SOME of the big name drivers who had initially been mooted to attend the inaugural Challenge Bathurst may not have been at Mount Panorama on Thursday, but there was still plenty of interest for motor sport fans.
The new four-day Challenge Bathurst event offers drivers intending to race in February’s prestigious Bathurst 12 Hour the chance to get valuable track time and data at the 6.213 kilometre circuit.
Triple Eight Race Engineering stars and former Bathurst 1000 winners Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes were planning to spend time behind the wheel of the Ferrari 488 GT3 they will share with factory ace Toni Vilander in the 12 Hour.
Instead they opted to focus on preparing for the Supercars’ season finale in Sydney.
Defending Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom was another who had been on early entry lists for Challenge Bathurst but did not make the trip to the Mount.
But those who did arrive for Thursday’s Lightning Sprints – sessions of 20 minutes – did include some big names.
Six-time Bathurst 1000 winner Mark Skaife aided his Bathurst 12 Hour preparation with laps in a BMW M6 GT3, while his team-mates at Challenge Bathurst include other Great Race winners Tony Longhurst and Russell Ingall plus German star Marco Whittmann.
BMW works driver Whittmann topped the time sheet in the opening Group B sprint with a 2:06.604.
Chaz Mostert, the man who won the 2014 Bathurst 1000, also enjoyed a victory. He took the honours in the second Group B Lightning Sprint with a flying 2:06.180 on his seventh lap.
But it wasn’t all about pushing the limits for every driver who got behind the wheel.
Mark Griffith debuted Erebus Motorsport’s new Mercedes AMG GT3 he will drive in the 12 Hour, so he erred on the side of caution by lapping in the 2:14s.
“The car has just been rebuilt, it’s had five months off the road. It’s a new shell so the idea is to keep it off the wall and run around and hope that everything is fine,” Griffith, who was averaging around 166km/hr per lap, said.
“The guys at Erebus have done a fantastic job, they have put it all back together and I can’t find any rattles or bangs, which is always handy, and the car feels sensational. No I wasn’t pushing hard, in fact we are on old tyres. We are not out to win anything, we are out to take it home as it appeared, nice and neat all in one piece.”
Come next February for the 12 Hour, the attitude will be much different for Griffith and the rest of the Erebus team.
They will be looking to replicate the success they found in the 2013 edition.
“It is a good thing that Bathurst allows us to do this, it’s good to come and run it around the track we are going to race on in the 12 Hour,” Griffith said. “Erebus are serious about the 12 Hour, the sister car to mine, Scotty Taylor’s car, they are out for an outright in the 12 Hour. Ours is still an unknown now, but we will be here.”