Maro Engel said he “didn’t dream” that he could have broken the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour qualifying lap record, with the German driver re-writing the record books with a pole-winning lap for the Intercontinental GT Challenge season opener.
The German driver recorded a series of three fast laps in the Top 10 Shootout, with two of them ultimately good enough for pole.
Engel jumped to the top of the time charts in the 15-minute session by initially recording a 2:01.253 lap in his No. 999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo before improving to a 2:01.089 the following lap.
He then dipped into the two-minute barrier on his final flying lap, recording a 2:00.881.
All three times beat the previous event qualifying lap record of 2:01.286, held by Shane van Gisbergen in 2016 in a Tekno Motorsports McLaren 650S GT3.
“The car has just been amazingly hooked up especially today, but even yesterday, the car felt good,” Engel told Sportscar365. “I didn’t dream we could break into those lap times.
“It’s just fantastic. A big thanks to my teammates for the trust. I’m happy I gave them back the car without any scratches or anything missing off it.
“It’s just an amazing feeling pushing a GT3 car on new tires and low fuel around this place. It’s just incredible.”
Engel believes that a combination of Pirelli’s DHF tire, which is being introduced in Australia for the first time this weekend, as well as cooler ambient temperatures helped lead to the considerably faster times.
“I think it’s the combination,” he said. “We know the tire is faster but obviously the pole time was close to two and a half seconds quicker than last year.
“For some reason, in amazing conditions, it’s allowing really fast lap times, which from a drivers’ point of view is always amazing when you feel that grip.
“Like I said, I didn’t expect it because the last time the record set, it was just after it was resurfaced. Tracks tend to lose some grip and in recent years it hasn’t been so quick.
“Today was obviously amazing.”
Engel, who will share driving duties with fellow Mercedes-AMG factory drivers Raffaele Maricello and Mikael Grenier, said tomorrow’s around-the-clock enduro could be a different story with full stint pace differing from single lap pace.
“I think we have a very strong car but it’s a long race,” he said. Clearly the aim is to try and win this race tomorrow. We’ll have to see how things play out in terms of race pace.
“Clearly on qualifying trim the car was amazing and hopefully we can make the right tweaks to make sure it’s amazing in race trim as well.
“Today we were really quick but we do see often a pattern when we lose more than other cars when we fill the tank.
“We are expecting other cars to be very quick when it comes to race pace.
“That’s something we need to expect, to have big challenges from Porsche, also BMW, even if they seemed a bit behind us today. I definitely wouldn’t count them out.”
Feeney: “Privilege” to Qualify Triple Eight Mercedes
Broc Feeney said he was honored to have been given the call to qualify the No. 888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes instead of his more experienced co-drivers Shane van Gisbergen and Maxi Goetz.
The 20-year-old Supercars driver for Triple Eight put the car second on the grid, thanks to a 2:01.098 lap time that was only two-tenths slower than Engel’s pole-winning time.
“It’s pretty scary seeing that number come up on the dash,” he said.
“Normally you do 2:04s around here in Supercars, so to see a low 2:01 come up is pretty cool.
“This guy next to me [Engel] is doing a ripper job and I’m trying pretty hard to catch him. We closed the gap from qualifying to the shootout.
“I was a little bit disappointed initially when they said it was nine-thousandths or whatever, but he did another great job on the last lap. Overall, happy. Starting P2 at the 12 Hour is pretty exciting.”
When asked by Sportscar365 on how he ended up taking part in the shootout, Feeney said: “This morning, Roland [Dane, team boss] said rock, paper, scissors to see who’s going to qualify.
“After Practice 5 this morning, we didn’t know [who would qualify]. Even after Practice 6 it changed.
“We’re all very even this weekend, which is good. Trying to get each driver a similar amount of laps has been quite hard, but it’s a privilege to drive such a nice car and represent these couple of guys in qualifying.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report