Soulet/Bentley crew in effective race lead heading into final two hours

Providing Bathurst doesn’t throw up its characteristically crazy weather, the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport are in prime position to take victory in the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.

Despite sitting second out of those who have taken their penultimate stops, the team put new tyres on in their last tour through the pits, giving them the ability to stay on the same set as long as the dry weather stays.

The leading Pro-Am #75 Mercedes AMG GT3 suffered issues on lap 209, limping back to the pits as Martin Konrad had to sit in the car while Ben Barker moved into the class lead aboard the #4 Porsche 911 GT3 R.

With the pit stops starting to rattle off, Jordan Pepper had stretched his race lead out to nearly 20 seconds in the #7 Bentley Continental GT3 with Luca Stolz still holding down second, heading a Mercedes AMG two-three with Shane van Gisbergen behind.

Maxime Soulet found himself back in the #7 car when the pit stops cycled through, being the better off of the two Bentley’s when Oliver Jarvis spun heading out of The Dipper en route to Forrest Elbow, plucking the left rear tyre off the #8 Continental GT3.

Unable to flick-spin the stranded car, the safety car was deployed to give the Briton a chance to recover himself and other cars the ability to take their next stops. The #8 car started last and worked itself into the top five, ending up on the lead lap before the dramas.

With the number of drivers on the lead lap reduced to eight, the #7 Bentley in the hands of Soulet still led the way from Maxi Gotz (#888), Yelmer Buurman (#77), Maxi Buhk (#999), Edoardo Liberati (#18), Dirk Werner (#912), Patrick Pilet (#911) and Alvaro Parente (#60).

Soulet led them to the green flag with three Mercedes AMG chargers behind him, though Buhk and the Nissan of Liberati behind him being held up by backmarkers, losing overall time to the leaders.

Gotz ended up as the cork in the bottle, dropping around a second per lap behind Soulet as the #77 and #999 cars started to attack the #888 machine, all three new-spec AMG entries in the top five.

A scrap between the #77, #999 and #18 resulted in a shuffling of positions as Buhk got himself into third, dragging Liberati past Buurman with him as the Craft Bamboo Black Falcon car dropped back to fifth spot.

On old tyres, Gotz struggled to keep Buhk behind him as the scrap allowed Liberati to close up on the pair, all battling for second place as Soulet extended his lead margin to over 15 seconds.

The Maxi’s finally swapped spots on lap 244 with Buhk released to set off in hot pursuit of Soulet, leaving Gotz to defend from Liberati and Buurman behind him.

Car #911 was the first to blink for their second last stop on lap 245, Mathieu Jaminet onboard the Porsche GT3 R with just one more tour of the pits to complete before the end of the race.

Despite still holding a 15 second lead over Buhk, Soulet put in the fastest lap so far for the #7 car, pushing hard as the pit window loomed ever closer and threatening clouds continued to roll in.

Liberati and Parente both came in to the pits on lap 250 for their second last stops, the latter jumping out of the #60 McLaren as Ben Barnicoat hopped into the car he started, and led, the race in throughout the opening stint.

Buhk was the next to tour the pits on lap 253, Raffaele Marciello getting in to the #999 to bring it home with a decent air gap to Liberati behind.

Werner closed right up on the struggling Gotz, attacking the Mercedes as the Porsche made use of its better tyres, ranging up on the time to take the penultimate pit stops.

Soulet brought the Bentley in from his mega stint on lap 257, handing it over to Jules Gounon while the crew put four Pirelli tyres on the car, sending it back out behind the #999 of Marciello.

As of the end of lap 257, Dirk Werner leads in the #912 as the #888, #999, #7, #18, #60, #77 and #911 remain on the lead lap with two hours remaining. The #7 car remains on the freshest tyres at this stage.

Words: Jordan Mulach