Kenny Habul believes Jules Gounon “made the difference” in his closing double stint that delivered back-to-back overall Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour victories to SunEnergy1 Racing.
Habul, Gounon and Luca Stolz came out on top following a frantic conclusion to the Australian enduro that saw late-race contact between Gounon and the No. 999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo of Maro Engel while battling for the lead.
The Andorran driver recovered from the spin to re-take the lead as Engel was served a drive-through penalty, and held off a challenge from the No. 912 Manthey EMA Porsche 911 GT3 R of Matt Campbell for the historic win.
“These guys, they carried the car, they did the bulk of the driving,” Habul said. “Luca was incredible.
“We double stinted quite a bit, myself included on the tires. It was difficult for me in the morning with the sun, I couldn’t see much.
“That drive in the end from Jules was just incredible.
“I’m sorry for Maro [Engel] and Mik [Grenier]. We’re all good friends and we don’t hold any grudges. They were out to win and to be honest we wanted them to win. We were happy [Maro] won last week.
“But this was our day. I just think in the end it was so difficult but Jules made the difference. Those times he was putting in on old tires, the Porsche was coming and Maro did really well to catch back up.
“I think in three more laps Maro would have gotten both of them. It was an amazing comeback.”
Habul, who became the first Bronze-rated driver to win an Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli race overall in a Pro class, completed a stint-and-a-half in the iconic No. 75 Mercedes early on.
It came amid a strategic race for the Akkodis-ASP-run squad, which was off-sequence on pit stops due to the majority of the race being completed by the alternating pair of Mercedes-AMG factory drivers Gounon and Stolz, who had to juggle drive time rules.
“We had a plan, but you obviously don’t know when the yellows are coming, but we had a plan for when they came and if they didn’t come,” said Habul.
“I was scheduled to do more time in the car. My times were good and I was keeping up with the leaders when I had new tires. I was happy and I wanted to do more.
“In the end it didn’t work out that way.
“To be honest, [the credit goes to] the clever people… Akkodis-ASP is a very special team. They won the 24 Hours of Spa and Markus, our engineer, is probably one of the best for AMG.”
Habul admitted they likely wouldn’t have won if a data logger malfunction did not befell Engel’s Mercedes, which required a longer-than-normal final pit stop that put Gounon ahead.
“Maro’s team is just as good,” he said. “Sometimes things fall your way and sometimes they don’t.
“Like I said, if it wasn’t for that data logger issue they probably would have won the race.
“It was an incredible drive in the end from Maro and I know how hard it is for Mik, [his] first time here, he did really well.”
Gounon, meanwhile, became the first three-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner and one of only five drivers that have won three consecutive races at Mount Panorama across any event held at the historic circuit.
“We’re going to have to go back again, which is good news,” he said. “I didn’t think about the record or anything. This place is so humble.
“I got hammered in quali, four-tenths by Maro, and it put me back in my shoes.
“At this place when you’re not in a good day… Today I was feeling sh** in the car.
“That’s what we love about this place. You need to respect the track, respect the history and when you drive flat-out through the walls with Maro hunting you down or Matty Campbell, it’s a difficult feeling.
“I don’t have so much hair but every race here I for sure even lose more!”
Stolz added: “I lost some hair as well in the last stint because it was really close fighting. It was awesome to watch for everybody.
“In the end we made it. The Akkodis guys did really nice, a really risky strategy call.
“In the end we’re on the top step so I’m obviously really happy and really proud that Kenny sets up the team every year. I hope we try again next year.”