Bathurst rookie Andrew Watson has promised that he won’t try “to be a hero” ahead of his first visit to Mount Panorama for the 12 Hour this weekend.
The Northern Irishman, who has been retained by McLaren’s GT Driver Academy after an impressive debut season in GT3 machinery last year, is itching to get his first taste of the famed mountain, but is well aware of its unforgiving reputation.
“I’m under no illusions about it, I have to go there and do the job, no-one’s doing this out of favours for me,” said Watson, who will race for the factory supported Tekno Autosport team alongside Rob Bell and Will Davison. “I’m picked because they think I’m good enough and I’ll have to go and show that. I’m not going to Bathurst to be a hero, it’s too dangerous for that! I just want to go and do a solid job.
“I’ve been doing some laps on the simulator at home and I’m really looking forward to driving the track. Rob Bell has never been to Bathurst either, so he’s going to have some learning to do as well, then obviously Will Davison should be on it, but he doesn’t know the car so well, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all comes together.”
Bathurst will be Watson’s second outing in a 12 hour enduro after finishing fourth in the rain-hit Sepang 12 Hours in December with Alvaro Parente, Andrea Caldarelli and Hiroshi Hamaguchi. Emerging unscathed from the torrential downpours, which caused the race to be red-flagged twice, not to mention the heat and humidity – which comes as standard in Malaysia – was a significant confidence boost, with conditions at Bathurst unlikely to be quite as extreme.
“I learned so much at Sepang because it was my first real endurance race, so that was a good experience just to see how your body holds up – I’m not going to say it was all smooth sailing because it was so, so hot there, but I don’t think it’s going to be as hot in Bathurst,” he said.
“Sepang is actually a brilliant place to go endurance racing because it’s a bit like Spa, it has that weather element to it and it’s brilliant to drive as well. I think we finished just behind the three factory Audis, and we had a Pro-Am line-up, so everybody was really chuffed.
“At the start of this year, the plan was just to do British GT, but we went and did some GT Open through McLaren GT and won in Barcelona, then at Sepang I impressed some people there and I think that’s what got me the ticket to Bathurst.”
With Kevin Estre moving on to climes new at Porsche, McLaren have been left with a rather large void to fill, but Watson says he has plenty of growing in him before he can fill Estre’s shoes.
“I’ve still got a lot of learning to do and I’m not in the position yet to step into a factory role in place of Kevin, he is in my opinion probably in the top five GT racers in the world,” Watson said. “Obviously it frees it up a little for me but there’s been no promises or guarantees that way, I’ve just got to go and perform again next year and see what happens from there.
“We haven’t formalised our programme yet, I’d like to broaden my horizons with tracks and maybe try and do more racing in Europe, but if it’s British GT again then I’d be a happy boy.”