21 February 2020
21 February 2020
So near, and yet so far …
It’s likely Mercedes-AMG teams in the 2020 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour will look back on the race’s dramatic final hour with both pride and frustration, given the opportunity that just eluded them.
The #888 Mercedes-AMG Team Triple Eight Race Engineering entry, driven by Shane van Gisbergen (New Zealand), Jamie Whincup (Australia) and Maximilian Goetz (Germany), rocketed into third place – the third consecutive time Mercedes-AMG has secured a podium finish at the Bathurst 12 Hour.
But after a weekend in which a flock of Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars topped practice timing sheets, led the race’s first pre-dawn laps and remained in contention for outright victory all day, a burning desire to clinch the brand’s first Bathurst 12-Hour win since 2013 remains unfulfilled.
An intense day of racing
Ultimately it was a Bentley entry that claimed the win, crossing the line ahead of the factory-backed Mercedes-AMG GruppeM Racing entry of Felipe Fraga (Brazil), Maximilian Buhk (Germany) and Raffaele Marciello (Italy). That wasn’t the end of the story, however; a transgression in the #999 Mercedes-AMG’s final pitstop attracted a post-race 30-second penalty, making the team drop from second place to sixth place overall.
That elevated the #888 Mercedes-AMG GT3 onto the podium in third place. The #888 car was among three brand-new Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars that ran with the lead pack all day in oppressively warm conditions. In the end, the team fell agonisingly short as a gripping final clash played out beneath an approaching storm, lashing rain exploding from the sky just as the winning car crossed the finish line.
“We are on the podium, but that wasn’t our goal in this way. We wanted to win the race, but that simply wasn’t on the cards today,” #888 driver Jamie Whincup said in the race’s aftermath. “Making it on the podium in the turbulent final stages of the race was a bit lucky, but not undeserved. We gave it our all.”
There was no such consolation for the drivers of the #999 car, which jumped from third place to the lead on the first corner of the race in the hands of Maxi Buhk. It ran strongly all day until a late-race puncture, plus the pit-lane transgression that saw time added after the race, spoiled the team’s chances.
Said #999 driver Raffaele Marciello: “Of course, I am disappointed with the result. That simply was bad luck. We didn’t deserve this. But that is also part of motorsport. As to our performance, we have done our utmost. I am very proud of my teammates.”
Scorching weather, serious crashes and even the unnerving intervention of several kangaroos made conditions demanding, setting the scene for a riveting 12 hours.
After 11 hours of absorbing racing and strategy, any of the eight cars still on the lead lap in the final hour – including the three leading Mercedes-AMGs – could have staked a claim on victory.
An “unbelievable” new Mercedes-AMG GT3
Mercedes-AMG was in the mood to celebrate. Just prior to the race, it launched the 2020 version of its GT3 racer, complete with significant updates designed to make the car more reliable, cheaper to run for customer teams and more easily adjustable in the heat of modern sports car racing.
Fittingly, it was the three 2020-spec Mercedes-AMG GT3s that best demonstrated their pace and reliability over the course of the demanding 12-hour classic.
“The car was fast and reliable in extremely hard conditions,” said Maro Engel, whose #77 car also suffered a late-race puncture when positioned to contend for victory. “The car was unbelievable. Really strong. Well, and then these final minutes. All of a sudden, we had a puncture that came out of the blue. Presumably, it was a carbon piece that had punctured the tyre. Too bad, and I am really sorry for everyone who had been working so hard.”
There was also a podium for Mercedes-AMG in the second-tier Silver Cup, where the #46 Mercedes-AMG GT3 finished fourteenth overall and third in class; meanwhile, the #75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 led the hotly contested Pro-Am class during the first hours of the race before mechanical issues cruelled its charge. A second Pro-Am entry, the #777 Mercedes-AMG GT3, suffered major damage in a qualifying accident and was unable to take part in the race.
A new Mercedes-AMG GT4, #19, finished second in the GT4 class and twenty-third overall. The car’s owner and driver, Mark Griffith, said their race was almost without incident. “For us, the Mercedes-AMG GT4 was totally new. However, the team has done a perfect job in preparing the car, enabling us to quickly find our way. In the race, the car ran trouble-free.”
By Steve Colquhoun