Jules Gounon overcame a late-race puncture and threatening weather conditions to give the Bentley Continental GT3 its long-awaited first major endurance win in Sunday’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
The No. 7 Team M-Sport Bentley of Gounon and co-drivers Maxime Soulet and Jordan Pepper dominated the Intercontinental GT Challenge season-opener in a fast-paced race that saw a new distance record achieved.
While the Frenchman appeared to be firmly in control of the race, a right-rear puncture with 1 hour and 2 minutes to go down the Conrod Straight sent the Bentley in for service.
The M-Sport crew had initially planned to take fuel-only on its final stop.
Gounon ultimately retained the lead through the sequence of final stops, finishing 37.794 seconds on the road ahead of the No. 999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo of Raffaele Marciello.
However, Marciello was handed a post-race time penalty due to not turning off his car during his final stop, promoting the No. 60 59Racing McLaren 720S GT3 of Tom Blomqvist to second in the end.
It marked Bentley’s first Bathurst victory after five previous attempts and the maiden long-distance triumph for the factory M-Sport program since its debut in GT racing in 2013.
A right-rear puncture for Marciello with less than ten minutes to go initially saw the Italian to surrender second to Blomqvist but got around the former BMW factory driver on the final lap, only to face a 30-second penalty applied post-race that dropped the GruppeM squad to sixth.
Marciello’s puncture came just 15 minutes after similar fate hit Maro Engel, whose No. 77 Team Craft Bamboo Black Falcon Mercedes Evo pitted from third after a charge from 6th in the final hour.
Engel had double-stinted his Pirelli tires, which saw the German gain track position until hitting trouble.
Cars took the checkered flag in pouring rain, after threatening skies and high winds put competitors on high alert in the closing hours.
The No. 888 Triple Eight Mercedes Evo of Jamie Whincup, Shane van Gisbergen and Maxi Goetz completed the podium in third, ahead of the No. 911 Absolute Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Matt Campbell.
Campbell made a late-race charge after going down a lap in the fourth hour due to a puncture and pit lane infraction for the pole-sitting Porsche.
Engel was relegated to fifth in the end, with fuel mileage strategy not paying off for Thomas Preining, who brought the second Absolute Porsche home in seventh.
Grove Porsche Takes Pro-Am Class Honors
Stephen and Brenton Grove and Ben Barker claimed top class honors in GT3 Pro-Am, giving Grove Racing victory in its GT3 endurance racing debut.
Barker edged out the No. 12 NED Racing Team Porsche of Romain Dumas, Jaxon Evans and David Calvert-Jones, which finished second in class.
The No. 4 Grove Porsche took over the class lead when the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes hit differential issues in the eighth hour.
Silver class honors, meanwhile, went to the No. 59 59Racing hMcLaren of Dominic Storey, Fraser Ross and Martin Kodric, which finished 8th overall.
Other class winners included the No. 91 Scandia Racing by Racer Industries MARC II of Aaron Cameron, Broc Feeney and Nick Percat (Invitational) and the No. 13 RHC Jorgensen/Strom BMW M4 GT4 driven by Daren Jorgensen, Brett Strom and Danny van Dongen (GT4).
RESULTS: Bathurst 12H