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Armor All 12 Hours Of Bathurst – Race Report
Rain Doesn’t Dampen Three-Way Fight

(Images to follow) 

Two days and three hours of dry, sunny weather gave in to nine hours of rain and fog as the 2012 Armor All Bathurst 12 Hours got underway.

The track is difficult at any time – but it is massively difficult in the wet – and it brought many drivers undone; and under the pressurised conditions, teams also made errors.

The Dubai 24 Hours winner, Black Falcon with Sean Patrick Breslin behind the wheel was the greatest example of how things can go wrong in difficult conditions.  When he was trying to adjust his traction control in the Mercedes Benz SLS GT3, he turned the control down. This sent his car heavily into the wall, and him off to the medical centre for x-rays to his ribs.  Fortunately he was later discharged and he retired to the hotel to enjoy an afternoon wine.

The accident took out the Black Falcon car – but they were in good company. 

Phoenix Audi #2 – and driver Mark Eddy – had an unusually poor day.  Last year he finished second and in 2011, he took his second GT Championship. Usually he doesn’t bend cars, but this time he spun four times, eventually into retirement.

He was joined by the United Autosports car with Frank Yu in the car.  They were caught out by the rain.  On slick tyres the track was dry enough when they went past the start finish line, but when Frank reached the top of the mountain it was a different story – he lost it.

The car sustained what looked like repairable damage, but when it got back to the pits, the chassis was damaged and the day was done.

The Lago Lamborghini was another to hit a wall.  Wayne Park was in the car at the time, spun at turn one and hit the inside wall – the damage looked minor but under the skin, bars were broken and bits were bent.

The car was out, and put in doubt for the opening round of the Australian GT Championship the next weekend.  Wayne Park also retired from driving after that crash.

The Maranello Motorsport Ferrari on the other hand had an up and down race, before it all was lost in a plume of extinguisher smoke.

Allan Simonsen was frighteningly quick – watching him across the Mountain, you could see he was on it – he was visibly faster than anyone else.  It went wrong initially for them as their fuel gauge was faulty and he ran out of fuel.  He limped back to the pits, the car was reset and refuelled and he was off again, two laps down.

Between him and his co-drivers, they were able to battle back to the lead lap until an ECU issue ground Dominik Farnbacher to a halt.  While he was trying to reset it, he accidentally let off the fire extinguisher – and that was that for them.

The remaining cars though battled with the fog, and the rain.

“The way the conditions were meant you have to be careful.  I was suited and ready to get in the car but unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Craig Lowndes said after Mark Eddy’s retirement.

Jeroen Bleekemolen, who raced with the Black Falcon team, thought the conditions were tough but his Mercedes handled them well; “It was ok, our car is very good in difficult conditions, it is easy to drive and I never had a really tough stint.  The car was still easy to go round even if you didn’t see a lot.  I am sure with some other cars it was very difficult,” said the Dutchman.

The fight for victory was down to three cars by the end; the #1 Phoenix Audi fighting the Black Falcon Mercedes and the Clearwater Ferrari.

The Ferrari had the pace in the dry, but the Audi had the advantage in the wet.  It also had the luck after a spin at the final corner, being able to get back on track and not lose a lap.

After the final pitstop the Mercedes and Audi were on the same lap, with Bleekemolen closing in on Darryl O’Young; but he couldn’t make up the minute plus needed.

O’Young was excited to defend his 2011 crown in the difficult conditions; “Christopher Mies drove the first part of the race. He has the most experience in the wet, but then it never really stopped raining. It was really tough in the middle stint; we were doing 46s and 47s because there was so much water on the circuit. That was when our sister car in the other Audi went off - there was just so much water there, it was almost impossible. That was the hardest part of the race for me.” he said.

Jeroen Bleekemolen was happy to have another second – after his second place at this year’s Daytona 24 Hours; “For the whole team it is a great result.  The team is quite new and to fight against the factory Audi team was a fantastic job,” he said.

Three cars started Class B and three cars finished, with the Hunter Porsche 997 Cup taking out the win.  The star-studded driver lineup featured current V8 Supercars driver Steven Johnson and former V8 driver, come Carrera Cup driver, Steven Richards.

The car was a rocketship out of the box and only a minor spin threatened their dominance.  They finished ten laps ahead of the Southern Cross Lubes Porsche – which was reliable, if not as fast.

Third went to the New Zealand Motorsport Services Porsche.

The Class C battle was all about the Nissan GTR.  Undoubtedly the strongest car in the class, the Nissan ran faultlessly throughout the race to take a deserved win. 

Christian Klein placed second in the queenslandhouseandland.com Lotus with the Simply Sportscars Lotus having engine issues mid race and failing to finish.

The class D fight was decided after the leading Subaru of Maximum Motorsports blew a turbo at around three-quarter distance.  Credit to the team, they repaired the car and got it back out to finish second, but they couldn’t beat the GWS Holden HSV GTS.

The invitational class was about ‘the little car that could’ in the end.  A Seat Leon TDI is very much an unknown in Australia and the Red Camel team missed Friday’s sessions due to a clutch problem.

After further issues in Qualifying 1, they were at risk of being outside the 130% rule, but made it into the race.  A blown turbo in the race and fuel that wasn’t as good as they find in Europe hampered their battle. However, they were able to make it round the 12 Hours and win their class.

Second in class was the Massel Mazda RX-7.  The car was sitting in pit lane for most of the final hour, before making it out to complete the final three laps – with a roar from the team.

Despite the awful weather conditions, the crowd grew over the 2011 attendance figures.

Epilogue

The Armor All Bathurst 12 Hour organisers and the Dutch 24H Series are positive after their first event together in 2012.

The deal - which saw travel support for overseas teams, particularly those competing in Dubai - saw a limited number of European entries come to Australia for the event.

Those entries were major, with Phoenix Audi, United Autosports and Red Camel Racing all coming over.  Additional entries had been anticipated but did not materialise.

Ivo Breukers heads the 24H Series, and the promoter Creventic was enthusiastic about the association with the Bathurst 12 Hour race; “From the organisation side, it went very well.  We are two different organisations in different continents but I think it works as well as possible.

“I hope to attract more teams to the 12 Hours of Bathurst next year.  It is a great track and I think all drivers should come over and try it at least once.”

The dates of this race and Dubai are under consideration for 2013.  Bathurst in particular may have to be moved.  This year’s race occurred just one week before the start of the Australian GT Championship and ensured that many local competitors could not compete.

“It is quite close to Dubai, but I have heard of the plans to shift this race forward.  I will be working with the Bathurst 12 Hours organisation as it would be a pity to become a competitor of each other,” said Breukers.

“With this result and this race we can attract more European teams.  We handle the logistics and are taking all the pain away from the teams to get here and I will work to get more teams here.”

It was also confirmed Bathurst 12 Hours promoters in Australia were also happy about the relationship between to the two organisations.

Sam Tickell