Van Gisbergen drives McLaren to Bathurst glory

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A THRILLING Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour has ended with McLaren drivers Shane van Gisbergen, Alvaro Parente and Jonathan Webb spectacularly taking victory in another tense finish at Mount Panorama.

Kiwi superstar Shane van Gisbergen held out a fast-finishing Katsumasa Chiyo in the Nissan GT-R to record the first win for McLaren at Mount Panorama, after a day of high drama that claimed several leading contenders early in the race.

The final winning margin was just 1.2 seconds after the Japanese superstar stormed home in the closing laps only to fall just short of defending Nissan’s 2015 win.

The McLaren victory came despite 13 visits to pit lane, a drive-through penalty and even a brief moment when the car stopped on track exiting the final corner – Portuguese driver Alvaro Parente forced to re-set the car on the track before resuming.

The team’s chances took a blow when van Gisbergen was issued a drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding when he began his final stint, however well-timed Safety Cars and savvy strategy from the TEKNO team returned the No. 59 car to the front.

Van Gisbergen also recorded a new outright lap record of the Bathurst circuit at 2m01.567s – the fastest ever recorded in a race at the famous circuit.

Today’s result was the first notable success for the McLaren brand at Mount Panorama since Neil Allen set a longstanding Bathurst lap record (2m09.7) in a McLaren M10 F5000 open-wheeler 46 years ago, one that would stand until the early 2000s.

Nissan drivers and defending winners Chiyo, Rick Kelly and Florian Strauss finished second ahead of Bentley Team M-Sport’s Matt Bell, Steven Kane and Guy Smith who finished third.

The Bentley team’s result was especially satisfying given they were knocked out of a potential podium result in the last corner of the 2015 race.

For the second year running, five brands finished in the top five with the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 finishing fourth and the Erebus Motorsport SLS AMG GT3 fifth in it’s Bathurst swansong.

A highly competitive race was contested over a race-record 297 laps (1,845km) and featured a race-record 29 lead changes across its duration.

13 Safety Car interruptions for a total of 40 laps broke up the race however lengthy periods of green-flag running allowed for teams to experiment with race strategy, setting up the thrilling finish between the competing brands.

The race was in the balance through to the closing stages with a round of pit stops at the top of the final hour setting up the closing sprint to the flag.

Mount Panorama claimed several leading contenders early with Nick Percat (Lamborghini) and Mika Salo (Ferrari) clashing on the opening lap at turn two. The Lamborghini was out instantly while the 2014-winning Ferrari was later parked after 63 laps with unrepairable damage.

20 cars finished the race with key contenders from Jamec-Pem Racing and Objective Racing out of the race early after striking dramas – the Jamec Audi with a tyre failure and the Objective Racing McLaren after contact with the wall at the dipper after just two hours.

A dominant performance from the Grove Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup Car saw the Melbourne-based team win the Rydges Class B battle in dominant fashion.

The Grove Porsche, shared by reigning LeMans winner Earl Bamber, V8 ace Scott McLaughlin and car owner Stephen Grove, started slowly but surged to the class lead early in the morning and was never headed – ultimately winning their class by a mammoth 15 laps.

Second in class was the Safe-T-Stop Porsche driven by Richard Gartner, Aaron Zerefos and Indiran Padayachee.

All-Aussie team MARC Cars Australia completed a 1-2-3 sweep of the BM Pro Invitational class with Aaron Seton – son of Glenn Seton – teaming with Jake Camilleri and Morgan Haber to win the class by nine laps.

Tony Alford, Mark Griffith and Beric Lynton finished second and Mick Benton, Hadrian Morall and Angus Kennard third.

A record three-day crowd of 37,079 attended the 2016 event, up approximately 15% on 2016.