The third season of the Intercontinental GT Challenge starts next weekend with the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour. Throughout the Australian endurance classic, the representatives of Audi, Bentley, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche will battle to claim the honours in the opening round of the only global GT3 championship.
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A modification of the Intercontinental GT Challenge rules means that manufacturers wishing to compete have to explicitly enter the Challenge. After that, and for each event separately, they will be able to nominate a maximum of four cars that will be eligible to score points. Only those cars and the drivers driving them will score points towards the Intercontinental GT Challenge manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles and the new Bronze Driver title, going to the Bronze Driver that has scored the most points during the season. Five manufacturers have designated cars for the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour. Three of them – Audi, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche – will support four cars each, Bentley and McLaren each two.
The colours of defending Intercontinental GT Challenge manufacturers’ champion Audi will be held high by two cars from Audi Sport Team WRT and two further R8 LMS entered by Australian squad Audi Sport Team MPC. All four cars have at least one Audi factory driver at the wheel, with the #74 Team MPC machine sporting both the reigning Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers champion and his runner-up, Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Haase. They will team up with Christopher Mies, third in the 2017 driver standings and a double winner of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
The four Mercedes-AMG cars aiming to score points for the Intercontinental GT Challenge are entered by Strakka Racing (two cars), Sunenergy1 and Scott Taylor Motorsport. Plenty of big names in their line-ups as well, with one of last year’s winners – Jamie Whincup – driving the Sunenergy1 machine. More former Bathurst winners – Craig Baird and Alvaro Parente – will be at the wheel of the #8 and #56 cars, with the latter sharing the wheel of the Strakka Racing car with previous winners of the longest race in the Intercontinental GT Challenge – the Total 24 Hours of Spa –Maxi Buhk and Maxi Götz. The other Strakka Racing car has Nick Leventis as one of its drivers, one of the candidates for the new Intercontinental GT Challenge Bronze Driver title.
Several former Spa and Bathurst winners are in the Porsche camp as well, with Romain Dumas in the Manthey Racing 911GT3R, Laurens Vanthoor (the inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers champion) on the Craft Bamboo machine and Marc Lieb at the wheel of the Black Swan Racing car. The latter will have Tim Pappas as one of his co-drivers, travelling to Mount Panorama together with his American squad to defend his chances for the Bronze Driver title. The fourth Porsche for the Intercontinental GT Challenge is entered by Competition Motorsports, with last year’s Bathurst runners-up David Calvert-Jones, Patrick Long and Matt Campbell now being joined by Alex Davison.
Bentley Team M-Sport hopes to give the ‘old’ model of their Continental GT3 a fond farewell, aiming for a Bathurst win. A victory to which they have come close in the past, but that has eluded them thus far. Jules Gounon is the new kid on the Bentley block, with the 2017 Total 24 Hours of Spa winner joining Guy Smith and Steven Kane on the #17 car.
Both McLaren 650S GT3 are entered by YNA Autosport, with 2016 Bathurst winner Shane Van Gisbergen rejoining the McLaren-camp after driving a Mercedes-AMG last year. The author of the fastest ever lap on Mount Panorama (2’01.567 during the 2016 qualifying session) will be joined by Frenchman Côme Ledogar and double Bathurst victor Craig Lowndes.
Practice for the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour starts on Friday, with qualifying on Saturday morning and the Top 10 Shootout on Saturday afternoon. The start of the race will be given at 5.45 local time on Sunday morning. The event will be streamed live on the Intercontinental GT Challenge website, its Facebook-page and on the GTWorld Youtube-channel.
Due to restrictions, we may not be able to embed the Bathurst 12 Hours stream on tRL TV. However, like IMSA events, we will provide a link to the coverage. So you can still rely on theRACINGLINE.net for your viewing needs.