Kenny Habul said that he was “thankful” after winning the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour with his SunEnergy1 Racing outfit at a track with close personal connotations.
The Australian Bronze-rated driver teamed up with Luca Stolz, Jules Gounon and Martin Konrad to win Sunday’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli round sharing a Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo run with assistance from Triple Eight.
Habul, who is the CEO of the U.S.-based SunEnergy1 solar power company, owns a property on the Conrod Straight and spectated race events at Bathurst supporting his motorsport idol Peter Brock.
He finished second overall at Bathurst in 2018 but this year’s race offered his best opportunity to win due to the elimination of all-professional lineups in a one-off measure.
“I’m just thankful for this race, thankful for the track and thankful for the town,” Habul said.
“I’m thankful for the history that makes this so special.
“There are some tracks that you go to and they’re fast, but they just don’t have the history that this place has. It’s dynamic, interesting, elusive and all these things.
“It’s hard to get a good lap. You see over the years in the 12 Hour how many of the best drivers in the world crash. They don’t crash at Spa, but they crash here.
“It’s just one of those places that is so difficult to go quick at. I’m super happy.”
Habul recalled watching Brock win the Bathurst 1000 in past years and relished being able to emulate someone who had helped him earlier in life.
“I had a rough upbringing and had to leave home,” he said. “I had to leave to Melbourne and he took me in with his race teams, and I basically just swept floors and washed wheels.
“He and Bev [Brock] always checked on me. When everyone went home and no one was around, I jumped in the race car. I just sat there and, as a kid with dreams, he was the ultimate.
“I was here in ’87, I was 14 years old, and he finished third but ended up winning when the others were disqualified. I actually own that car now, the No. 10 [Holden].”
Habul and his co-drivers won the 12 Hour without benefiting from rivals being disqualified, but the No. 75 Mercedes-AMG did not reach the end without setbacks.
Stolz took the opening stint while Habul was soon in the car to grind down his 180-minute seat time requirement, but this put him behind the wheel through some of the wet weather that affected the opening three hours of the race.
The 48-year-old described the track conditions in that phase as “atrocious” as he struggled to get the Mercedes-AMG up to relative pace.
Habul then incurred two separate drive-through penalties for overtaking cars before the demarcation line whilst lining up for different safety car restarts.
After that, the SunEnergy1 Racing crew “fought all day” to recover the lost ground and reach its winning position.
“It was as wet as I’ve ever seen it,” Habul said, describing the uncharacteristic rainy conditions at Mount Panorama.
“We had the wrong pressures so I was really struggling for a couple of laps. They brought me in and switched me to another wet weather tire, and it was a little better.
“When the rain stopped or became a bit less, my times got pretty good. I was happy with the way I drove.
“I made a couple of mistakes with passing before the line: I see a green flag and I go. That was my mistake, so I put us behind. And then we just fought all day.”
Habul praised the efforts of Gounon, Maro Engel and Shane van Gisbergen who drove the final stints in the SunEnergy1, Craft-Bamboo and Triple Eight Mercedes-AMGs.
“Everyone just drove incredible,” he said.
“I was more impressed with all three drivers than I’ve ever been. That was a display of the best guys in the world, in equal equipment, just sparring tenth for tenth.
“It’s one thing to go out in quali and do one lap: these guys did two hours of quali laps, all three of them. I was really, really impressed.”