While the outright Class A GT3 machinery justifiably dominated the 2015 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour, roughly half the 50-car field were competing in the enduro’s four sub classes (see Class Structure, opposite, for a definitive breakdown).
A common theme across all the lower categories was the fierce battles that raged all day long, keeping spectators enthralled until the very end.
How close you ask? Just after the seven-hour mark, the top two contenders in all four categories were still on the same lap, line-astern on the track! And this didn’t change much at the end of 12, hard-fought hours of close racing.
Here’s a quick rundown on each of those epic, absorbing battles.
CLASS STRUCTURE: For the 2015 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour there were four supplementary categories supporting the outright Class A GT3-spec machinery. Class B is exclusively for Porsches, mainly GT3 Cup cars (which are eligible for the local GT Championship) along with similar-spec GT3 Cup Challenge cars. Class C features GT4-style machinery, which is a slightly lower specification than the outright GT3, Class A. Eligible machinery for Class C generally includes Production Sports Cars with some allowable performance enhancements. They’re permitted paddle gear shifts, but are prohibited from running ABS or traction control. The remaining two classes, D and I, are restricted to a benchmark lap time of 2 minutes 12 seconds. The invitation Class I is for cars of a tubular-chassis construction with more than one identical unit, while Class D covers a broad spectrum from standard Production Cars through to Production Sports.
WITH 11 entrants in all, Class B was the 12-Hour’s second largest category and produced plenty of action-packed drama.
It all began unfolding before first practice even kicked off, when the two-car GT3 Endurance New Zealand team was thrown into disarray after four of its drivers were involved in a major road traffic accident on their way to Mt Panorama. The nasty accident resulted in three drivers being hospitalised (two with significant injuries), forcing the team to scratch one car, unite father and son, Frank and Michael Lyons, into the other and enlist the services of Chris Van Der Drift to fill as third driver.
After Friday’s opening practice session, the #38 Wall Racing Porsche proved to be fastest in class. However their car was shunted into a wall later in the day by an Audi and was withdrawn. Grove Racing (#4) and the Supabarn team (#47) qualified one/two in the class and continued that close battle throughout Sunday. There was nothing between them for over half the race; unfortunately a mechanical issue for the Grove car whilst in the lead cost them valuable laps.
Their endeavours to fight back were further nullified when they were assisted into the Meguiar’s Corner sand trap – again there was an Audi involved! (The #4 Grove car later went into the same sand trap unassisted to bring out the last yellow flag of the day.) In the end, Koundouris brothers James and Theo, together with Sam Power and Marcus Marshall, prevailed by two laps over their arch rivals to finish 16th outright – one spot ahead of the Grove car. The next three positions were filled by New Zealand Motorsport Services, headed by car #64.
Following the scramble of Thursday’s traffic accident, the crew for the Lyons/Lyons/Van Der Drift entry had to step up again, doing a miraculous job of getting their #66 Porsche back into the race and home 8th in class and 33rd overall after being innocently taken out at Forrest Elbow by the out-of-control #51 Class A Porsche at the two-hour mark.
The #6 Safe-T-Stop Porsche looked to be in trouble when it side-swiped the concrete on top of the mountain, as a result of moving over to let two fast-running Class A cars through. Luckily the team managed to recover after completing repairs. Luck was again on their side when the car stopped at the top of the Cutting; they managed to eventually get it going, only to go off at Meguiar’s Corner later in the race. Not so fortunate was the #14 Peter Conroy machine when it crashed heavily at Hell Corner, denying Tony Bates and TV personality Grant Denyer a steer. Notably, this was Class B’s only retiree.
Returning in 2015 were the Australian-built MARC cars; the two Ford Focuses that debuted in 2014 along with a brand new Mazda 3 – each running a 5.0-litre Ford Coyote V8! Joining this trio in Class I were two US-constructed ex-Patrick Dempsey Racing Mazda RX8s. It was expected these five would able to mix it with the Class B Porsches. What was a surprise was that the eventual class winner would finish a full lap ahead of the first Class B entry!
Two of the MARC cars duked it out for over two thirds of the race and exchanged the class lead on several occasions. The #93 Focus of Garry Jacobson, Ben Gersekowski and Adam Gowans had been the fastest qualifier and led the way until the #91 Mazda of Jake Camilleri, Keith Kassulke and Ivo Breukers caught up, having started further back after an incident during Saturday’s grid-deciding session.
The #92 Focus trailed these two until just after the fifth hour when it went hard into the Cutting wall, bringing out the day’s eighth safety car. Later the battle for the lead would be resolved when the Bruekers-piloted Mazda 3 was belted off at McPhilliamy Park (by an Audi) causing it to slam backwards into the tyre barrier at 160 km/h. Despite being an absolutely massive shunt, Breukers was able to quickly exit the totalled Mazda with no major injuries. This heart-stopping incident elevated the two Mazda RX8s onto the podium.
Perhaps the best battle of the 2015 Bathurst 12-Hour came out of Class C. The Aussie-run Lotus Exige Cup R and the Swiss-based V8 Aston Martin Vantage swapped the lead 13 times! In the end they ran home 24th and 26th overall and were only split by four laps with the Tony Alford, Mark O’Connor and Peter Leemhuis Lotus triumphing over their international rivals.
The third-placed #73 Ginetta G50 GT4 couldn’t match the pace and lost a number of laps after crashing at Forrest Elbow in the fourth hour.
Leading Class D in the early stages proved to be the death knell for several competitors. Early leader was the potent V8-powered #42 BMW E46 M3 GTR. Unfortunately just five laps in, driver Anthony Gilbertson hit a kangaroo on Conrod Straight at 220 kilometres per hour! Extensive damage meant co-steerers Karl Begg and Jason Clements missed out on a ride.
That handed the lead to the top-qualifying #65 Daytona Coupe. It proceeded to break a diff forcing it into the garage for two hours, leaving the pure-production cars to battle it out. The #55 Audi TTRS was running third when it bizarrely slammed into the back of the #29 Pirelli Ferrari 458 on Skyline whilst the safety car was out!
Beric Lynton’s BMW 1M Coupe was being shared with John Modystach and Rob Thompson, and vied for class honours with the GWS BMW 335i (a two-time outright winner of the Bathurst 12-Hour) piloted by Ric Shaw, Jake Williams, Matt Chahda and Steve Devjak. Towards the end of the day, the 1M Coupe shook off the challenge to take the class win and 27th outright – one place ahead of the 335i which lost time due to a late clutch adjustment. The 1M Coupe ran faultlessly all day apart from two punctures in Thompson’s final driving stint. After overcoming a wayward bonnet pin and fuel pressure issues, the Sherrin family’s #18 BMW 135i scored third.
As you can see, come 5:55 on Sunday afternoon the margins were extremely close, with all teams having to overcome adversity – often not of their own making. While there is no taking away from the outright spectacle of the 2015 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour, these dramatic and enthralling battles most definitely enhanced and enlivened Australia’s premier endurance event.