Bathurst 12 Hour 2014
Dawn 'til dusk the mountain bites, while ringmaster Lowndes tames a prancing horse...
Bathurst 12 Hour 2014
There are now two must-see calendar events at Mount Panorama. This year's 12 Hour was fraught with all the danger, unpredictability and organised chaos that Australia’s motorsport mecca is renowned for. These cars are some of the wildest machines ever to roll onto the grid.
Anyone who’s camped on the mountain and woken to the roar of angry engines knows about the electricity in the air come Sunday morning. The eerie pent-up excitement of starting a race under lights is something you must experience on the mountain. The race starts at 6:15am, when the sun hasn’t even crested the horizon. As a spectator you can barely see the car's bodywork, while the inky darkness demands the drivers have complete faith in their headlights.
This Le Mans-style race uses a rolling start, meaning there's no high-revving standstills, so drivers must have their wits about them. Crowds are on tip-toes hoping that everybody gets away clean among the blur of swerving cars and bright LED head and taillights. The snarling pack, headed by the Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy-winning #1 Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 of Erebus Motorsport with Nico Bastian in the driver’s seat lead the hungry pack from Craig Lowndes in the #88 Maranello Motorsports Ferrari 458, Klark Quinn in the #37 McLaren MP4-12C, young gun Jack Le Brocq in the other #63 Erebus Merc, Rick Kelly in the #32 NISMO GTR and Peter Kox in the #23 JBS Lamborghini. The BMW safety car ducked into pitlane and the grid steadied for the control line. It was the calm before the (12 Hour) storm.
A soundwave of wailing Ferrari V8s, rumbling of Porsche flat-sixes, scowling Lambo V10s and thundering Merc V8 war planes filled the air. Watching the rolling start is weirdly sedate, more than most are probably expecting, but one tiny mistake can spell disaster; biff and barge are not the tools of survival in a race of this calibre and endurance.
That said, drivers still pushed hard early. Nico Bastian broke the Simonsen’s lap record by 0.3sec on lap three. It was evident those monstrous AMGs were tough to beat, their straight-line speed ferocious enough to keep all but the top cars comfortably at bay. The minutely slower but more nimble Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Audis and lone Nissan would have to be cunning across the top to make up time. And they were, but at a price.
Common folklore says the mountain bites in cruel ways. The JBS Lambo of Peter Kox was the earliest casualty. Fifteen minutes into the race, a roll of tape left by a TV technician began moving around behind his pedals, distracting him as he entered The Chase at high speed. Next lap he collected a kangaroo across the top and it was game over.
"With the kangaroo, this can happen…but I was quite close to the Mercedes and the tape flew through the pedals and I was affected. In the end if I had been closer maybe the kangaroo would've been behind me. I’m really angry with the guy and maybe if I see him he’ll have the same end to his life as the kangaroo," Kox said. The car was unrepairable.
The biggest incident of the day was at McPhillamy Park when Clearwater Racing's Ferrari 458 with Japanese driver Hiro Hamaguchi at the wheel span into the gravel mid-corner on its own spilt coolant.
Japanese Nissan pilot Katsumasa Chiyo, blinded by the dust, speared through it and smashed into the Ferrari at 200+km/h. Fortunately nobody was injured, but the hopeful NISMO team and Rick Kelly were devastated.
Highlights also included the blistering record lap time of 2:03.8506 set by flying young Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen in the orange McLaren and his late morning heart-in-mouth dice later with Finland's Mika Salo in the #88 Ferrari. UC’s own John Bowe was also a force to be reckoned with. He set consistently fast laps and braved the intense heat while keeping the Ferrari straight. It was smart racing from the wise Bathurst campaigner.
Retirees included Bathurst trailblazer Grant Denyer (#70) in one of three V8-powered MARC Ford Focuses. He too impressed despite his past injury setbacks. An honourable mention goes to the Fiat Abarth Motorsport team whose Abarth 695 entries, despite looking slow-motion compared to the Class A supercars, were reliable all day and finished relatively unscathed. Good friend Eric Bana, his co-drivers Simon Middleton and Peter Hill were mighty, performing virtually mistake-free with the grit to make the finish in their FXD Workwear Lamborghini Gallardo.
At about 2:30pm with Lowndes settling into his stint, car #88 was issued adrive-through penalty for the team’s pitboard being left against the wall when exiting the pit box. In Le Mans racing no crew or equipment can be in pitlane when the car exits. It may have cost team 25 seconds but Lowndes soon made that up.
Later in the day, Salo's blistering final stint helped co-driver Lowndes take charge. The final leg of the race saw Germany’s Maximilian Buhk in the white #84 HTP Merc and Will Davison in #63, with van Gisbergen fourth in the McLaren.
Buhk was hunting down Lowndes in the final laps, but the Bathurst master was not giving up his title so easily. On the second last lap, at turn two Buhk made a move around the outside of Lowndes but was forced wide – Craig had shut the door.
Buhk lost ground to Lowndes across the top and the buffer increased, but the devastating speed of the Erebus AMG came back at Lowndes down Conrod Straight. Nose-to-tail up and over for the last 6.2kms, Lowndes fought hard.
He positioned the Ferrari perfectly into The Chase, held off Buhk’s SLS, and won by just 0.4sec at 6:15pm! Will Davison (3rd) had the hard-charging van Gisbergen behind in fourth; three seconds separated the first four spots after 12 hours of racing.
It was another glorious Mount Panorama finish. To team Maranello Motorsports and drivers Peter Edwards, Mika Salo, John Bowe and Craig Lowndes: bloody good show, lads. Bring on 2015!
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