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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Bathurst Drivers Excited for Pro Return Despite Modest Entry

Drivers happy to see Pro category return to Bathurst 12H despite modest car count…

Photo: Kevin Pecks/SRO

Drivers competing in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour are excited to see the Pro class return after three years and expect a “tough” race despite a modest eight-car entry.

‘Class A Pro’ last appeared at Mount Panorama in 2020 as a 20-car field, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and impacted the ability of overseas teams to commit.

After canceling the 2021 race, event organizer Supercars last year made Pro-Am the top category in response to a continued lack of all-professional entries.

A slight increase in overseas commitments from the likes of BMW M Team WRT, Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing and Manthey, supporting local team EMA, has resulted in Pro being reinstated this year and all-factory driver lineups returning.

While the car count is still significantly lower than in previous editions, drivers who took part in past Bathurst Pro battles are viewing it as a case of quality over quantity .

“It’s always great to have a lot of cars in the field, but it looks like we have a lot of strong Pro cars here,” Audi Sport Team MPC driver Christopher Haase told Sportscar365.

“Definitely it will be a very tough race from the first hour until the last. The competition, because of less traffic, will be even stronger in terms of pure performance.

“It will be more intense, even for the cars. When you constantly run on the maximum performance of the car and you’re not slowed down by traffic, this uses more of the car’s reliability.

“The most important thing is that after COVID, three years ago, most of us haven’t been here. We know the track, but you still need your time to come back.”

BMW M Team WRT driver Augusto Farfus reckons the modest 26-car overall entry could lead to fewer safety cars and a fast, continuous pace at the head of the field.

Last year’s Bathurst 12H, which had a smaller 20-car field made almost entirely of local teams, produced eight safety cars although three of those were due to fog.

“Pretty much every manufacturer has sent factory drivers,” Farfus told Sportscar365.

“There are probably only 10 or 12 really top cars, but all the big names from each manufacturer are here. This is a good indication that this thing is moving in the right [direction].

“It’s going to be fast. It’s not even about the Pro cars, but traffic. Now there are [fewer] cars it will be a 12-hour sprint race.

“It’s going to be challenging for us: it’s a physical track due to the heat. We might only have a few safety cars compared to the past.”

Two-time defending Bathurst winner Jules Gounon views the 2023 entry as a “step forward” from last year but acknowledged that a return to the Pro numbers of old could take some time.

“When we look at the 2020 edition, that was a crazy Pro lineup,” the Mercedes-AMG factory driver told Sportscar365.

“There were so many Pro cars from all over the world. Then COVID hit, and I think it hit a lot in Australia – the border was closed. So it’s going to take us a bit slowly to come back.

“But to come back as a Pro and not Pro-Am, I think it’s a great step forward. I think next year it’s going to increase again. Once you race in the mountain, you don’t want to race anything else.”

Gounon’s SunEnergy1 Racing co-driver Luca Stolz added: “It’s a shame that there are not as many entries as there used to be. It was Bentley, McLaren, Porsche, BMW, Audi… with two or three Pro cars [each]

“But I think it’s getting better and I still think it’s one of the best races in the world. It’s good to have the Pro cars back for a proper fight.”

Porsche factory driver Matt Campbell, who won at Bathurst in 2019, added that it was “a bit of a shame” to see the grid dwindle last year but also took positives from the event being held and then moving back to a Pro class this time around.

“Hopefully when we get around to next year there will be a lot more Pro cars and a bigger focus again,” said the Australian.

“There’s nothing wrong for this year, that’s for sure. We’ve got some fantastic entries and cars in the race.

“It’s still a big race and big focus, because there are some fantastic lineups. I think anyone can win it.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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