Mercedes-Benz finished on top after the opening day of practice for the Bathurst 12 Hour race in Australia, on a day when five different makes of car filled the top six places. GruppeM Racing’s Raffaele Marciello backed up the team’s fastest time in the second session in the fourth and final session on Friday, lapping the 3.86-mile circuit in 2m03.5882s.
The Italian will share the No. 999 Mercedes AMG GT3 with German countrymen Maxi Buhk and Maximilian Gotz.
“It’s still a long weekend, normally my team is pretty quick at any track we go,” Marciello said. “Everything looks good, the team is good. It’s just to stay safe until the race and the last hour.
“The guys who adapt the most will be at the front but with a line-up like this we cannot be slow. I have every confidence in the world. We are all three really quick, we just need to stay out of trouble.”
Kelvin van der Linde threatened to take top time in the final moments of the session, but his No. 22 Audi (pictured below) stopped the clocks just 0.049s behind the flying yellow Mercedes-Benz. The South African shares the car with Frederic Vervisch and Australian Supercars driver Garth Tander.
Martin Tomczyk made sure that the three German marques shared the top three positions, setting a time of 2m03.8017s sharing the BMW Team Schnitzer M6 GT3 with Augusto Farfus and Australian Supercar star Chaz Mostert.
A second Mercedes was fourth fastest, with Maro Engel setting the time in the No. 77 Black Falcon entry, while co-drivers Gary Paffett and Luca Stolz looked on.
The leading Ferrari was next, with Aussie Supercars regular Tim Slade setting a time of 2m03.9879s in the No. 27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488GT3, watched by his two co-drivers Nick Percat and Nick Foster. Sixth fastest was the No. 108 Bentley Continental GT3 of Vincent Abril/Andy Soucek/Maxime Soulet.
The all-Pro driver teams dominated the top eight positions, with the best of the AP squads the STM-Erebus Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3 of David Reynolds. The Supercars star is sharing the entry with his 2017 Bathurst 1000 winning co-driver Luke Youlden and Adelaide businessman and Carrera Cup racer Yasser Shahin.
Second fastest of the AP entries was the Porsche 911 GT3 R of Kevin Estre/Jaxon Evans/David Calvert-Jones in 11th place, just ahead of Charlotte’s Kenny Habul, who will race his No. 75 Mercedes alongside Dominic Baumann and Thomas Jäger.
Some of the former winners of the 12 Hour had tough days. The all-star line-up of Craig Lowndes/Jamie Whincup/Shane van Gisbergen lost a lot of track time when van Gisbergen clashed with the No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Paul Dalla Lana in the second session. SVG stopped on the side of the track to check on Dalla Lana, whose car was transferred to the pits on a flat-bed truck.
SVG’s Mercedes, which is being run in the event by STM and Supercars powerhouse Triple 8 Race Engineering, was back on the track in the final session, but Lowndes could manage only 17th-fastest time.
Two places ahead of Lowndes is the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 of Katsumasa Chiyo. The 2015 race winner, who will drive alongside Tsugio Matsuda and Australian Josh Burdon, the trio clearly saving their best for Saturday.
The biggest incident during the day involved Tim Pappas. His No. 540 Porsche backed into a wall on the exit of The Chase and burst into flames. The Boston-based driver was removed from the car and transferred to Bathurst Base Hospital. The car is out for the weekend.
One other entry is also done. Local driver Pete Storey badly damaged the Melbourne Performance Centre Audi R8 GT3 LMS in the opening session, leaving British touring car stars Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden to wait another year to make their 12 Hour debut.
Outside of the GT3-spec Class A cars, quickest was the No. 20 Class I (Invitational) T2 Racing by Liajen Motorsport entry, Steve Owen setting an impressive 2m07.4402s in the MARC II car he will share with Adam Hargraves/Daniel Jilesen.
Fastest of the Class B entries was the No. 23 Chris van der Drift/Bao Jinlong/Paul Tressider/Philip Hamprecht Porsche GT3 Cup car, while in GT4 the No. 71 KTM X-Bow GT4 of Dean Koutsoumidis/Jake Parsons/James Winslow was on top, in 33rd overall.
The action will resume on Saturday morning at 8:35 a.m. Sydney time, with qualifying due to start at 11:20 a.m. The single-car Top 10 Shootout is scheduled for 4:40 p.m.