THE Bathurst 12 Hour is now just around the corner it is shaping up to be another Mount Panorama classic.
A world-class field of GT machinery will tackle Australia’s international endurance race this January and February.
Here’s some reasons why you should get track side and experience the action first-hand.
TEN GT3 BRANDS
THIS year 10 brands – equal to the most ever in 12 Hour history – will race for the outright victory at Mount Panorama.
Audi, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and Nissan have won the race before, while Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Bentley, BMW (at least in GT3 form) and Porsche are yet to take the top step of the famous Bathurst podium.
AUDI ALL STAR ATTACK
IN their quest to bring a fourth 12 Hour win back to Germany, Audi have stacked the deck in their two ‘factory’ cars this year.
Garth Tander will be joined by South African Kelvin van der Linde and fast Belgian Frédéric Vervisch for the second consecutive year.
The sister car will see double Bathurst 12 Hour winner and Mount Panorama lap record holder Christopher Mies joined by Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock.
BRAND NEW BENTLEY
SEASON 2018 represented the swansong for the famous generation-one Bentley Continental GT3.
For the first time, Australian fans will get to see the second-generation car at Mount Panorama.
V12 ASTON MARTINS RETURN
THE V12 howl of Aston Martin’s Vantage GT3 racers will make a welcome return to Bathurst this year, thanks to a two-car effort from Swiss outfit, R-Motorsport.
It will likely be the last visit of the classic Vantage to Bathurst with the new, turbo-charged model inbound in 2019.
BMW’S QUEST FOR A GT3 WIN
BMWs have qualified on the front row the last two years in the Bathurst 12 Hour, scored the Allan Simonsen Pole Award last year and have led laps in both of the last two races.
However – in GT3 Machinery at least – they have not troubled the podium.
Can they add a GT3 12 Hour crown to their pair of wins during the Production Car era and major successes in other key GT3 enduros around the world?
NISSAN is back on the Mountain, having been sorely missed last year.
The pair of KCMG GT-R GT3s should be properly competitive and form part of the strongest ever attack on the race from teams based in Asia.
THE anchor behind Nissan’s 2015 victory, Katsumasa Chiyo became something of a cult hero during his time with the factory team in Australia.
His last-gasp drive to win in ’15 was astonishing, as was his surge to second place a year later as he hunted down Shane van Gisbergen.
The smiling, friendly, selfie-loving Japanese star has a big fan base here and his return with KCMG will be welcomed.
BEST 12 HOUR COMBINATION EVER?
THE combination of Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen will share the Team Vodafone Mercedes-AMG GT3 and is the most potent ever assembled in Bathurst history – perhaps in the local history of the sport.
With 15 Bathurst endurance race victories across the 12 Hour and 1000, 37 podium finishes, 11 Supercars titles and 250 Supercars race wins between them, it make the statistics hard to argue with.
SUPERCARS STARS ON TRACK
GARTH Tander, David Reynolds, Luke Youlden, Chaz Mostert, Tim Slade, Nick Percat, Lee Holdsworth, Tony D’Alberto, Warren Luff, Cam McConville and more.
Plenty of well-known names from the local racing scene will be in action and there may be more to come.
FERRARI is one of the most successful brands in 12 Hour history, but was absent at Mount Panorama last year.
Fortunately, two will race in 2019 and both should be particularly competitive.
HubAuto Corse will enjoy the locally-sourced talent of Nick Foster, Tim Slade and Nick Percat while AF Corse / Spirit of Race are one of the best teams around.
Their drivers are yet to be announced, but have Bathurst history.
SIX – count them – Mercedes AMG GT3s will tackle the 12 Hour this year, the most numerical of any brand entered in the outright class this year.
GT3 cars have never been faster and although Christoper Mies’ stunning record lap last November came without the Balance of Performance restrictions, should conditions permit this year’s grid is expected to give the 12 Hour lap record a decent nudge once again.
OPENING ROUND OF AN INTERNATIONAL SERIES
THE 2019 12 Hour doubles as the first round of the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge – the only truly global GT3 series.
After tackling the mountain, some of the best brands around will move on to the 8 Hours of California at Laguna Seca, The Spa 24 Hour, Suzuka 10 Hour and finally the return of the Kyalami 9 Hour in November.
COMPETITIVE CLASS C FIGHT
GT4 continues to grow around the world and though there are a few less of them this year than last, the fight for Class C is set to be a good one.
Three KTMs will take on three Ginetta GT4s and a lone BMW M4 GT4. It will be a heady class battle.
WORLD’S BEST DRIVERS
WE’VE already listed many of the Aussie contingent and the Audi stars, but the quality of drivers already announced coming from all parts of the world are superb.
Bentley’s six drivers are all world-class, as are those split between the pair of BMWs. Reigning DTM champion Garry Paffett will make his first start since retiring from the DTM, while those joining Chiyo in the KCMG Nissans are also superstars.
Throw in names like Marc Lieb, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Kevin Estre, Romain Dumas and Dirk Muller and you end up with a world-class list.
OUTSIDE what we’ve already touched on, how about Maro Engel’s return to Bathurst for the first time since the controversial end to his last start in the 12 Hour?
Or Jaxon Evans’ first race as a Porsche young-gun? Matt Campbell’s return as a LeMans class winner? Or Earl Bamber Motorsport’s first attempt at a major GT3 race? Chaz Mostert looking for his third-straight front-row start? The list goes on.
BIG TEAMS FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE
KCMG, Walkenhorst, Schnitzer, R-Motorsport, M-Sport, Hub Auto, Spirit of Race / AF Corse, Black Falcon, Craft-Bamboo, GruppeM, SunEnergy1, Competition Motorsport, Black Swan, Earl Bamber Motorsport.
Top teams from all corners of the GT racing globe.
MORE SUPPORT CATEGORY ACTION
A FOURTH day of on-track action is added to the program this year with a huge range of cars and drivers to follow, including an anniversary event for Formula Ford racing, Group S Sports Cars, Skye Sands Sports Sedans and the opening round of the Radical Australia Cup.
Cars are on track Thursday this year.
MORE OFF-TRACK ACTION
AS well as the extra day of track action, there’s more happening off-track too.
From Meguiar’s Cars and Caffeine to the Manufacturers Walk, cool bars, merchandise alley and autograph sessions, there’s so much to do.