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