ONE of the early pioneers of International GT teams contesting the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour has hung up the helmet.
Singapore-born Malaysian driver Weng Sun Mok, who introduced Clearwater Racing to the Mountain and a legion of Aussie fans, called time on his racing career following a pair of back-to-back weekends in China and Malaysia, respectively.
One week after contesting the Chinese round of the FIA World Endurance Championship with his LM GTE-Am Ferrari, Weng’s final race was a 1000km enduro at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia in a Production-based Suzuki Swift.
Weng brought Clearwater Racing to Australia in 2012 as the 12-Hour initially struggled to attract international teams following the shift to GT regulations a year prior.
After Audi Sport Team Joest were the first overseas team to commit to the revamped event in 2011, Clearwater were the first from the Asian region to enter when they shipped their Ferrari 458 GT3 to Mount Panorama for the first time a year later.
The spectacular presentation of the outfit, their open nature and international driver line-up instantly endeared them to Aussie fans.
Weng was joined by factory Ferrari ace Matt Griffin and local hero Craig Baird and the team proved instantly competitive.
Anchored by Baird’s experience and Griffin’s pace, Weng quickly gained Bathurst experience and the trio qualified third ahead of the race.
Despite carrying an extra 50kg of penalty weight for the race – Baird was pinged for eclipsing the 2m08 minimum lap time in qualifying – the team would perform well in their first 12-Hour encounter.
After dropping two laps in the first six hours – one for a pit lane penalty following a pitstop infringement and the other for a lack of pace in the rain – a strong double stint from Baird, in particular, hauled them to within one lap of the lead with three hours to go, climbing to third by the flag.
Clearwater returned in 2013 with the same combination and, with a year’s experience under their belt, entered the race as one of the early favorites.
The team again qualified third and were one of three different race leaders within the first ten laps, before stopping under an early Safety Car on lap eight.
After running consistently in the top four or five for the first 100 laps, the car returned to the lead on lap 113 and subsequently led all bar one of the next 35 laps until their next stop on lap 148. Unfortunately, damaged sustained while lapping another vehicle at Murray’s corner had damaged the front splitter on the car, necessitating several quick stops to repair the damage under Safety Car conditions.
Missing much of the front downforce, Griffin set about recovering time with a mighty mid-race double stint that stands out as one of the best in 12-Hour history.
Under green flag conditions, the Irishman pulled back nearly two full minutes on the leaders and ultimately gained back one of the two laps they lost – he, Weng and Baird finishing second behind the winning Mercedes-AMG.
Contrasting fortunes greeted the team in 2014, as they added Japanese driver Hiroshi Hamaguchi to make a four-driver squad.
Clearwater qualified in the top-10 for the third straight year and were hovering just outside of the 10 when on lap 57 Hamaguchi spun and stopped at McPhillamy Park, ending stopped facing the opposite direction and ultimately collected by the works Nissan GT-R. Both cars would fail to finish the race though all drivers emerged unscathed.
The team returned the following year, with Weng joined again by Griffin and fellow factory Ferrari pilot Toni Vilander, who was getting his first Bathurst experience in 2015.
After qualifying sixth, the team never really factored on an outright level but still managed to finish eighth – one lap behind the winning Nissan and having gained two spots in the chaotic final hour of the race.
2015 would mark Clearwater Racing’s last Bathurst start to date, the team moving their focus away from GT3 competition towards LeMans and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The team has been a multiple race winner in the series and finished runner-up in the 2017 World Championship, adding to their existing success in GT Asia (3x Champions), the Sepang 12 Hour (3 wins) and the Asian LeMans Series (15/16 GT class champion).
The team will continue in the current WEC ‘SuperSeason’ with a new line-up to be announced soon.
Though never quite winning the race, Clearwater Racing’s participation in the 12-hour set an early benchmark for international teams looking to contest the race.
They proved that even without significant factory backing, overseas teams could challenge for strong results in what at the time was very much a domestic Australian endurance race.
After Clearwater’s impressive first year, international entries flowed in 2013 and subsequent years has seen the race evolve into one of the premier GT enduros in the world.
The 12-Hour team sends their best wishes to Weng on his racing retirement and their thanks to his team for their long-term support of the 12-hour.
The Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour is supported by the NSW Government via its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW.