Bathurst’s Mountain Panorama circuit is already buzzing ahead of the 2017 Liqui Moly Bathurst 12-Hour, with the event getting underway at the iconic venue from today.
As the event continues to grow since its reintroduction in 2007, this year will see arguably the most exciting field of drivers and cars yet, with plenty of new machines and several drivers making their debuts or dusting off their driving boots for another crack at The Mountain.
Aside from the 12 hours of motor racing, watched all over the world and broadcast live for the duration around Australia on free-to-air television for the second year running (on 7Mate), there’s three elements that could stand above the others in this year’s event.
Two significant barriers are yet to be crossed by entrants in the Bathurst 12-Hour, and each is under threat this year.
The first is the ‘magical’ two-minute lap time.
Shane Van Gisbergen took the #59 McLaren 650S around Mount Panorama in 2m01.286s during qualifying at last year’s event, and almost matched that effort during the race with a best lap time of 2m01.567s - a new lap record.
With new cars, stronger competition and general advancement by teams and tyre manufacturers over the last year, 2017 could be the year to see the first sub-two-minute lap from the GT3 category at Bathurst.
Although, in a sport where tenths of a second matter, it might be a tall order for 2017’s fastest 12-Hour qualifier to find the 1.286s necessary to break through the two-minute barrier.
The second milestone could also become a page in history this weekend, as the event looks to break through 300 laps.
Last year, again, saw a record distance covered with 297 laps posted for the top-four cars. Just three more laps will see the leader cross the line after 12 hours having covered 1863km. Another 25 laps (or 26, if we’re splitting hairs) would need to appear on the charts before the winners can boast that their car covered 2000km in 12 hours.
Hot, Hot, Hot
New lap records and distances would certainly be welcome at the 2017 event, but another record could trump both of these, should they occur.
The weather bureau had originally forecast a top of 39 degrees on race day, but has eased this forecast to 38 degrees.
Regardless, the 37-degree day the event experienced in 2014 could be eclipsed this year, and the teams have noted the advice of the weather people.
BMW, for example, is entering four drivers in one of its lead cars instead of the more-widely used three-driver line-up, and just this week MARC Cars Australia announced Glenn Seton will be joining his son Aaron in one of the team’s entries - boosting the driver line-up to four.
An extra driver allows for additional driver changes, hopefully ensuring drivers are ‘fresh’ when they step in for their stint. But extra drivers can also increase the gap between a team’s fastest and slowest competitor, particularly if a driver lacks experience or has been out of the saddle for a while.
Rules regarding driving times are plentiful, including a maximum 280 cumulative minutes driving time for drivers in three-driver entries, falling to 240 minutes for those in four-driver teams.
Drivers must ‘rest’ for one hour between stints, regardless of duration, and much not drive for more than three hours consecutively.
Further advice for teams comes straight out of the rule book, which states that high temperatures should be expected and that teams should use cool suits, shorter stint times or even air-conditioning to protect drivers from overheating.
There are no rule adaptations in the event of extreme heat, so the race proceeds as per the existing rules.
Tyres could also be an issue during warmer weather, potentially increasing degradation and the chances of a tyre failure for some.
New Car Showroom
The class of 2017 more than any other will feature several new ‘faces’ on the grid.
As mentioned, BMW attacks the 12-Hour with a genuine outright contender (in the GT3 era) for the first time via its M6 GT3, four of which are entered. Fans of the 335i that won the event twice in its pre-GT3 era will be happy to know the ol’ Bimmer is going around again in 2017.
Mercedes has bid farewell to its AMG SLS which won the event in 2013 (although one is still entered), stepping up to its new AMG GT.
Likewise, another former race-winner (2014) in Ferrari’s 458 is no more at the 12-Hour, replaced by the new 488 GT3.
Lamborghini’s Gallardo will still feature in the 2017 event, but the Italian carmaker will also be represented by its Huracan GT3.
Absent last year, Aston Martin is back in 2017 in Classes A, C and D.
Returning entries from 2016 include Nissan with its GT-R. One was entered last year, four are entered in 2017. Seven Audi R8s started the race last year, and the same number will front The Mountain this year, while the 2016 race-winner from McLaren (the 650S) returns to defend its title in 2017.
Bentley also returns to Bathurst in 2017 for its third consecutive year, racing the Continental GT3. The official Bentley team has managed fourth and third-place finishes in its first two years, and will be hoping to break through for a win this year.
In the minor classes, Porsche Cayman and KTM X-Bow will feature, along with six V8-powered entries from MARC Cars Australia in the invitational class.
On-track activities for the 2017 Bathurst 12-Hour begin today, with the 12-Hour race commencing at 05:45 AEDST Sunday morning.