It was a day of firsts and lasts in the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Porsche took its first win in the Australian event, in the last race at Mount Panorama for the current 911 GT3-R. In his first 12-hour race as a team owner, WEC and Le Mans winner Earl Bamber watched his Earl Bamber Motorsport team put together a flawless strategy.
And Matt Campbell, starting the final sprint to the flag in fifth position, picked off the cars in front and took his first major endurance race win, sharing the victory with Dennis Olsen and Dirk Werner.
His last pass was for the lead, inside Jake Dennis (in the final race for Aston Martin’s Vantage GT3) and is one that will be talked about for years.
“We went for a different strategy and fortunately it paid off,” said an amazingly fresh Campbell after the race. “What a way to send off the old car.
“I knew I had to push. We knew the car was fast, it was perfect… [maybe] not so good in the middle of the day but it came good at the end.”
The Porsche Young Driver graduate was unapologetic for the vigorous pass for the lead.
“I knew I had to make a move. It’s the last race for this car, I can’t think the guys enough.”
Post-race, Campbell, Werner and Dennis had to wait for stewards to deliberate on a clash between Campbell and BMW’s Chaz Mostert, determining no action was required.
Second place was no surprise, given the speed of the Aston Martin in qualifying. Dennis, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Marvin Kirchhoefer started the day with the bad news that they had been pushed outside the top 10 on the starting grid due to a technical error with their car’s rev limiter in qualifying. They made their way through the field steadily and took the lead when Dennis pitted the leading Porsche with an hour remaining, Campbell resuming fifth on fresh tires.
He was quickly into his stride, bumping Chaz Mostert in the battle for third and slicing inside the GruppeM Mercedes-Benz at Turn 1. Dennis had straight-line speed; Campbell had the grip and the battle was only resolved with nine minutes remaining.
So Raffaele Marciello, Maxi Buhk and Maximilian Götz had to settle for third. It could have been more; Buhk had to serve a pit lane drive-through penalty for weaving behind the Safety Car, and even then he had to fight off another Benz to keep the podium position.
It was the Triple 8 AMG GT3, which had a terrible first half of the race. After starting on the 10th row Shane van Gisbergen, Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes had all kinds of brake problems, costing them a second a lap. In fact, before halfway the car was nearly lapped by the leading GruppeM entry.
But smart strategy and determined driving kept them on the lead lap. After four hours of green flag running a Safety Car appeared and van Gisbergen dashed into the pits with 29 minutes remaining, returning on fresh tires. From there he streaked through the field and onto Marciello’s tail, but could not find a way past.
Van Gisbergen’s cool suit had not been working and he collapsed post-race, treated for heat exhaustion.
Fifth was Mostert/Augusto Farfus/Martin Tomczyk in the Schnitzer BMW, which was in the hunt all day but which did not quite have the speed when it was needed.
For Bentley, sixth was scant reward. Both Continentals were in contention nearly all day but twice Andy Soucet stopped exiting the pits, after hitting the car’s ‘Stop’ button instead of resetting the similar ‘Pit lane’ speed limiter button. The second time it happened he lost 40 seconds; he drove his heart out over the final hour to get within 12 seconds of winning.
The only other car on the lead lap was the KCMG Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3. It was well in contention until Alex Imperatori also weaved behind the Safety Car and then ignored orders to serve the subsequent pit lane penalty.
No stranger to winning, Bamber was as thrilled as his drivers after the race.
“That was a proper motor race. I think we will be celebrating late tonight,” he said.
Best of the AP entries was the Spirit of Race Ferrari of Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Matthias Lauda, a lap clear of the Audi of Todd Hazelwood/Roger Lago/David Russell.
The race was a tough one for Audi. Garth Tander was in the top three in the No. 22 Audi Sport entry until he hit an unexpectedly slow Christina Nielsen Mercedes-Benz at The Cutting. The team’s No. 2 entry was in contention until Christopher Haase reported a steering problem at the midpoint of the race.
In Class B the Grove Racing team won its fourth 12 Hour, father and son Steven and Brenton Grove and Ben Barker 20 laps ahead of the opposition.
In Class I Adam Hargraves/Daniel Jilesen/Steve Owen won in their MARC II, but only after the similar car, which included Paul Tracy among its drivers, stopped with an electrical problem.
Class C went to the No. 48 M Motorsport KTM driven by Justin McMillan, Glen Wood and Dean Lillie.