Nissan powered its way to a historic victory in Sunday’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour following a thrilling closing laps around Mt. Panorama in Australia’s premier endurance race.
A daring pass by Katsumasa Chiyo on Bentley’s Matt Bell just a few corners after the final restart saw the No. 35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 take the lead with two laps to go and open up a narrow margin over the No. 10 Bentley of Bell.
Chiyo, who restarted in third, expanded his gap over Bell, who was left to defend his position with the No. 15 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra of Laurens Vanthoor and Stefan Muecke’s No. 97 Craft-Bamboo Racing Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.
This Nissan took the checkered flag 2.45 seconds ahead of Vanthoor, who managed to finish second following a frantic three-way fight for the runner-up position on the final lap.
It marked a monumental victory for the Japanese manufacturer, which claimed its first win at Bathurst since 1992, and coming with Wolfgang Reip and Florian Strauss, two of Nissan’s GT Academy drivers, who completed the lineup in the GT3 Am class entry.
Pole-sitter Vanthoor and co-drivers Markus Winkelhock and Marco Mapelli finished second overall and claimed GT3 Pro class honors, while Muecke made a late gasp to third after contact with Bell in the final corner that relegated the Bentley to fourth.
The dramatic conclusion came after three full-course cautions in the final hour, which set up a five-way battle for overall honors which also included the No 36 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Jack Lebrocq, who ended up fifth.
Remarkably, seven GT3 manufacturers were represented in the top-seven overall, with the No. 49 Vicious Rumour Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and No. 32 JBS Australia Lamborghini Gallardo completing the positions.
Following last year’s thrilling finish, it was another race for the ages on the Mountain, although plagued by a record 20 full-course cautions, mainly for accidents.
Among the notable shunts included a heavy crash for the No. 8 Flying B Motorsport Bentley of David Brabham, who was hit by Muecke in the final hour. Brabahm was taken to a local hospital for precautionary checks.
In the eighth hour, the No. 36 Erebus Mercedes of Dean Canto made contact with Michele Rugolo’s No. 77 AF Corse Ferrari, turning the Ferrari around and causing suspension damage to the car that had also been in contention.
Ivo Breukers escaped injury after his No. 91 MARC Cars Australia Mazda3 V8 went for a wild ride at McPhillamy Park after getting hit by the No. 16 Phoenix Audi of Felix Baumgartner, who like Canto, later served a penalty for avoidable contact.
Late-race trouble also hit the No. 11 M-Sport Bentley of Maxi Buhk, who stopped on track with 51 minutes remaining to bring out one of the final yellows.
Class B honors went to the No. 47 Supabarn Supermarkets Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of James Koundouris, Theo Koundouris, Marcus Marshall and Sam Power, which finished 16th overall.
It came under pressure from the No. 4 Grove Racing Porsche until Ben Barker beached the car in the gravel trap to bring out the final yellow with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Other class winners included the No. 54 Donut King Lotus Exige (Class C), No. 23 Bruce Lynton BMW M (Class D) and the No. 93 MARC Cars Australia Focus V8 (Class I).
Thirty-four of the 50 starters finished the race, which saw a weekend attendance of 32,297 spectators, a notable increase over last year despite it clashing with a pre-season V8 Supercars event in Sydney.
RESULTS: Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour