AUDI claimed its third Bathurst 12 Hour crown in anticlimactic fashion on Sunday when the annual endurance event at Mount Panorama ended under red flag conditions.
The race was set for a thrilling conclusion between Audi’s Robin Frijns and fast finishing Mercedes challenger Jamie Whincup but the debris from a huge crash at the top of the Mount inside the final 20 minutes couldn’t be cleared in time to resume racing.
Drivers and spectators alike were hopeful the scattering of remains from the frightening 200 kilometre an hour collision between Ash Walsh and John Martin could be removed before the 12 Hours were up but it wasn’t to be.
The race was officially declared over with four minutes on the clock remaining.
Frijns and co-drivers Stuart Leonard and Dries Vanthoor helped Audi add another title to go with their victories in 2011 and 2012.
Whincup, Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier and Raffaele Marciello had to settle for second place while a great performance from Tim Pappas, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz and Marc Lieb in their Porsche delivered them to third place.
Inside the final hour the race was set to be a battle of fuel economy for all eight cars on the lead lap.
Frijns said prior to the race’s final yellow flag he was caught in a tough predicament: How hard was he willing to drive to keep his lead yet keep petrol in his tank?
“I gapped about three to four seconds and I was trying to keep it, but I was pushing but trying to save as much fuel as we could,” he said.
“I don’t think we would have made it if it was full-out green, so we wanted a safety car. Eventually it came out after the big crash.
“We didn’t expect it at the start. We had a lot of issues at the start, and across the weekend as well. Halfway to the end everything went quite fluidly and it improved for us.
It was a memorable Bathurst debut for the WRT Audi team.
“I think it means a lot for them because it’s their first time out in Australia,” Dries said of the team.
“I think it’s good that we gave them that present. They prepared for the race really well … and did a good job.
“It was a rollercoaster race. Sometimes we were almost a lap down then we had a safety car again and we tied the race down.”
It was a different Audi team who looked like the bigger winning hope at the race’s midpoint.
The Jamec Pem Audi garage had both their cars sitting 1-2 after surviving a hectic opening half that saw 10 safety car sessions.
However, bad luck was to befall both cars as the race went on.
Front row starter Kelvin Van der Linde was looking for a path around traffic at the Dipper but lost control two thirds of the way through the race and struck the wall.
Then with 90 minutes to go the other entry of Markus Winkelhock had its race ended in cruel fashion with a broken gearbox.
Another big name casualty was pole-sitter Chaz Mostert, whose contact with Kevin Estre at the exit of Forrest’s Elbow ended his hopes.
The winning squad had been quiet achievers throughout the second half of the race, taking the lead at the penultimate hour and never surrendering it.