THE most incredible of Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour races has been emotionally won by Craig Lowndes, Peter Edwards, John Bowe and Mika Salo, driving a Ferrari 458 GT3.
The Ferrari-driving quartet won today’s race by just 0.4 seconds in a thrilling finish between Lowndes and HTP Motorsport Mercedes Benz driver Maximilian Buhk in front of a big crowd and a massive live TV and online audience watching the drama unfold.
A late-safety car with less than 20 minutes remaining saw Lowndes resist attack after attack from the young German in the flying Mercedes in a thrilling race to the flag that saw the pair side-by-side at turn two with less than five minutes remaining.
The thrilling battle saw the pair locked together during the 15-minute sprint to the flag in a dramatic endurance race finish for the ages and one that eerily mirrored the dramatic Bathurst 1000 climax last October.
In the end, Bathurst legend Lowndes added a 12-hour trophy to his five Bathurst 1000 wins today whilst team-mates Mika Salo, and Peter Edwards won their first.
John Bowe scored his third 12-hour triumph in a day that saw the Melbourne-based Maranello squad win a race that their former driver Allan Simonsen had made his own – the team dedicating their victory to the Dane, who passed tragically at LeMans last year.
The 0.4 seconds final margin was the closest finish in Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour history.
The HTP Motorsport Mercedes trio of Buhk, 2013 winner Thomas Jaeger and Harold Primat scored second in an eventful day that saw them start eleventh then charge to the front early before dropping two laps off the pace after a brake issue saw them forced to the garage for repairs.
However, the team fought back bravely and found themselves in contention for the thrilling finish that eventuated.
The Erebus Motorsport ‘Aussie’ squad of Will Davison, Jack LeBrocq and Greg Crick finished third and were yet another team to fight back from laps down to score an unlikely podium.
Damage sustained in contact with a backmarker saw the Erebus SLS suffer hefty damage to the front – that made it slow across the top but speedy down the straights – the team using their advantages to the maximum in a close fight for third to the line with the VIP Petfoods McLaren.
Arguably the fastest car of the day, the flying MP4 12-C GT3 was in contention for much of the race and it was only a last-minute splash-and-dash for fuel that saw the team drop off the podium.
A stunning charge back into contention from the flying Kiwi saw Davison and van Gisbergen battle for third for the closing laps; Davison ultimately holding off any advance and finishing on the podium.
Van Gisbergen does leave the Mountain as the new outright lap record holder, however – his 2m03.8506s standing as the fastest ever race lap at Bathurst. A full 10 cars set laps under the existing lap record, held by Allan Simonsen.
Five cars finished on the lead lap; the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS scoring fifth after a solid if unspectacular day. It is the first time in the ‘GT era’ of the race that five cars have finished on the lead lap.
28 of the 42 starters finished a bruising race that was run at a record pace.
A record 296 laps were completed by the winning car – more than 1835km of Mount Panorama – despite 9 Safety Car interventions for a total of 31 laps.
Stephen Grove, Earl Bamber and Ben Barker won Class B (GT3) after a race-within-a-race battle that was almost as unpredictable as the outright affair.
Class contenders, Rotek Racing, led early in their Audi R8 LMS before they broke an engine at the four hour mark, throwing the class results up in the air.
The No. 45 Team BRM / Rentcorp Porsche and the Ice Break / Competition Motorsports Porsche each had a share of the class lead but the Grove Group car ultimately prevailed at the end, winning their class by two laps.
The Donut King Lotus driven by Tony Alford, Peter Leemhuis and Mike O’Connor were the only finisher in Class C – and as such the only winner. The attrition-filled class saw the Ginetta G50 lead early before succumbing to mechanical failure while the Motionsport Lotus was another early retirement.
The Billington / Scott / Owers Seat took out Class D, while Grant Denyer’s return to Motorsport resulted in class I victory in the MARC Focus he shared with Adam Gowans, Gary Jacobsen and Andrew Miedecke.
The Fiat Abarth 500s had a successful day, conquering the Mountain on their Australian racing debut.
The leading car – headed by Luke Youlden – finished a strong 18th outright and completed 243 laps.
Today’s race was one of attrition; several high profile cars ruled out in significant crashes.
The Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 was eliminated early in a top-of-the-mountain crash that also claimed the strong Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, whilst the M Motorsport Lamborghini – that led early in the hands of Bathurst 1000 champion Steven Richards – crashed at a similar location when driver Ross Lilley ran wide avoiding the race leaders.
The horrific luck experienced at Bathurst by the JBS Lamborghini team continued, the team failing to finish for a third consecutive year after Danish ace Peter Kox collided with a Kangaroo after just five laps.
Event organisers will announce the 2015 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour date tomorrow.
CRAIG LOWNDES – Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3
“Thirty minutes to go in the race and we had about a 25s lead over the McLaren, it was closing fast, it must have been having problems. Then the Mercedes closed the gap really quick, the safety car came out and it diminished any gap we would have had. I knew the Merc was always going to be quick in a straight line, and these guys have been telling me all week the Ferrari is generally quick across the top and that is a section I really enjoy. I had to push hard to get a gap, to get a car and half for a bit of a buffer zone. I didn’t know if it was going to be enough.
“With two or three laps to go, went down the outside into turn two, and was able to hold the inside line and get a gap, but of course, that diminished with some back markers. We didn’t change brakes, it was fading but it was ok. Had to give it a couple of pumps going into the Chase, very thankful the time ran out and we didn’t have to do another lap. I was doing my best, running on the inside lines, making the Merc go around the long way, thankfully we had enough.”
MIKA SALO - Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3
“This one if for Allan, there is nothing else to say. We miss him all, this one is for him.”
JOHN BOWE - Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3
“I don’t normally let people spray me with champagne, and I let people spray me with champagne. Truly I don’t normally let anyone near me with it, but I let all these blokes spray me, that is how important it is. And it is shit house.”
MAXIMILIAN BUHK – Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
“I was not happy when the SC deployed, I thought it would be a Sunday afternoon drive to the end. I saw Craig in front of me, then I was really focused to have some good laps to chase him, it was working quite well. I am very pleased with the weekend.”
THOMAS JAEGER – Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
“I had this moment where I touched the Nissan, thank god the car wasn’t too damaged. We got back on track, and did some good stints, all these problems we had on Friday and Saturday, we are more than lucky to be on the podium. The team did an admirable job. The SLS GT3 AMG once again proved it is very reliable. Very good combination.”
HAROLD PRIMAT – Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
“We were two laps down at one stage. The car was pretty good, by being consistent, and having a little bit of luck with the safety car we got one lap back. I did a second stint to get back the second lap. It was warm in the car, so I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I pushed as hard as I could.”
WILL DAVISON - Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
"We were nearly two laps down, and we were very wounded, but we had great strategy which got us back into a good position. We all pushed hard, great job by these two. We had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t too much fun driving the car sometimes today (in the heat). We have salvaged something for Erebus, and Betty, who is giving me this opportunity. It is the start of something big things. Great to get champagne for the team.”
JACK LeBROCQ - Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
“This is an amazing feeling; the start of the race wasn’t that good. It sort of turned into a NASCAR at the end with the wheel hanging out. The guys in the team did a great job with the strategy, really happy to be part of the team.”
GREG CRICK - Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
“It was a bit of a dream come true for me, not bad for the old pensioner. People that hold senior cars don’t get to drive cars like this very often. JB is the only person older than me I think. He looks a lot younger though.”
It was a great gig, Barry Ryan asked me to join the team about three months ago, and I kept pinching myself ever since. It was such a nice atmosphere in the team.”