Defending Bathurst 12 Hour winner Shane Van Gisbergen believes that this year’s event will be dictated more by survival than ultimate pace.
The Kiwi will team up with inaugural Allan Simonsen Trophy winner Maro Engel and 2007 event winner Craig Baird in a Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3, supported by the crack HTP squad.
However, with all-Pro line-ups allowed for the first time since the race was resurrected 10 years ago, the field has swelled to 55 entries, up from a total of 36 cars last year.
Though the calibre of competition at the sharp end will be stronger than ever before, with 14 cars entered in the Pro class from eight different manufacturers, Van Gisbergen expects the extra traffic from 22 Porsche Cup, GT4 and Invitational cars to have a major part to play in the outcome.
“The race is going to be completely different to last year, it’s not going to be about pace,” he told Racing.GT.
“There’s so many slow cars this year and lots of competitive, fast cars as well, so it’s going to be very different to last year, a lot of Safety Cars, a lot of crashes; it won’t be the same. Last year there was not so much traffic, but this year it’s going to be crazy, a lot of risk management.”
— Shane van Gisbergen (@shanevg97) February 2, 2017
The former McLaren factory driver had his first taste of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in race conditions at the 24 Hours of Daytona last weekend and briefly ran at the front of the GTD class before team-mate Cooper MacNeil crashed out in the treacherous early morning rain.
However, Van Gisbergen was guarded on what to expect from the car on its first appearance at Bathurst.
“It all depends on the BOP you get given on the weekend,” he said. “In the McLaren we had a really good one last year and it was awesome, so hopefully we get the same, but we’ll just see, we don’t really know until qualifying.
“We’ll just hope for a smooth weekend, we’ve had some good preparation with a test at Phillip Island and lots of laps in the car there, so I’m getting comfortable in it now.”
AMG factory driver Engel returns to Bathurst after a painful race in 2016. Sharing the venerable SLS with 2013 winner Bernd Schneider and young American Austin Cindric, Engel fought back from three laps down with a broken diffuser, before Cindric suffered a blowout at Griffins Bend and crashed out.
The German is optimistic that the new AMG GT3 can be a victory contender on its first visit to the mountain, having already won the Nürburgring 24 Hours last year and finished on the podium in the 24 Hours of Spa and Daytona, although overtaking will likely be tougher than was the case in the older car.
— Shane van Gisbergen (@shanevg97) December 20, 2016
“It’s definitely a great line-up and kudos to Scott Taylor and AMG for putting this car together with HTP support and obviously the factory support – we’ve certainly made sure we have all the ingredients to fight for this win,” Engel told Racing.GT.
“The AMG-GT3 is a step forward from the SLS in many respects, we’ll probably be a little bit slower in a straight line but hopefully we’ll be able to pick up quite a bit in the corners. It’s all a bit of a guessing game as long as you haven’t been to the track, because every track is unique, every track surface is unique.
“We hope that we’ll have a fair BOP, and we trust the organisers to give us a fair chance, that we are not as far off in top speed as we were in Macau.
“The SRO and everybody involved is doing a good job of trying to balance so many different cars and we hope we get a fair chance as the others will. That’s what we all want to see.”
Meanwhile, circuit lap-record holder Van Gisbergen hoping to become the first driver to win back to back races with different manufacturers.
“[I’ll] just do the same again – as long as you do best job as you can, [make] no mistakes and have fun, that’s why I go racing,” he added.