IT IS fact that the outright winners of the annual Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour classic steal a majority of the limelight each February.
The outright battle for the race victory is generally battled between the fastest cars, best drivers and teams and is usually a remarkably dramatic conclusion to twelve hours of racing on Mount Panorama.
However, don’t think for a moment that the various class battles aren’t worth your attention throughout the race.
In fact, when the leading battle settles into the mid-race groove, it’s often the classes that provide the real entertainment and stories worth telling throughout a long-distance race.
Class racing has been a part of the Bathurst 12-hour since it’s initial inception in 1991 and then the return of the event in 2007.
When the race switched to GT cars in 2011 it retained class competition as a core value moving forward – something that continues to this day.
Big fields of cars complying to a number of different classes is part of the heritage of Mount Panorama dating back to the 1960s.
Here’s how the class system will work for the 2018 race, to be held on February 2-4 next year.
CLASS A – GT3.
The heavy hitters. Class A is for cars complying to GT3 regulations – the most popular form of ‘GT’ racing around the world.
GT3 has been a phenomenon since it’s introduction and has evolved to become one of the strongest single set of regulations around the world – with cars racing under the same (or similar) set of regulations in all corners of the globe.
From the Australian GT Championship to the Blancpain Endurance Series, the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, Pirelli World Challenge and British GT – GT3 cars are now omnipresent just about anywhere there’s motor racing.
The Bathurst 12 Hour eligibility list features 48 different homologated GT3 models – meaning they’ve been approved by a manufacturer and then ticked off by SRO in order to race – representing 16 brands.
GT3 cars evolve on a yearly cycle, meaning each twelve months constructors can upgrade their cars and re-submit them for homologation.
Each year SRO – the promoter of the Blancpain GT series – conducts a ‘Balance of Performance’ test, which uses a series of weights, engine revs and air restrictors to ensure that each model, no matter how different, can compete on a level playing field.
That’s how a front-mounted, twin-turbo V8 Bentley can compete equally with an Audi R8 powered by a V10, mounted behind the drivers seat.
The SRO, led by Technical Director Claude Surmont, works with Bathurst 12 Hour organisers to manage the BoP and all other technical considerations at the event each year.
Because the Bathurst 12 Hour runs early in the new calendar year, entrants are restricted to use cars homologated for the previous year in the race; for instance in 2018, only cars that raced in 2017 are eligible to compete.
In recent years, Class A has followed the international trend of having sub-categories as well, splitting the class up based on the performance of the drivers behind the wheel. In 2018, the GT3 class will include a ‘Pro’ category (for all professional drivers), ‘Pro/Am’ (for a mixture of drivers seeded professional and Amateur) and ‘Am’ – for the amateur drivers.
CLASS A WINNERS:
2011: Darryl O’Young / Marc Basseng / Christoper Mies (Audi R8 LMS)
2012: Darryl O’Young / Christer Jons / Christoper Mies (Audi R8 LMS)
2013: Bernd Schneider / Thomas Jaeger / Alex Rollof (Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3)
2014: Craig Lowndes / John Bowe / Peter Edwards / Mika Salo (Ferrari 458 GT3)
2015: Katsumasa Chiyo / Florian Strauss / Wolfgang Riep (Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3)
2016: Shane van Gisbergen / Alvaro Parente / Jonathan Webb (McLaren 650S GT3)
2017: Craig Lowndes / Jamie Whincup / Toni Vilander (Ferrari 488 GT3)
CLASS B – GT3 CUP
SUCH is the proliferation of Porsche’s remarkable GT3 Car – the basis of Carrera Cup championships around the world – the cars get their own class in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
Even though they have the same title, Cup Cars don’t have the same level of performance as their GT3 brethren so can’t compete on the same level as a fully-fledged GT3 racer. Yet they are quicker than GT4 cars and because they are generally numerous, they get their own field in which to play.
Class B has seen some Mountain History, with the type-997 GT3 Cup Car now the most successful ever model in Bathurst 12-Hour history thanks to six straight class victories. It was only beaten by the type-991 car this year.
One-make Porsche racing is renowned for being intense and competitive, and this class is no different.
It should also be mentioned; should someone enter a Ferrari Challenge racer – basically the Prancing Horse’s version of Carrera Cup – it is in this class those cars would fit.
CLASS B WINNERS:
2011: Roger Lago / Matt Kingsley / David Russell (Porsche 997 GT3)
2012: Steven Johnson / Steven Richards / Nathan Tinkler (Porsche 997 GT3)
2013: Steven Johnson / Jonny Reid / Drew Russell (Porsche 997 GT3)
2014: Earl Bamber / Ben Barker / Stephen Grove (Porsche 997 GT3)
2015: James Koundouris / Theo Koundouris / Marcus Marshall / Sam Power (Porsche 997 GT3)
2016: Earl Bamber / Stephen Grove / Scott McLaughlin (Porsche 997 GT3)
2017: Dean Grant / Dylan O’Keefe / Xavier West / David Wall (Porsche 991 GT3)
CLASS C: GT4:
GT4 is the boom class in global GT racing and the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour has always maintained a spot for the ‘baby’ GT category – though it is only in recent years that it has truly taken flight.
When the race switched to GT3 regulations in 2011, Class C was won by a BMW M3 Production Car that wasn’t too far out of the window of actually being a GT4 car in its own right. The same can be said for the Nissan GT-R and the Lotus Exige’s that have also won the category.
Nowadays it is fully GT4 with growing interest from around the world in the race as a proving ground for their new cars.
Already several of the successful Porsche Cayman GT4s are entered, while BMW’s M3 GT4 will make its Bathurst debut in 2018.
Looking further ahead, the AMG GT GT4, Audi R8 GT4 and others all become eligible for the race the following year.
CLASS C WINNERS:
2011: Beric Lynton / Matt Mackelden / John Modystach (BMW M3)
2012: Tony Alford / Adam Beechey / Peter Leemhuis (Nissan GT-R)
2013: Romano Satori / Liam Talbot / Rob Thomson (Lotus Exige)
2014: Tony Alford / Peter Leemhuis / Mark O’Connor (Lotus Exige)
2015: Tony Alford / Peter Leemhuis / Mark O’Connor (Lotus Exige)
2016: (Run with Invitational class)
2017: Max Braams / Nicolaj Moller-Madsen / Jorg Viebhan / Harrison Jones (Porsche Cayman GT4)
CLASS I: INVITATIONAL
ENDURANCE racing has always been about doing things a little differently; allowing different types of cars and competitors to tackle races all around the world.
Technically, the Invitational class exists for ‘cars that don’t fit the GT3, GT3 Cup or GT4 regulations’, yet do fit the spirit of the race. Perhaps that is why it’s always been so popular; it remains a way for people to race on the Mountain who perhaps otherwise might not have the chance or the means to do so.
MARC Cars Australia has dominated the class battle over the last four years with their Aussie designed, built and run endurance racers.
They have entered seven of their cars for 2018, including three of their Generation-Two cars which will be a step up in performance.
Racing them will be a two-car team from Melbourne’s Daytona Sports Cars; a team that has often been the feel good story of the race in recent years, even if results have been hard to come by.
Their ‘home-made’ Daytona Coupe and converted GT3 Dodge Viper are always quick, fun to watch and the epitome of the true Bathurst privateer spirit.
Because organisers don’t want an Invitational Car turning up with 1200hp and more aero than a Formula One car, the class entrants must abide by a minimum lap time throughout the weekend to ensure the GT3 cars remain the outright vehicles.
For the original MARC Cars and the Daytona racers, it’s 2m10 seconds. For the GenII MARC Racers, its 2m06.
CLASS I WINNERS:
2012: Martin Bailey / Ivo Breukers / Henk Thijssen (SEAT Leon TDI)
2013: Mal Rose / Aaron Tebb / Adam Wallis (Holden VY Commodore)
2014: Grant Denyer / Adam Gowans / Garry Jacobson / Andrew Miedecke (MARC Cars Focus)
2015: Ben Gersekowski / Adam Gowans / Garry Jacobson (MARC Cars Focus)
2016: Jake Camilleri / Morgan Haber / Aaron Seton (MARC Cars Mazda)
2017: Will Brown / Keith Kassulke / Rod Salmon (MARC Cars Focus)