THEY NEVER really went away, but there’s no doubt that Audi are properly back in contention for the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour this year. Works driver Laurens Vanthoor stunned Mount Panorama today, pushing his No. 15 Audi R8 LMS Ultra to a brilliant 2m02.5521s lap and the Allan Simonsen Pole position trophy in a thrilling 20-minute pole shootout held in near perfect conditions this afternoon.

16455298405_bff4952cf0_zTomorrow he will share his car with Italian GT ace Marco Mapelli and former F1 driver Markus Winkelhock – but today the Mountain was the 23-year-old Belgian’s playground as he set the fastest ever officially recorded lap of the 6.213km circuit. After a subdued performance last year where the cars rarely looked like contending for the outright victory, today’s performance has clearly re-established the most successful brand in Bathurst’s GT era as the ones to beat when the 12-Hour race beings at 5:50am local time tomorrow.

The race will be broadcast in its entirety on the Seven Network tomorrow, the broadcast commencing at 5:30am local time on 7mate. Five brands ended qualifying in the top five with Lamborghini, Nissan, Ferrari and Aston Martin next on the grid for tomorrow’s race. JBS Racing driver David Russell led the early running in the final qualifying session and for a time his impressive 2m03.1751s lap looked to be unsurmountable – at least until Vanthoor’s stunning lap towards the end of qualifying.

Russell and co-drivers Steve Owen and Roger Lago will start tomorrow’s race from the front row in the best ever qualifying performance from a Lamborghini in Liqui-Moly 12-Hour history. The contrast in the front row is notable with the works powerhouse Phoenix Racing team from Germany to line-up alongside the tiny part-time Lamborghini team from Brisbane’s inner suburbs in Queensland.

16460549632_dbeaf66586_zThe factory-backed Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 will start third thanks to an impressive time from young Japanese star Katsumasa Chiyo – though his efforts ended soon after setting his 2m03.2974s lap when he made contact with the Cutting wall. Chiyo lost the rear of the GT-R mid-corner and touched the concrete barrier, limping back to pit lane where the car remained for the final 10-minutes of the session.

Quiet achievers AF Corse’ ended the day as the best Ferrari team, Italian Michele Rugulo’s 2m03.84s lap surprising many and putting the next-best thing to a works Ferrari GT team right into contention for tomorrow. German star Stefan Mucke hauled the Craft Bamboo Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 into fifth position, just 1.4s from pole position and only 0.8s from a potential front-row spot.

Perennial Bathurst 12 Hour visitors Clearwater Racing finished qualifying in 6th position, Erebus Motorsport No. 36 SLS AMG seventh and the Darrel Lea McLaren 12C GT3 8th. One of the hero cars from last year, the McLaren had suffered from electrical issues for much of the weekend however an overnight engine change and hard work from the crew allowed their star import – factory McLaren driver Kevin Estre – to haul the car into the top-10.

15841405753_8e125d24cd_zThe Marc Cini / Christoper Mies / Mark Eddy Audi R8 LMS Ultra will start 9th tomorrow with the first M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 – car 10 – 10th, only 1.9s off the pace. In the class battles, a surprise result in the Century Batteries GT3 Cup class B saw the Supabarn Supermarkets Porsche Cup S score the class pole position – thanks to a strong 2m09.9s lap by experienced driver Marcus Marshall.

The Canberra team ousted the defending class champions – Grove Racing – by just 0.3s despite the Grove car having topped all five practice sessions in the lead up to qualifying. The Donut King Racing Lotus Exige topped Ryges GT4, Tony Alford, Peter Leemhuis and Mark O’Connor in a solid 39th position overall.

The Aussie-built Daytona Sportscar dominated proceedings in GWS Personell Class D (Invited Production), qualifying a superb 31st outright and ahead of several Class B Porsche GT3s. Another Aussie-built car led the way in the Recaro Class I (Invitational Non-Production) standings with the No. 31 MARC Cars Australia Ford Focus heading the charge.



Ben Potter

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