Van Gisbergen Triumphant
Mount Panorama. It’s a special place. Regular visitors exchange a knowing smile while newcomers exude an air of pure awe. For the 2016 Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the level of anticipation amongst everyone was as high as the mountain itself. Something special was going to happen.
As Saturday qualifying rolled around it became clear, that for this weekend at least, one combination of man and machine had mastered the Mountain. Shane van Gisbergen and the Tekno Autosports McLaren 650S GT3 roared to a dominant pole position 0.554 seconds up on Rene Rast in the Jamec Pem Audi R8 LMS. With McLaren putting four cars in the top six, it appeared obvious that it was going to be their race to lose.
For once, the first few practice sessions were relatively incident free as some of the top GT3 teams from around the world worked on setting up cars, and new drivers fought to get accustomed with one of the most intimidating circuits in world motorsport. There are few other places where the level of commitment required to be fast is so apparent to all who are watching. The rewards for those willing to take it to the limit and get it right are great. The punishment for getting it wrong can be devastating.
More potential threats fell by the wayside - the second place Objective Racing McLaren and both Jamec Pem Audis coming to grief early, however safety cars and some tardy McLaren pitstops kept an elite few within striking distance and on the lead lap - last year’s champion Nissan GT-R driven by Katsumasa Chiyo, Rick Kelly and Florian Strauss; the redemption seeking Bentley driven by Guy Smith, Matt Bell, and Steven Kane; and the Phoenix Audi which had clawed itself back into contention from a lap down (despite the new Audi having a major shortfall in top speed down Bathurst’s long straights) following inspired stints from drivers Laurens Vanthoor (whose speed and commitment rivalled van Gisbergen), Markus Winkelhock and Will Davison.
As the race got underway in the spectacular Bathurst pre-dawn, a collision between the Ferrari driven by Mika Salo and the Lamborghini driven by Nick Percat eliminated both almost immediately. At the front of the race, van Gisbergen was majestic, pulling away from the field with apparent ease in one of the most commanding opening stints in recent memory.
Alvaro Parente and Jono Webb continued to demonstrate the McLaren’s pace, and despite the strength and pedigree of the challengers, a late drive through penalty, an inconvenient safety car, electrical gremlins and a highly motivated Chiyo-san, 12 hours after van Gisbergen led the field through Turn 1 he crossed the finish line, winning by the deceptively small margin of 1.27 seconds from the Chiyo/Kelly/Strauss Nissan with the Smith/Bell/Kane Bentley claiming the final podium position.
20 of the 37 starters took the checkered flag following the completion of a race record 297 laps, and despite the apparent dominance of the McLaren, thoughts instantly turned to next year when new cars from Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche are expected to try their luck at one of the world’s great endurance races.
We want to thank Paul Deegan for his fantastic photography and words.
-Benzin Garage Staff