One week after an enthralling Daytona 24, the Bathurst 12 Hour provided another festival of GT3 action. Here’s what we learned.
1. Leinders makes a winning start
Almost unnoticed amid the clamour over McLaren’s first victory in a major enduro since the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours was the presence of one Bas Leinders behind the scenes. Shortly after leading Marc VDS to their first victory in the Spa 24 Hours last July, Leinders parted ways with the team amid a “streamlining” process between the management structures of their motorcycle and GT operations. Just a few months later, the GT team folded for good.
Leinders – a very good driver in his day don’t forget – has landed on his feet as McLaren GT’s Sporting Manager, but surely even he couldn’t have hoped for a better start to his new role. Expect to see much more of the Belgian this year, with McLaren diversifying their customer programmes with the 650S across the globe.
— Bas Leinders (@BasLeinders) February 7, 2016
2. Better together
“Better together” was the campaign slogan during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, but it could be equally fitting for the Bathurst 12 Hour and the V8 Supercar series. After V8 Supercars scheduled an obligatory two-day test on the same weekend as the race to prevent its star drivers taking part last year, James Warburton and V8 Supercars acquired the rights to promote the event, which hit new heights in 2016.
A record 37,079 people came to the mountain to watch domestic stars Van Gisbergen, Will Davison, Garth Tander, Rick Kelly and David Reynolds take on the stars of international GT3 racing. Reynolds enjoyed his experience, but don’t expect him to take on the Nordschleife anytime soon. “I play it loads on Playstation, but I forget it all the time, it’s too long!”
3. Audi not at the races
After wins at the Nurburgring, Sepang, Dubai and Daytona– not to mention a lockout of second and third at Spa – Bathurst was the first time that the Audi R8 LMS wasn’t at the races. Although Rene Rast managed to qualify second in the Jamec Pem no. 75, the Audi’s advantage over a single-lap at the top of the mountain would count for nothing in race-trim. The reason for that was simple – a dire lack of straightline speed ensuring they were invariably too far back to attempt an overtake into the Chase or Hell Corner, the circuit’s two major passing zones.
After spending an entire stint unable to pass the leaders to get back on the lead lap, last year’s polesitter Laurens Vanthoor shared his frustrations over Twitter. “It’s time to open my mouth. I never talk about BoP but this is ridiculous!” said the Belgian. “I don’t want to have the quickest but a car to fight! Being a second quicker on the mountain but missing 10kmh on the straights is not correct. We can’t fight and race other cars!!”
The Audis were also vulnerable to being overtaken at restarts on the run up to Griffins Bend, with Chiyo using the Nissan’s extra grunt to pass Vanthoor with two wheels on the grass late on. It only served to reinforce the impression that the Audis had arrived at a gun fight armed with a water pistol.
4. Cindric comes of age
At 17 years old, Austin Cindric was the proverbial boy amongst men at Mount Panorama, but on his first time in a Pro car alongside Mercedes heavyweights Bernd Schneider and Maro Engel, he looked anything but out of place.
Even with a quietly impressive performance under his belt last year, Cindric remained something of an unknown quantity, but the American stood up to scrutiny here and kept the car on the lead lap despite progressively worsening handling, which was attributed to a broken rear diffuser.
— Maro Engel (@MaroEngel) February 7, 2016
Although his race would end in the wall at Griffins Bend, Cindric was absolved of any blame when the car was recovered with a flat left front. Engel was certainly impressed, and he wasn’t the only one. Cindric will drive a K-PAX Racing McLaren in the Pirelli World Challenge in 2016, and on this evidence will certainly be one to watch.
5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Mika Salo wasn’t mincing his words after tangling with Nick Percat’s Lamborghini on lap one. “I’m so pissed off with this idiot,” said the Finn, a winner at the mountain in 2014, who would later retire the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari with terminal suspension damage as a legacy of the accident.
Mika Salo goes bang!
— Aaron Noonan (@aaronnoonan) February 6, 2016
Percat was also eliminated on the spot, but fought his corner on Twitter. “Myself and Salo went up mountain straight together. He may not have seen me and turned in like I wasn’t there,” said the V8 Supercar driver, who won the Bathurst 1000 as a rookie in 2011. “I expected to run 2 by 2 with Salo like everyone in front of us seemed to do. He must have had other ideas.”
Whoever was to blame, both ought to have known better.