Looking purely at the results of this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, seeing the Maranello Motorsport Ferrari start first, finish first and win by a lap would make it seem as though it was a walk in the park at the legendary Mount Panorama for the trio of Toni Vilander, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup.
And that’s why you can’t look purely at the results.
The No. 88 Maranello Ferrari 488 GT3, in the car’s Bathurst debut, was by all accounts the fastest car both in the run up to the race and during the race itself. Vilander’s lap in the Top 10 Shootout on Saturday netted the team the Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy, in honor of the late Dane who made his name with the team at Bathurst as part of his sports car career.
But the race nearly went away from them early on when just before a restart, the usually unflappable and frequently smiling “Lowndesy” got tapped into a spin from Craig Baird in the No. 22 Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes AMG-GT3 at the final corner of the circuit, and was beached into the gravel.
Lowndes was extracted and was able to stay on the lead lap, and from there began a comeback. Several A class all-pro cars went out of the running early while others were delayed.
Vilander’s storming stint in the final few hours of the race was arguably one of the best of his Ferrari factory career, as he gapped the rest of the field including but not limited to Alvaro Parente and Patrick Long. The Finn finished his stint and did the racing equivalent of “dropping the mic,” getting out of his car and walking back through the garage to a standing ovation.
“Sometimes you have those days, you have a clear track and just feel really comfortable in the car. Even all the traffic seemed like it was dropping in the right places with the right timing. I had clear air with the car and it felt like it was working perfectly. Sometimes when you’re fast it feels like it’s easier so today was definitely one of those days,” Vilander said.
With “Wayne’s World” having celebrated its 25-year anniversary at the weekend, this tweet from Mike Hedlund on Vilander’s stint would be an appropriate one:
Alas, the Mercedes – mentioned earlier with Baird having been given a drive-through penalty – wasn’t out of it and in the final hour was the only car on the lead lap able to take it to the Maranello Ferrari, and it had the always entertaining Shane van Gisbergen behind the wheel.
With Whincup running second, van Gisbergen had to play defense although the Supercars combatants’ lead battle would get dicey. Whincup went to the outside on the final straight before the front straight, dipping into the grass before the kink, to complete the pass for the lead with just over 30 minutes remaining.
“The Giz,” then hoping to unleash a bit of hyper speed to make up the difference even though the Mercedes was down all week on top-end speed, made a couple mistakes. He tapped a slower class car into an accident and was staring down the barrel of a penalty for avoidable contact.
In the final 10 minutes, van Gisbergen went over the line at the top of the hill at Mount Panorama, clipping a curb and crashing out of a sure second place. The third member of the Mercedes trio, Maro Engel, was apoplectic in his immediate reaction, kicking tires and storming off into the team’s transporter to cool off.
Engel then said, “All I’ve seen this weekend is a lot of mistakes from Shane” to Channel 7 commentator Mark Beretta in the heat of the moment. The international broadcast carried Radio Le Mans commentary and is streamed live and free both via the RLM and event website.
Van Gisbergen, to his credit, took all responsibility for his mistakes and Engel apologized on Twitter for his outburst after the race.
With the only other lead lap contender out of the way, the trio of Lowndes, Whincup and Vilander could afford to exhale with Whincup bringing the 488 GT3 home to the finish. The 488 GT3 made its international debut in Australia last year in March and won at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on the same weekend, and now has won its debut on Mount Panorama. Maranello most recently won in 2014; this is Whincup and Vilander’s first Bathurst 12 Hour win, and Lowndes’ second.
“The blokes beside me did an amazing job and it was just up to me to bring it home at the end,” Whincup said. “It was quite ironic that my teammate ‘Gizzy’ and I were fighting for the win right at the end there. He was driving like he usually does, all over the place which is good; he’s hard and fair. I certainly enjoyed the battle, there is always a bit of grass action when we’re rubbing panels!”
In second place, a lap back, was the No. 12 Ice Break Competition Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long, Marc Lieb, Matt Campbell and David Calvert-Jones. This car featured the two Porsche factory aces, the up-and-coming Porsche Junior in Campbell and Australian veteran “CJ,” which pressed on nicely despite two moments of contact, one where Long nudged the Mercedes and other when Campbell hit a Lamborghini. This car won the A Pro-Am class.
The newest “Bentley Boy” – ex-Audi factory star Olly Jarvis – shared the No. 17 Bentley Continental GT3 with Guy Smith and Steven Kane en route to third overall in Jarvis’ Bentley debut. Like the HTP Mercedes, this car was down on straight-line speed all week but pressed on regardless.
Defending champions Tekno Autosport had a fraught day with exhaust issues and fire out the back early on in Rob Bell’s stint, this already as the team’s No. 1 McLaren 650S GT3 incurred a pre-race engine change and started from the rear of the 50-plus car field. Nonetheless, Bell, Parente and Come Ledogar pressed on regardless, fighting all day to get back on the lead lap but ultimately ending fifth behind the sole remaining Walkinshaw Porsche in fourth.
The full results are linked here. There were 16 safety car periods, seven different race leaders and 23 changes of the lead, at the start finish line.
The event reported 40,364 people attended, a 9 percent increase on 2016, and there were plenty more who expressed interest in wanting to go via social media.