Moun­tain ex­cite­ment

Bathurst may be syn­ony­mous with V8 Su­per­cars but the stel­lar line-up of GT3 rac­ers is fast mak­ing in­roads

The Courier-Mail - Cars Guide - - News - CRAIG DUFF

GLOBAL sup­port for this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour is fast es­tab­lish­ing the en­duro as the most sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­tion car event here.

It may not chal­lenge the Bathurst 1000 for domestic in­ter­est but it has es­tab­lished an in­ter­na­tional stand­ing for the same rea­son: ev­ery­one is en­thralled watch­ing high­pow­ered cars tackle the famed Mount Panorama cir­cuit.

The ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the GT3 rac­ers con­cerned V8 Su­per­cars bosses to the point where they cam­paigned against the race in 2015 by re­fus­ing to let driv­ers com­pete and sched­ul­ing a test day on the same weekend.

That just up­set the driv­ers. Af­ter a re­think, V8 Su­per­car Events took over the pro­mo­tion of the race last year.

The en­try list for this year’s GT3 class has the best in­ter­na­tional driv­ers the fac­to­ries can muster, along with top-tier V8 Su­per­car pi­lots and out­stand­ing lo­cal tal­ent.

For dis­trib­u­tors, the event is as much a mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise as a race. Cor­po­rate hos­pi­tal­ity of­ten in­cludes chauf­feured “hot laps” around the 6.2km course in road-go­ing ver­sions of the GT3 rac­ers.

This year’s event of­fi­cially in­cludes “man­u­fac­tur­ers track time” ses­sions in which pro driv­ers in pro­duc­tion cars will vie to set a lap record around the Bathurst cir­cuit.

Mercedes-Benz will use the 12-Hour to launch its $349K “Green Mon­ster”, the manic AMG GT R coupe and, with AMG am­bas­sador Bernd Sch­nei­der be­hind the wheel, it will be a hard act to beat.

Sch­nei­der clocked two min­utes, 24.03 sec­onds around a damp Bathurst track dur­ing the lo­cal launch of the GT S in 2015. The GT R is more pow­er­ful and has bet­ter grip, so ex­pect that time to be eclipsed.

Fer­rari is also wel­com­ing the chance to show just how aligned its rac­ers and road cars are and will have a LaFer­rari and F12 tdb on course.

Porsche is prob­a­bly the brand most syn­ony­mous with GT3 rac­ing — spokesman Paul El­lis says it is part of the com­pany’s DNA.

“The tech in the road car is ev­i­dent in the racer and vice versa,” El­lis says. “The pop­u­lar­ity of GT rac­ing un­der­lines the ap­peal of our road cars, as ev­i­denced by mod­els such as the 911 GT3 RS and our sales in Aus­tralia.”

Mercedes-Benz Aus­tralia spokesman Jerry Sta­moulis says the cat­e­gory comes clos­est to the old mo­tor­sport for­mula of “win on Sun­day, sell on Mon­day”, purely be­cause of the sim­i­lar­i­ties in the ma­chin­ery.

“The GT3s are very close to the pro­duc­tion cars in terms of tech­nol­ogy and per­for­mance, so there’s a di­rect link that cus­tomers can see and ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.

The sen­ti­ment is echoed by Audi’s Shaun Cleary, who says on-track suc­cess for the com­pany’s R8 su­per­car helps es­tab­lish the ve­hi­cle and the brand in the minds of buy­ers.

Prospec­tive own­ers can buy an R8 road car or a fac­to­ryprepped racer, the lat­ter in­clud­ing tech­ni­cal sup­port and devel­op­ment through­out the sea­son.

Audi will field an as­ton­ish­ing seven en­trants this year: two full fac­tory teams and five cus­tomer rac­ing en­tries. The four-ringed brand re­mains the most suc­cess­ful GT3 mar­que at Bathurst, hav­ing won twice, though not since 2012.

The field is a who’s-who of ex­otic and ex­pen­sive makes — As­ton Martin, Audi, Bent­ley, BMW, Fer­rari, Lam­borgh­ini, McLaren, Mercedes AMG, Nis­san Nismo and Porsche are field­ing teams in the top-tier GT3 Pro class. That cov­ers front, mid and rear-en­gined ma­chin­ery mak­ing it one of the most di­verse mo­tor­sport forms.

Set­ting the GT3 rac­ers apart from the road cars they’re based on are the track ma­chines’ brakes, slick tyres, sus­pen­sion and aero­dy­nam­ics. They stop and cor­ner much harder but have com­pa­ra­ble straight-line per­for­mance be­cause en­gine re­stric­tions (de­ter­mined un­der an in­ter­na­tional par­ity for­mula) and aero aids limit the rac­ers’ top speeds.

Top GT3 cars lap Mount Panorama more than four sec­onds faster than the V8s de­spite not com­ing close to the Su­per­cars’ speeds up or down the hill. The lap record is 2:01.286, set by Shane Van Gis­ber­gen in a McLaren 650S last year.

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