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FOUR OF THE best brands in GT racing have filled the top five places across four hours of official practice for this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour at Mount Panorama. Lamborghini team JBS Racing topped today’s times, Queenslander David Russell setting the quickest time of 2m04.2332s in the third of four sessions held across a bruising day at Mount Panorama.

Bathurst3While two Audi’s, a Nissan GTR and a Ferrari 458 featured in the top-10, a dramatic day setting back the hopes of several key contenders for a Bathurst victory this weekend. A day of high drama saw defending champions Maranello Motorsport potentially eliminated from the weekend in the opening practice session, a massive crash involving driver Tony D’Alberto and an Aston Martin from the Craft-Bamboo Racing team destroying the former and seriously damaging the latter.

While the Craft Aston will return to the circuit tomorrow, the Ferrari is a write-off with the team desperately trying to source a replacement car prior to qualifying tomorrow. Driving at the time, Tony D’Alberto was taken to a local hospital for precautionary checks before being released later in the day. The Aston Martin driver, Jean-Marc Merlin, did not require any medical assistance.

Later in the day, one of the two factory-entered M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3s was crashed heavily at the Cutting, necessitating the team to remove the car from the circuit for repairs that are likely to go late into the Bathurst night.

Bathurst2As the drama unfolded, Russell and the JBS Lamborghini team – that includes Bathurst expert Steve Owen and owner-driver, Roger Lago – went about their business resolutely today, working to a plan that has them looking forward to the final hours of the race rather than a high qualifying performance. “We didn’t have a big testing plan going into today, it was all about fine tuning what we knew we had with the car and keeping things very simple,” Russell said. “I’m not surprised with the pace we had because the car was really good from the first session, but I would be surprised if there was a car out there that was able to put together a complete lap. I knew I certainly didn’t. The traffic was very, very busy and it was almost impossible to get three clear sectors to do a time. We are working towards Sunday afternoon and really nothing else is in our minds. It’s about making sure we have the right pieces in place and the ingredients we need to be successful on Sunday, and that’s it.”

The evergreen Audi R8 LMS Ultra models filled second and third in the combined running today, the No. 15 Phoenix Racing car driven by Marco Mapelli, Laurens Vanthoor and Markus Winkelhock finishing the day 0.7s behind the flying black Lamborghini. The local Audi entry steered by double Bathurst 12-hour champion Christoper Mies, Marc Cini and Mark Eddy finished third.

Starting their weekend strongly, the works Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of the NISMO Global Athlete Team finished the day fourth overall – and rarely featured outside the top six in any of today’s sessions. GT World Champion Toni Vilander impressed on his Bathurst debut, putting his Clearwater Racing Ferrari into fifth position, 1.4 seconds behind the fastest car of the day.

Four Ferraris finished inside the top-10 today, including the remarkable New Zealand-based Trass Family Racing entry.
After experiencing shipping and freight delays ex-New Zealand, the TFM team’s car only arrived at Mount Panorama at 9:00pm last night – less than twelve hours prior to the opening on-track session.

The team rebounded superbly to end the day seventh overall – ahead of one of the two Phoenix Racing Audi’s. Fan favourites Erebus Motorsport finished one car inside the top 10: the No. 36 car of Dean Canto, Jack LeBrocq and Richard Muscat sitting solidly in 9th overall. Ironically, and despite their early exit from the day’s activities, Maranello Motorsport still finished 10th overall today thanks to Mika Salo’s strong early laps in the first session.

Each of today’s four practice sessions was interrupted by at least one red flag period as drivers and teams pushed the limit of the ever-challenging 6.213-km circuit ahead of qualifying tomorrow and Sunday’s race. Things were slightly more open in the class battles that will again feature throughout the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour distance this weekend.

Defending class champions Gove Racing comfortably topped Class B (GT3 Cup) today – each of the team’s three drivers Ben Barker, Steven Grove and Luke Youlden getting their chance at the top of the charts across the four sessions today. The Donut King Racing Lotus Exige GT4 of Tony Alford, Mike O’Connor and Peter Leemhuis topped Class C for GT4 cars while the stunning Aussie-built Daytona Coupe topped Class D for production-based invitational cars.

Another Aussie creation topped the class for Invitational-endurance entries, the No. 93 MARC Focus driven by young guns Ben Gersekowski, Adam Gowans and Gary Jacobsen topping their inter-class battle. Saturday’s action will include a further one-hour practice session tomorrow morning ahead of qualifying in the afternoon.

The two-part qualifying format will include a one-hour, all-in session for the entire field followed by what is likely to be an explosive 20-minute session for the GT3 cars that make up class A. The pole position winner will be awarded the perpetual Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy, inaugurated last year.

All of Saturday’s action can be viewed in Australia and around the world via the exclusive and free live stream at Bathurst12hour.com.au. The Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour 2015 is proudly supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW.

Ben Potter

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