THE inaugural Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour ‘Town to Track’ has seen thousands of fans turn up to line the streets of Bathurst and gain unprecedented access to the race’s stars and their cars.
With Bathurst basking in brilliant summer sunshine, the event was the ideal warm-up ahead of Australia’s International Enduro to be contested on Sunday.
Making their way from Mount Panorama to the Bathurst city centre under police escort, 10 GT3 cars – one from each brand – and one MARC entry made it to Russell Street to find scores of fans from throughout the district.
Drivers from the teams representing the GT3 manufacturers were made available for over an hour, mingling with fans as well as each other while the cars were parked up, allowing fans to get up close to the machines which will be the main focus on Sunday.
Defending race champions Audi led the parade, which saw fans camped out throughout much of the route to catch a glimpse of the cars on their way to the city centre.
Bathurst Regional Council Mayor, Graeme Hanger, and local Member for Bathurst Paul Toole were also present to welcome the international stars and cars to Bathurst.
Returning to the Bathurst 12 Hour for the first time since winning the GT-Am class at Le Mans last year, Porsche young-gun Matt Campbell praised the event for creating a unique opportunity for fans and drivers alike.
“It’s quite unique and a first time for the 12 Hour as well,” Campbell said.
The Queenslander will share his Earl Bamber Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3R entry with Dirk Werner and Dennis Olsen this weekend and is one of the early race favourites.
“It’s quite cool, obviously a lot of people around and a good way to get the week started. You can’t do it everywhere in the world, luckily we can do it here and at the likes of Spa.
“Coming back to home and my favourite race track, it’s very enjoyable. As soon as I found out I was doing the Bathurst 12 Hour again, I have been counting down the days.”
Reigning Bathurst 12 Hour Allan Simonsen Pole Award winner and 2014 Bathurst 1000 champion Chaz Mostert returns for another crack at taking a victory on the Mountain, after setting the fastest lap in last year’s race.
The Schnitzer BMW driver returns to Mount Panorama after racing in the rained-out 24 Hours of Daytona last weekend, likening driving the BMW M6 on the roads to some childhood memories.
“I think the last time I drove on a public road (in a race car), we did some stuff with Supercars,” Mostert said.
“It really takes you back to running the go-kart up the street at home. Don’t tell the police officers but that was a lot of fun too!”
Reigning Bathurst 1000 champion Craig Lowndes was naturally a star attraction, while returning cult-hero Katsumasa Chyio was also signing plenty of autographs.
The Japanese driver was the hero of Nissan’s 2015 triumph on the Mountain before nearly repeating the effort a year later.
He returns as part of a two-car Nissan GT-R team entered by Hong Kong outfit, KCMG.
“I have many very good memories of this place, it is very special,” Chiyo-san said.
“In 2015 we were very lucky, but in 2016 I was able to push and push at the end and we got very close to winning again. To be able to push so hard in the final laps of a 12-hour race was amazing.
“After being away for a year it is very nice to be back and see how the event has grown and all the fans here.”
The first Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour practice session begins at 8:50am on Friday with a second session closely following at 9:25am.
Audio commentary of Friday’s practice sessions will be available via the Bathurst12Hour.com.au and radiolemans.com
WORDS: Jordan Mulach