Practice and Qualifying Report 12H Bathurst 2012Greetings from a delightful late summer’s morning in New South Wales. It is Day 2 of the Bathurst 12 Hours meeting at the spectacular 6.2-kilometer Mount Panorama circuit. We’ll brief you on matters of note in yesterday’s practice sessions and also a general overview of this gorgeous corner of the planet.
First to matters of moment and qualifying for tomorrow’s racing: The format for gridding the cars is somewhat Down Under for those used to the pattern found elsewhere. We had three short 35 minute practice sessions yesterday while today (Saturday) there are two timed periods, each 90 minutes long. The first is an early a.m. session with the follow-up late in the afternoon. The support series take over the balance of the day.
Importantly, the grid is set by the average of the best times for each driver, rather than simply the best single lap for the car. Thus, there is some pattern and strategy for using the full 180 minutes allotted for qualifying, including possibly some endurance style practice once they are satisfied with the spots.
Most teams seem to be cycling through their drivers in fairly short order after the 08:15 start. The morning dew left a few slick spots in the shade (which seems to have caught one of the Porsche Cup cars in a spin), but the speeds soon began to pick up. Warren Luff (No. 2 Phoenix Racing Audi R8) had the early lead—much to the joy of the large Audi press contingent. Teammate Christopher Mies followed in the No. 1 R8 LMS.
The GT3 version of the Ferrari F458 is quite popular in Oz and local hero Craig Baird pedaled the No. 33 Clearwater entry to third in the early going. He upped the ante about 10 minutes later while the two Audis swapped drivers, Christer Jöns into No. 1 and Craig Lowndes into No. 2. Baird’s short stint then ended with Matt Griffin getting a turn. Among the other classes Mark O’Connor had a good start in the No. 10 Simply Sports Cars lotus Exige (Class C) and the best of the small Class B (Porsche Cup) class was Scott O’Donnell in No. 65.
At about the 30 minute mark Mark Eddy took over the No. 2 Audi and also took over top spot on the pole run. At about 40 minutes we seem to have some of a natural lull with a fairly coincidental pitting of a mass of cars. For a brief period it left only a handful of cars spread out over the quite long course. It provided an excellent opportunity for a true Australian legend, John Bowe, to shine. He put the No. 17 Maranello Racing Ferrari on pole with a 2:08.4323 [yes, they go down to 4 decimal places down under]. Bowe is a veteran champion in several different categories and types of cars, but always with a soft spot for sports cars. Bowe is close to a 2:08 limit set for qualifying. Any car exceeding that in qualifying will have a 50 kilo weight chained to their necks—try that on for size for 12 hours! [No time limits during the race, by the way—so sandbagging is possible]
But then we also had a significant incident. Ted Huglin got badly sideways at Hell’s Corner, the very first corner and his No. 4 Lamborghini Gallardo tapped the wall, coming to a stop facing backwards on the racing line, and bringing the session to a short halt. Despite no major impact, Huglin appeared shaken and had to be helped into an aide car.
The entry is down a tad from that originally posted several days ago. The Mosler, Corvette, Mini, and one of the Loti noted on the provisional list are no-shows. All of the “TBAs” among the drivers have been filled out and we have an excellent mix of pros—included internationally know Australians, plus many accomplished gentleman drivers. Approximately one-quarter of the entry list and one-third of the drivers are international guests, reflecting the partnership that the race has established with the Dutch organizers of the Dubai 24 Hours, the Creventic Company—making the Bathurst 12 Hours an associate of the 24 Hour Series.
Class A, standard GT3, consists of nine cars. There are the two Phoenix Audis, another R8 from United Autosports, two Mercedes (Germany’s Black Falcon and Aussie Erebus Racing), two Lamborghinis, and two Ferraris. Class B is for the trio of GT3 Porsche Cup cars. The Class C GT4 class includes a pair of Lotuses with Christian Klien a star driver in the No. 62 entry, as well as a Nissan R35 GTR.
Class D and E are for Production, read Touring, cars, and are the only two classes where tire choice is free (the others use Michelins). The higher performance group (Class D) has a Subaru WRX, the obligatory Holden, and three Bimmers (one 335i and two 135i types). The lesser category (Class E), has another Holden, two 130i BMWs, and my personal favorite, a Ford Falcon. Dearborn’s original small car was imported into Australia in the early 1960s before morphing into the Mustang in North America. Australia took the original to heart and have produced their own Falcons ever since. The current XR8 is several generations into the model but still retains the basic outline of the original.
Class I, Invitational, is a run-what-you-brung category for cars that don’t fit in elsewhere. It consists of two screaming RX-7s and Creventic’s own Ivo Breukers in the popular Dutch Red Camel team Seat Leon.
Following the Lambo incident the track went green-red-green-red—action packed indeed. About five minutes after the restart, qualifying was again halted when James Atkinson crashed high up on the mountain. His No. 53 Class D Holden struggled on for a few meters before halting for good. Another red flag, another five minutes of qualifying and then Chris Lillington-Price tapped two walls hard with the No. 10 Lotus—hopefully all three of these cars will be repaired!
While the Bathurst 12 Hours does not use the break-out and “Joker” lap time system of Dubai (or Code 60 neutralization), we do have a different sort of Joker in store. The forecast calls for a high probability of rain for Sunday. Combined with that is an unearthly starting time of 06:15 that takes place in the summer dawn, about a half-hour before sunrise.
The various visitors spent much of yesterday’s practice getting acquainted with the mountainous circuit, although it was clear that the two German marques were interested in at least having bragging rights at the top spot. It was either an Audi or Mercedes fastest during most of the three sessions, although Italy ended up best with the Great Dane, Allan Simonsen putting the No. 17 Ferrari on top with a 2:08.2824.
There were only two incidents of note. American Brett Curtis broke off the rear wing in the No. 20 Erebus Mercedes, bringing the first practice session to a halt a few minutes earlier than planned. Then the No. 67 Motorsport Services BMW had to be taken into Bathurst proper to a local “Crash Services” facility (the Aussie term) for quick repairs after a shunt.
Impressions of Oz—being my first visit to Down Under it is both a shock and a comfort. The shock comes from leaving late winter and landing in late summer. Colleague John Dagys was worried about being snowed in Chicago while being from small winter Seattle I contemplated whether to bring a sweater. Here, sunblock is in order. Australia is clearly the least foreign country any North American will encounter—although they sure do talk funny. Similar roads, cars, architecture, open spaces, fast foods etc. However, the flora and fauna are most certainly unlike anywhere else.
Sydney and environs are quite lush and the 300 km drive west to Bathurst rises quickly into the equally verdant and spectacular Blue Mountains. It includes vistas of distant rocky canyons and ridges—very slightly reminiscent of some sections of the U.S. South’s Smokies. The landscape then falls to the Bathurst Plain, which actually still very hilly but with broad valleys. The Mount Panorama circuit is on the west slope of the valley. Its seemingly simple rectangular shape is deceiving. Its relatively slow short front straight leads a long twisty uphill to a point nearly 180 meters above the start line. Then comes a spectacular downhill run to the valley floor.
The first qualifying session ended with a clean final 15 minutes after the interruptions. Simonsen got the best of it, setting a 2:08.2244 to have No. 17 atop the charts (before the requisite averaging). Fastest in Class B is Aussie football magnate Nathan Tinkler in the No. 3 Porsche. Veteran Oz driver Tony Alford is quickest in Class C with the No. 54 Donut King Nissan. Christian D’Agostin (No. 28 GWS Personnel BMW 335i) is fastest in Class D. James Parrish had the best time in Class I with the No. 35 RX-7. Racer Industries, a regular participant at Dubai and the Nürburgring 24 Hours, is best in Class E with the No. 50 Holden.
The second and final 90 minutes of qualifying begins at 16:30 local time. My frazzled jet lagged brain is utterly incapable of converting that to time zones where the sun-deprived portions of humanity are residing so you are on your own to do the math. Meanwhile its time for Chevy Camaros, Holden Commodore, various Japanese species, and even the odd pick-up truck for what’s called Sports Sedan, Saloon, Improved Production and various other fun stuff that makes up the support races.
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