1st): “Everyone is extatic! To win this at our first attempt is amazing. We kept it clean, kept the car out of the wall and pushed at the end. We did this all together. Great.”
Dries Vanthoor (#37 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi, 1st): “I hear the guys involved in the crash are OK, that’s the most important. There was a strange atmosphere in the box at the end, when the race was red-flagged. It may not feel the same as crossing the line in first, but a win is a win. Robin did two fantastic stints at the end. This result also shows that WRT is a well-prepared team.”
Tristan Vautier (#75 Mercedes-AMG Team SunEnergy1 Racing, 2nd): “If one week ago somebody would have told us we would finish on the podium, we would have signed with both hands. But now we came so close to the win, I would have loved to see the fight go to the end. Our Mercedes-AMG was great over a stint, we managed to control the tyre wear very well.”