The #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari of Toni Vilander, Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes took victory in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, opening round of the 2017 Intercontinental GT Challenge. The Ferrari squad had a one-lap advantage over the #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche, with the #17 M-Sport Bentley completing the podium. The GT4 category saw a Porsche one-two, with the #19 PROSport Performance Cayman beating the #40 Brookspeed Cayman.
The #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari was among the frontrunners from the word go, up until a bizarre incident at one of the restarts. Craig Lowndes, leading from the #22 Mercedes-AMG, was hit by Craig Baird even before the cars crossed the starting line. The Ferrari spun into the gravel trap, but crucially for Lowndes, he was pulled free, seconds before he lost a lap.
Baird was penalized by a ten-second stop & hold penalty, but even after serving that penalty and thanks to some great strategic choices from the Ferrari camp, both cars were soon back at the front, this time with Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen respectively at the wheel. The V8 Supercars stars produced some of the best duels ever seen on the Mount Panorama Circuit, with Van Gisbergen eventually getting the upper hand.
Different strategies saw the lead change at every pitstop in the last quarter of the race, with the #17 M-Sport Bentley and the #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche having their time at the front as well. However, a mighty stint by Toni Vilander two hours from the end gave the Maranello Motorsport crew the margin to fit new tyres for the final stint, which made all the difference in their duel with the #22 Team STM/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG.
The race was settled when Shane Van Gisbergen made contact with another car and was penalised with a drive-through. But before the Kiwi driver could take that penalty, he lost control over his car, hitting the wall hard some twenty minutes from the end. The Team STM/HTP Motorsport lost a certain podium finish and handed second place to the #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Long, Marc Lieb, Matt Campbell and David Calvert-Jones. The #17 M-Sport Bentley of Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Oliver Jarvis, a late entry to the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, took third.
All cars, even those on the podium, hit problems at one point or another, but for many a pre-race favourite chances of a good result were gone before the three-hour mark. After only four laps, Maxime Soulet hit the wall in the #8 Bentley Continental resulting in a broken right rear wheel bearing a couple of hours later. Two laps later, Frank Stippler spun in the #74 Audi R8 LMS, hitting the wall hard. And even though the drivers of the #911 Porsche took the lead after 34 laps, they could not enjoy that position for long: after contact with another car, Earl Bamber had to park the car for good, due to steering rack issues.
For a while, it looked like last year’s Bathurst winner, the #1 Tekno McLaren, would join those ranks. But even though they lost three laps due to an engine issue, Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup winners Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar, together with Pirelli World Challenge champion Alvaro Parente, managed to claw their way back up the ladder, eventually crossing the line in fifth.
In GT4 the #48 M-Motorsport KTM was battling for the class lead all day long, although the team had to deal with some bizarre problems, including the clamshell front end of the car opening up on track. Eventually a small fire in the KTM gave the #19 PROSport Performance and the #40 Brookspeed Porsches the opportunity to take full points, with the former claiming the win by a massive five laps. At the wheel of the winning Cayman PRO4 were Max Braams, Andrew Pilgrim, Jörg Viebahn and Nikolaj Möller-Madsen.
Craig Lowndes (#88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari): “It’s never easy to win this race. We had our problems, but the car proved strong. I have two wins in 12-Hour races now, and now I would love to go back to Spa and have another try at a 24-hour race.”
Toni Vilander (#88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari): “It’s all about being in a modus where you can be consistent and really fast. It’s important to stay focussed, with the slower cars and all the restarts. I made a mistake this morning and I learned from that. I’ve been feeling good with the car all weekend. Last year, I saw some crazy good driving by other guys, and I thought to myself: this year I’m back and I am going to give it all to the Mountain!”
Jamie Whincup (#88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari): “I guess I had beginner’s luck today, in my first GT race ever. I will enjoy this a lot, thanks to the whole Maranello Motorsport team and the strong performance of my team-mates.”
Shane Van Gisbergen (#22 Team STM/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG): “My mistake, I am angry at myself for it. I thought I could go with Jamie, but I lost it and wrecked the car. My apologies to the team and my team-mates, this is 100% on me. And congratulations to Ferrari, they did a great job.”