THE CLOSEST practice day in Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour history has seen Bentley driver Steven Kane edge out Tekno Autosport McLaren driver Will Davison by less than one-tenth of a second.
A 30-minute ‘happy hour’ at the very end of the final practice session today saw Irish driver Kane jump to the top of the times at the end of a highly competitive day with a stunning 2m03.233s lap.
Across all four practice sessions and nearly five hours of on-track action, the top eleven cars were covered by less than one second and the top 16 cars by under two. Seven different brands were represented in the top ten with Bentley leading McLaren, Audi and defending champions Nissan in the top four. Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Lamborghini also featured in the top-10 today.
Kane said his last-ditch lap today was close to the maximum potential.
“Everything was at optimum for that lap,” said Kane, who will share the No. 10 Bentley with Matt Bell and Guy Smith.
“I’m sure everyone is hiding a bit so it’s a bit tricky to know where everyone else is at. We’re still learning the track, making the cars work and there might be a little bit more than that.”
In contention for much of last year’s race, the famous British marque missed out on a podium finish in the final corner in 2015 however has returned this year with a two car team in an attempt to score a Bathurst victory.
Today’s fastest driver believes it is within the teams’ capability to deliver a Bentley Bathurst win.
“I think all the guys deserve to win as a team. They work extremely hard both the guys at Crewe (Bentley) and at M-Sport. We have the confidence that we can be fast and we have done a lot of work and preparation so I don’t see why we can’t be challenging.
“There’s lots of great competition, great reams and great manufactures – but we’re in a Bentley and we’re trying to win.”
Will Davison’s debut as a TEKNO Autosports driver started strongly with the second-fastest time, just 0.07s behind the leading Bentley.
Davison had topped the final session for a majority of its 90-minute duration however was narrowly beaten by the Bentley in the closing stages of the session. The former Bathurst winner will share the No. 60 car with Rob Bell and young-gun Andrew Watson.
Phoenix Racing’s Audi R8 trio of Laurens Vanthoor / Markus Winkelhock and Alex Davison ended the day third, narrowly in front of the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 driven by Rick Kelly, Katsumasa Chiyo and Florian Strauss.
The Phoenix Racing Audi qualified on pole last year and today’s running show that the latest-speciation Audi R8 will be just as competitive as the existing car.
A workmanlike day for the Nissan squad saw them in contention throughout much of the day with Chyio’s 2m03.4s lap almost identical to his effort in qualifying for last year’s race.
Australian outfit Jamec-Pem Racing dominated the early practice sessions and ended the day in fifth overall with the all-international trio of Christoper Mies, Marco Mapelli and Christoper Haase.
David Reynolds’ debut with Erebus Motorsport started strongly with sixth position in the Penrite-sponsored SLS AMG, while Shane van Gisbergen, Jonathan Webb and Alvaro Parente finished practice 7th in the second Tekno McLaren thanks to Parente’s efforts in the final session.
Reigning LeMans 24 Hour winner Earl Bamber, Scott McLaughlin and Stephen Grove topped Rydges Class B, their 2m10.197s placing them 0.7s faster than the Mobil 1 New Zealand Porsche and the Wall Racing / WOTSO Workplace Porsche.
The “all-Aussie’ engineered Daytona Coupe topped BM-Pro Invitational Class and ended the day in a strong 25th outright – ahead of all bar two of the Class B Porsche’s.
The numbers 93 and 94 MARC Cars Australia entries were second and third in class, respectively, however the day didn’t go to plan for the latter of that pair.
Young gun Nick Rowe made hefty contact with the tyre barrier at Forrest’s Elbow in the third practice session, damaging the car sufficiently to remove them from the remainder of the day’s running. Rowe was unhurt in the incident.
Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour competitors will enjoy a further one-hour practice session on Saturday morning before qualifying early in the afternoon.
The two-part session will see a one-hour session for all cars and then a separate 20-minute session for the GT3 competitors to battle for pole position.
The pole sitting car will win the Allan Simonsen Pole Position award, named after the late former Bathurst lap record holder who was a long-time star of the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Qualifying will be streamed live via the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour website.