Team NZ Motorsport endured the toughest imaginable debut in the famous Bathurst 12 Hour but with a mix of sheer dogged perseverance and an equally big helping of good fortune we came away with a superb third place in Class B (GT3 Cup).
As the checkered flag fluttered in the late Sunday afternoon sunshine bathing Mt. Panorama Circuit we had pulled off the biggest turnaround imaginable and the celebrations in our garage were just as wild and enthusiastic as anywhere else in the paddock.
What a truly amazing weekend. One of our drivers commented after the race: “This must be the craziest third place in the history of Bathurst” – and that really summed up our day perfectly.
We actually made a late entry to the Bathurst 12 Hour, the decision only being taken in the wake of December’s Sepang 12 Hours, and that meant we had a huge amount of work to do when we arrived in the paddock mid last week. With plenty of raw Bathurst ‘rookies’ in the cockpit, including new drivers to our ‘endurance’ roster, the four lengthy free practice sessions were very important and everything went well.
Where it went all wrong however was during the qualifying session as the car suffered a major impact with the barriers in the mountain section and after diagnosing that it was potentially repairable we had a time hurdle to overcome, thanks to the scheduled 0545 start for the race, which meant there were much more limited hours available between qualifying and the lights turning green than at most other races.
The crew was immediately locked into a race against the clock to repair the Porsche ready for the early Sunday morning start time. They worked flat out through Saturday evening and into the night before finally finishing with just twenty minutes to spare.
We enjoyed fantastic support from within the paddock and from local companies in our attempt to get the car rebuilt and in particular thanks go to Michael Newton and his mechanics, who helped with the gearbox, and the enthusiastic chassis/bodywork experts from TAFE. Without the assistance we received when our backs were to the wall we certainly wouldn’t have made the race. Our team partners also rallied round to help us, Completion Products, Asia Pacific Spiral, Nakd Water and Motosure, their assistance was invaluable as our small, close knit team battled against the odds to repair the car.
The ‘997’ was literally finished with 20 minutes to spare before then being dropped off the jacks and refueled. Thus in the pitch darkness of the iconic Mount Panorama Circuit shortly after five o’clock in the morning the #77 car gunned its way out of the pitlane and round to the grid to resounding cheers from a crew that hadn’t yet slept a wink. Certainly, the car didn’t look pretty, but we were out there on the grid and really in that moment we had already scored a big victory from our first visit to Bathurst.
Nick Foster, who had been drafted into the cockpit at the very last minute to deputise for team core driver, Graeme Dowsett, who had been forced to step down due to an injury, was in for the first stint and he did a superb job, keeping it all clean and tidy at the start (which took place in the darkness of the night on a track with very limited lighting) and then steadily working his way up from our P4 grid slot despite driving a car that hadn’t been fully setup and clearly had issues associated with the ‘race against time’ repairs.
By the 1 hour 20 minute mark as a stunning blood-red sunrise hung over Mount Panorama the 23-year-old, who is the reigning Porsche Carrera Cup Australia champion, had worked his way up to second place and he then handed over to John Curran for the second stint of the race. The Irishman settled straight into the pace but after half an hour of his stint he pitted with transmission problems and they proved to be terminal. Our primary gearbox had been badly damaged during the qualifying incident so we had no further spare units and there was also no availability in the paddock. We had been stopped dead in our tracks.
However, despite having niggling transmission concerns of their own, Class B race leaders, Grove Racing, late in the race sourced us a replacement transmission and we were finally able to return to the action for the closing hour and a half. We really have to thank Grove Racing for their spirit of sportsmanship in making the unit available to us, without them it would have been an early and disappointing exit and also we would like to congratulate them on their richly deserved Class B (GT3 Cup) victory.
Over the closing laps John handed over to Craig Smith who brought the car safely to the checkered flag. Sensationally, during the dying minutes of the race the running order in Class B dramatically evolved as rival cars dropped out and our perseverance, along with the Bathurst 12 Hour regulations that allow all cars to be classified if they pass the checkered flag, we moved up to an incredible P3 at the finish.
The scenes of utter jubilation from the weary and sleepless team members hanging on the pitwall as Craig brought the battered car over the line really summed up just what we had gone through. An incredible experience from an incredible race on an incredible racetrack, we really wanted to race here and certainly we left overjoyed. For certain also we will be back to the Bathurst 12 Hour in the future.
Team NZ Motorsport was supported by Completion Products, Asia Pacific Spiral, Nakd Water and Motosure during the Bathurst 12 hour.
John Curran (Ireland): “The race was just pure luck, an hour and forty minutes from the start, an hour and a half at the end and we managed to pull out P3 which is real boxing to say the very least. We managed to finally get a gearbox almost at the end and go back out and as luck would have it we were in P5 but moved up. I’m ecstatic, absolutely ecstatic, not only for me, but also for everyone who stretched so far in trying to get the car back on track. A huge to thanks to Grove Racing and an even bigger thanks to Mike Newton and Shane and Alistair, and TAFE, for basically putting the car back together.
Will Bamber (New Zealand): “Our venture into Australian territory proved more challenging than we could have ever anticipated. Coming back from the huge crash with great resolve to claim a podium is incredible. It was a silver lining to the crazy script that unfolded and just reward for the many sleepless nights.”
Craig Smith (Australia): “It’s hard to put it into words but it was the most amazing experience and big thanks to John [Curran] and Graeme [Dowsett] for making this happen and to all the guys for busting their guts since they arrived. I was just so happy to cross the line when it really dawned on me that it was the checkered flag at Bathurst and then later when I parked up the team told me we might have got third place. It’s probably the craziest third in the history of Bathurst but it was just so amazing to be out there on that track with such a good car and with such a great bunch of people supporting us.”
Nick Foster (Australia): “The race as a whole was pretty interesting but for the first stint the guys had only just finished the car, literally just twenty minutes before the start of the race it was going down on the deck getting refueled and ready, so we were in a strange boat as it was patched so we had no full idea setup wise where we were. That first stint was always going to be pretty interesting to try and stay out of trouble in the opening laps but also to make sure the car felt alright so we could drive for twelve hours and work out any issues we had if they needed to be fixed during pitstops. As it turned out we did have a few issues but I did my best to manage them during the stint. So I had an hour and a half in the car, which wasn’t setup, but was actually pretty good, the guys did a good job putting it back together as good as they could they could in that time. I’ve got to thank the Team NZ guys for putting me in the car at the last minute, obviously in better circumstances it would be much nicer, but it was awesome to be part of the team, and hopefully we can do it again in the future.”