The Triple Eight entry of Maxi Gotz leads the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour after two hours as two safety cars have slowed down the race pace.
Driving the #888 Mercedes AMG GT3, sharing it with local stars Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen, Gotz inherited the lead under the third safety car period after the cars in front elected to pit, taking on an alternative strategy.
Leading the field to the line to start the race, the #911 of Patrick Pilet kept the Absolute Racing Porsche GT3 R in first through Hell Corner but came under attack from Maximilian Buhk in GruppeM Racing’s #999 Mercedes AMG GT3, finding his way past to take the lead on the opening lap.
Pilet struggled in the opening laps, dropping behind Ben Barnicoat’s #60 McLaren 720S and Alexandre Imperatori’s #18 Nissan GTR Nismo GT3, finding a rhythm in fourth while the McLaren took chunks out of Buhk’s lead in the Mercedes.
The lead trio broke away to have a gap of over three seconds from Pilet as Imperatori started setting fastest laps, making hay while the sun hadn’t yet started shining on Mount Panorama and conditions were cool on track.
Treating the 12 hour race as a sprint event, Barnicoat made an aggressive move on Buhk into The Chase for the race lead on lap eight, making slight contact with the back of the #999 but cleanly getting the #60 up to the race lead.
Circulating as high as fifth at the start of the race, two-time 12 Hour winner Craig Lowndes started to come under fire in the #1 Earl Bamber Motorsport Porsche, playing the long game as Luca Stolz charged past in the #77 Craft Bamboo Black Falcon Mercedes, setting out after Pilet further up the road.
Daniel Jilesen unfortunately became the first person to find the walls in the race, having gone wide into The Cutting in the #20 MARC II, causing suspension damage and forcing the Kiwi to limp back to the pits as the race stayed green.
Reigning IMSA champion Dane Cameron was able to show the pace of the new Honda NSX GT3 by taking on Mount Panorama and lapping with a time of 2:04.0269, the fastest lap of the race on his 32nd tour of the circuit while circulating in 13th place.
An issue for the #95 MARC II car in its pit stop resulted in a fire, the entry with Warren Luff catching alight as it was being prepared to be wheeled into its pit bay. A quick response from the crew meant the flames were extinguished shortly after they started with no one becoming injured.
Barnicoat and a majority of the pack came in to stop with just over 33 laps completed, the effective race leader staying onboard the 59Racing/EMA Racing McLaren as Pilet stayed out, taking over the lead and running until lap 36 on a tank of fuel.
With Mathieu Jaminet jumping in to the #911, he returned to the track in fourth place behind leader Barnicoat, second placed Buhk and Gotz in third while the #7 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Maxime Soulet rounded out the top five.
The race’s first safety car came on lap 38 when the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin of Come Ledogar went hard into the concrete wall after taking too much kerb down the Esses, coming to a stop on approach to The Dipper.
Racing resumed at the start of lap 42 with Barnicoat still leading the way, taking the field to the line and getting a gap on the opening lap as Gotz and Jaminet applied pressure to the #999 car of Buhk.
A mistake from the Wall Racing #6 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, driven by Julian Westwood, ended the crew’s day on lap 43 after he hit the wall on approach to The Dipper, wiping off the left side of the red and white Lambo.
Gotz inherited the lead after Barnicoat and Buhk took to the pit lane under the third safety car period, handing the cars over to Alvarto Parenta and Felipe Fraga respectively.
With 50 laps completed, the top ten order is #888, #911, #7, #77, #63, #1, #18, #222, #22, #912.
Words: Jordan Mulach