Supreme strategy and consistent running has put the #7 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 into the lead of the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour as the race goes past the halfway mark.
Maxime Soulet is in control of the dark green Bentley, holding a tight lead as the race passes 150 laps thanks to an incident-free two hour period without any safety car interuptions.
Soon after surpassing the one-third time marker, race leader Alvaro Parente brought the #60 McLaren 720S into the pit lane, handing the car over to Tom Blomqvist as the Porsche of Matt Campbell took the lead, being able to bring the #911 in a few laps later thanks to better fuel economy.
German ace Markus Winkelhock was able to break the 12 Hour trend of setting fast laps in the opening hour of the day by posting the fastest tour of the race so far on the #222 Audi Sport Team Valvoline entry’s 102nd lap, his 2:03.9306 being the only lap under a 2:04.
Jordan Pepper led the way past the 100th lap in the #7 Bentley Continental GT, having to fend off Raffaele Marciello in the fast #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing car who had a lighter fuel load but older tyres.
At the end of lap 113 Marciello finally found a way past the big Bentley, having a late dive into Murray’s Corner and checking out up the road as the lead duo enjoyed a nearly ten second lead over Yelmer Buurman’s #77 Mercedes AMG GT3.
With two Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 entries already out of the race, the British marque’s luck didn’t turn around for their #76 R-Motorsport prepared car as Jake Dennis found himself in the garage on lap 115, the team focusing on the front of the machine, shared with Rick Kelly and Scott Dixon.
Drama struck for the pole-sitting #911 car of Patrick Pilet on lap 116 as the right rear tyre suffered a puncture at the top of the mountain, forcing the Frenchman to limp back to the Absolute Racing pits for new Pirelli rubber as the car went a lap down on leader Marciello.
Pitting from the lead, Marciello came in for his stop on lap 119, giving first position back to Pepper who enjoyed a near half-minute lead over Blomqvist, both having pitted and jumped in their respective cars on the same lap.
Both the #911 and #999 cars were handed 15 second penalties after the GruppeM and Absolute Racing teams had their car controllers leave their post while the cars were serving their stops, having the time added to their next pit stops.
Taking the helm of the #888 for the first time in the race, Shane van Gisbergen got into the Mercedes AMG on lap 128 as the next pit stop cycle started, Pepper being pulled out of the #7 Bentley in favour of Maxime Soulet.
With Soulet holding a slender lead over the #999 of Marciello and Maro Engel in the #77, the gap between the top three remained at under five seconds while Ben Barnicoat in the #60 McLaren circulated 30 seconds down on the leader in fourth.
Car #999 came in on lap 143, serving the 15 second penalty which had been hanging over their heads as Felipe Fraga jumped back in for another stint, taking over from Marciello and releasing Engel to chase after Soulet.
As the clock closed in on reaching six hours in, 2018 winner Dries Vanthoor suffered issues in the #2 Audi Sport Team Valvoline R8, unable to change gears which forced the young Belgian to limp back to the pits.
At 150 laps in, only a few minutes before the official halfway point of the race, the #7 Bentley leads from cars #77, #60, #888, #18, #63, #999, #8, #1 and #222, with the pole-sitting #911 entry in 13th after serving a 15 second penalty.
Words: Jordan Mulach