Bentley’s ambitions of finally breaking through for a Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour win are looking good as Jordan Pepper leads the way with four hours left in the 2020 event.
The South African star was able to get into the #7 Bentley Continental GT in the race’s eighth hour, taking control after co-drivers Jules Gounon and Maxime Soulet put the entry up the pointy end of the field before half-time.
Only a lap after making it six hours into the race, Audi’s woes continued with Mattia Drudi suffering a puncture in the #222 Valvoline R8 LMS GT3, making it most of the way through McPhillamy Park before the Pirelli went down.
The Italian was able to limp back to the pits for the team to carry out repairs on the only car from their outfit still circulating, thanks to Garth Tander’s earlier crash at McPhillamy Park in the #222 and hydraulic issues for the #2 car of Dries Vanthoor.
As the #7 Bentley of Maxime Soulet continued to lead, his advantage was slowly beating eaten away at by Ben Barnicoat, driving the #60 McLaren in second place while the #888 car dropped out of third as Shane van Gisbergen handed the Mercedes AMG GT3 over to Jamie Whincup.
It took until lap 167 for Soulet to stop again, Jules Gounon hopping aboard the #7 car as Barnicoat got the McLaren back into the lead, some 50 seconds up on the road over the Bentley.
Earl Bamber only just got behind the wheel of the #1 Porsche GT3 R, taking over from Craig Lowndes, when the car was wheeled into the garage, undergoing an unplanned brake change which caused them to drop laps to the leader.
Ben Barnicoat’s 36 lap stint came to a close on the 172nd lap, the Briton hopping out in the #60 car’s pit stop with Tom Blomqvist taking the reigns, returning to the circuit in fourth.
The charge of the #60 McLaren was halted by the news it would receive a 30 second penalty at its next pit stop, having fallen foul of the pit lane speed limit after its last pit stop.
After four hours and ten minutes of racing, a new 12 Hour record, the fifth placed Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Dennis Lind slowed up Mountain Straight, eventually coming to a stop just shy of Griffin’s Bend which gave race control no choice but to deploy the safety car.
Triggering a round of pit stops, Gounon remained in the lead as the KCMG #18 and Absolute Racing #911 fought to get back on the lead lap, banking on rain later in the race to be back in the front fight.
With the stricken #63 Lambo finally getting back to the pits, nine cars found themselves on the lead lap with Jordan Pepper leading the way in the #7 Bentley, followed by car #77, #60, #888, #18, #8, #911, #912 and #999.
Racing got back underway on lap 192, Pepper out in front with a handful of backmarkers separating the Bentley and then Mercedes AMG of Luca Stolz in second place.
Stolz ended up losing ten seconds to Pepper by the time he got out of the traffic, the same gap covering second to sixth place as the Bentley stretched its legs out front on the same strategy as the chasing pack.
Just as the field passes lap 204, the #7 continues to lead as the next eight cars remain on the lead lap with the #77, #60, #888, #18, #8, #911, #999 and #912 all in contention for the win.
Words: Jordan Mulach