Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2016 BATHURST 12 HOUR - Endurance Redefined

A last-minute thriller where Katsumasa Chiyo's Nissan GT-R GT3 tried to catch up with Shane Van Gisbergen's McLaren  650S GT3 made up what could be the best Bathurst 12 Hour race yet. (Image: Streaming screencap / NISMO)

The 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour has just ended, with a close victory by Tekno Autosports's McLaren 650S GT driven by Shane Van Gisbergen, marking the return of V8 Supercars drivers after their last year's absence due to the clashing V8SC Supertest. Katsumasa Chiyo, the last driver standing for Nissan Motorsports's GT-R GT3, pushed himself to the limits after leaving the last pit stop with 15 seconds of gap, eventually finishing it with a 1.27 second gap. Steven Kane's #10 Bentley completed the podium, while Laurens Vanthoor's #2 Phoenix Audi missed the chance unfortunately. Out of 37 started, only 19 remained till end, with numerous Full-Course Yellows took place.

Bathurst 12 Hour is always a grueling race, with close-fought battles between racers and John Hindhaugh's fervent screams as the "background music" in case the condition gets even more intense. At the same time, the 6.213 km racing track of Mount Panorama knows no mercy; a slight mistake can cost big, considering the narrow width of certain sections, especially the uphill and downhill ones. Add the fact that the race starts at the darkness of the Australian morning to account, and you have an ultimate challenge that drivers had to deal with: going fast, consistent, clean, and conservative for twelve hours straight, starting by surviving from the darkness where only lights can be seen in the driver's cockpit, squeezing out the driver's concentration juice.

This is where the race's appeal lies to the international eyes. Millions including yours truly witnessed the race in both sound and vision where available. I remember that the first time I got hooked in was in 2014 where I rooted Maranello Motorsport to win the race, with Bathurst 1000 legend Craig Lowndes on the wheel of the Iveco-sponsored Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 (which I also took time to make a TMUF skin out of it before my old HDD broke). A year later, no V8SC driver showed up due to the Supertest, and yielded more Safety Car periods than last year, even putting end to the Maranello car to shambles in practice, but in return we have notable GT3 racing figures like Laurens Vanthoor, Stephane Ortelli, Darren Turner, and Katsumasa Chiyo.

Cut to the present where we finally get the best of both V8SC and GT3 worlds. You have Shane Van Gisbergen, Rick Kelly, and Scott McLaughlin driving, but at the same time you have the aforementioned racing stars fighting on the same footing (albeit in different classes), plus some notable champions, like last year's Le Mans winner Earl Bamber, who raced the B-class Porsche Supercup car. The talent is much bigger than ever.


The battle began as the flag waved (Image: Bathurst 12 Hour)

As usual, I streamed the race in somewhere before the halfway mark, right after I wake up from my sleep. To be honest, I haven't had the guts to stream the race from 2 AM my time because I can't be bothered staying up and taking another caffeine shot or something unless it's related to a college event or something (minus the caffeine part), but ironically people would still stay up that late for a mere soccer game involving top-flight clubs, and I'm not one of them (but I would like to do their model of staying up someday). Lots of things happened during my sleep, including the first-lap crash between Maranello and Nick Percat's Lamborghini. Mika Salo would later comment Percat's act with a quite colorful comment, but this meant that Maranello's luck wasn't this year (though they do progress to the main race so I applaud them).

Prior to my streaming, lots of things happened, including the one where two sweet-looking cars (pun intended) crashed together, the #31 Bentley sustained a serious damage, the #9 Audi spun out as it went to The Cutting (fittingly, in front of its own ad), and a get together involving a McLaren and a Lamborghini, turning what should have been a Yellow-free race into a race with numerous Full-Course Yellows, with get-togethers taking place shortly after every Green somehow. #91 also had a wall hit somehow, and so did the #69 which was utterly fatal compared to the former. Didn't I tell you that the #69 car is the exact same car that was involved in a Candy Crash Saga? (pun intended, again!)

Craillsy not only had a hashtag that blames himself, but also he was "Operating at a Very High Level". Mark Skaife would be proud! (Image: @danielyates21)

As usual, there were also times for social media randomness. The live tweets on Twitter allow me to see which race tweets had a witty humor inside. This year, we have some kangaroo exposition (although you don't see them messing around the track badly), a brave marshal who picked up Bentley's broken bodywork, and... #BlameCraillsy. That is the most random hashtag I have ever encountered, I even had to put out a Kamen Rider Decade reference there. Not sure why #BlameCraillsy exist in the first place, but one thing for sure is that I blame Craillsy (plus Graham Goodwin and John Hindhaugh) for making this year's Bathurst 12 Hour yet another addictive affair. The best part of it is that when he said the magic word of V8 Supercars fame: "Operating at a Very High Level".

Randomness aside, it was a long battle between Audi, Nissan, Bentley, McLaren, and Mercedes Benz all along, with numerous lead changes that took place. The best part of all? The LAST quarter of the race. If you think that Endurance racing is predictable, then doctrine yourself with this year's Bathurst 12 Hour, with a battle royale between SVG, Vanthoor, Chiyo and the Bentley. Internet was literally broken as Chiyo got his right wheels touch the grass to overtake Vanthoor's Audi at the first straight, just before heading down towards the Turn 2. 2014 Maranellownmower it isn't, but that showed how hot-blooded Chiyo was during that time. This would call for a lead that lasted until the final minutes of the race before "the Gis" overtook Chiyo prior to his final pit stop. Beforehand, SVG's McLaren was given a penalty due to a speed limit infringement after pit stop, but luck was on their side when the course went Yellow courtesy of #40 Audi's crash, reducing the gap between him and the Japanese driver. Apparently, this wasn't the only time Chiyo vs. Vanthoor clash took place. Earlier on, they were THREE-WIDE with a lapped car in Forrest's Elbow!

The exact move where Chiyo takes on Vanthoor by using the trackside grass. This affirms that you MUST NOT mess with Katsumasa Chiyo! (Image: Live streaming / Bathurst 12 Hour)

All hope was seemed lost for NISMO team, but Katsumasa Chiyo pulls out a mental trick at his disposal, posting fast times and reducing his gap between him and SVG before the latter responded by another set of fast lap times. Chiyo didn't manage to overtake SVG despite the latter being a little more careful in the very last lap, but at least he made a quite close finish. Although SVG won the race, both him and Chiyo won the hearts of many for giving their best during their respective stints.

Other categories see the #5 GT Motorsport Audi driven by Greg Taylor, Barton Mawer, and Nathan Antunes as the AA Class winner, Grove Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup Car of reigning LeMans winner Earl Bamber, V8SC ace Scott "Jandalman" McLaughlin and car owner Stephen Grove as the total B Class winner, and the MARC Focus driven by Aaron Seton, Jake Camilleri, and Morgan Haber as the Invitational (I) Class winner. Full race report can be read here.

Even if it's only twelve hours long, it redefined endurance racing, where fast pace needs to be paired with consistent drive, clean runs, and conservative driving. A total care was really needed in order to succeed, as the track doesn't seem to allow any mistakes, but the external factor always seem to be the kangaroos in the vicinity of the hill area. We have seen so many race attritions caused by kangaroos in a last couple of years, but I don't seem to find one somehow, either I missed it or it didn't happen at all. NISMO seemed to find a perfect balance between the elements in question, despite starting out in eighth and finished in second, and it was a game of defense all along for the Tekno McLaren and the Phoenix Audi. But at the end of the day, it was a total war of strategy and a little bit of luck, with a guaranteed close finish. Same fashion as Bathurst 1000, but this one's almost twice longer.

(Image: Bathurst 12 Hour)

So much happened to one of my favorite endurance racing events. It was mental, intense, and fun at the same time! You just can't underestimate the talent standard in this event as everyone's pushing like crazy. Hopefully, next year's race will serve a more real suspense moment like what the previous races have shown, including this year. Bathurst always delivers!

But still, my craziest dream of all is, of course, to witness the action live, or even driving in that very tarmac years, years later.

Welcome to the Victory Lane, SVG! (Image: Bathurst 12 Hour)

To top this post, here's a golden quote by Laurens Vanthoor himself on Twitter...

Well, you saw it. GT3 cars are the Vorpal Weapon of Choice!


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