We’re halfway through the 2020 running of the Bathurst 12 Hour and the No. 7 M-Sport Bentley Continental leads the race by just half a second. It’s been a remarkable run thus far for the leading crew of Maxime Soulet, Jules Gounon and Jordan Pepper, after a trying week for the team in which its mechanics have had to perform major repairs on both of its cars during the build-up to the race.
It is very much a wide open contest, though, with multiple cars on different strategies, all with a chance at winning this one.
Second on the road is the No. 77 Craft-Bamboo Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT3, which has had a relatively quiet run to the front but, like all the front runners, has spent this race rising and falling down the running order.
Completing the top three is the No. 60 59Racing McLaren 720S GT3, which has been the surprise package in this edition after six hours. Ben Barnicoat stormed to the lead from the start, making a bold move on Maxi Buhk’s No. 999 GruppeM Mercedes through the Chase with the sun rising. Since then the car has enjoyed further spells in the lead, but also has dropped outside the top 10 multiple times.
The McLaren team has taken a gamble on strategy, pitting the car out of sequence under a safety car which has put the car out of sync with many of the other runners. Barnicoat and teammates Tom Blomqvist and Alvaro Parente have been faultless throughout, and must begin to believe they can win this heading into the second half.
Fourth at the six-hour mark is the No. 888 Triple Eight Mercedes, which has shown flashes of pace from Maxi Gotz, Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup, and also has led at several points. This car, too, should be a contender if it has a clean run into the final hours.
The top five is completed by the sole remaining KCMG Nissan, which is so quick in Sector 3 that it has managed to stay on the lead lap and fly the flag for the Japanese marque in this one.
Ten cars are on the lead lap as it stands. The other five cars still very much in with a chance of racing for the win at the end are the No. 63 FFF Racing Lamborghini; No. 999 GruppeM Mercedes (delayed by a penalty for a pit infringment); No. 8 Bentley; No. 1 Earl Bamber Motorsport Porsche; and No. 912 Absolute Racing 911 GT3 R.
Outside of the Pro GT3 runners, the No. 59 59Racing McLaren, like its sister car, has had a near-perfect run and sits 12th, leading the Silver class. The No. 75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes leads Pro-Am.
Of the handful of non-GT3 cars, the No. 91 Racer Industries MARC II is dominating the Invitational class which has been a race of attrition. The No. 13 RHC BMW M4 GT4 leads the GT4 class by 12 laps after its only competitor, the Nineteen Corp Mercedes, suffered mechanical issues and required major repair work.
While the pace of this race has been as blistering hot as the weather — and we’ve had lots of green-flag running — the Mountain, as ever, has caught drivers out. Four cars have retired so far. The first was the No. 188 Garage 59 Aston Martin of Come Ledogar in Hour 2. The Frenchman hopped the curbs at the Esses and was sent flying backwards into the outside wall, destroying the car.
Shortly after, the Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracan also had its day ended by a concrete wall, Julian Westwood slapping the barriers at The Esses, too, forcing the car into retirement.
The third significant incident so far was the No. 22 Team Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3, Supercars regular Garth Tander having a huge off at McPhillamy Park in the third hour. Tander was following teammate Dries Vanthoor’s No. 2 R8 through the left-hander, and had to move to the inside in avoidance of Vanthoor who drifted wide. This made Tander’s rear end loose, sending him veering back across the track, narrowly avoiding Vanthoor, and into the tires at high speed.
The fourth retirement came in the form of Tony Bates Racing Audi, which had an engine failure and parked up trackside on Mountain Straight. It’s been a rough race for Audi, all its contending cars in the wars here on the 10th anniversary of its first Bathurst win.
There were a few other incidents of note too. The pole-sitting No. 911 Absolute Racing Porsche, which had looked strong until midway through the fifth hour is now off the lead lap after a right-rear puncture which may have already cost Matthieu Jaminet, Patrick Pilet and defending winner Matt Campbell the chance to win this one.
The No. 888 Mercedes of Jamie Whincup turned the Hallmarc Audi round, but thankfully not into the wall, at The Grate. The Honda NSX, No. 76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin and No. 2 Valvoline Audi have all suffered mechanical woes and spent time in their respective garages. And the No. 95 MARC II has also had an engine change after a pit fire early in the race.
Six hours to go.