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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Pro-Am Format Gives “Different Character” to Bathurst

Drivers, team members opine on this year’s elimination of Pro lineups at Bathurst 12H…

Photo: Mark Horsburgh

The contingency measure of having Pro-Am as the top class at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour is set to give this weekend’s race a “different character”, with drivers and team figures in the paddock largely voicing support.

While Bathurst has produced some of the fiercest GT3 racing in recent times, all-professional Pro lineups were eliminated for this year to secure a grid for the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season-opener, with several international teams, drivers and manufacturers absent due to its May rescheduling.

A total of 15 GT3s and five cars from other categories are gearing up for Sunday’s race at Mount Panorama.

The top Pro-Am lineups combine a Bronze with two professionals, while Audi and Mercedes-AMG have brought factory drivers to support their customer teams.

“For this year, I think it was a good decision,” Mercedes-AMG works driver Maro Engel told Sportscar365.

“I think it was a challenge, in terms of planning security, for teams to commit.

“I think it made sense. I think it will definitely bring a bit of a different character to the event, in the sense that you have some of the best Bronzes in the world competing against each other, and the Pros doing that when it’s their time to get in the car.

“But it will still be a very challenging event, as always.”

Melbourne Performance Centre team boss Troy Russell, whose organization is running six of the seven Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo IIs on the grid, told Sportscar365 that enforcing Pro-Am rules was “the only way” the event could take place, from his perspective.

The MPC squad has fielded Pro cars with Audi Sport backing in previous Bathurst 12 Hour editions but is now incorporating some of its local customers into the setup.

Russell also suggested that the Pro-Am format could help to spur interest in Australian GT3 car sales for use in national racing.

“I think post-COVID it was the only way it was going to happen and we supported it based on that,” he said.

“It’s always good to have a full Pro category, and the Intercontinental probably needs to be that. That being said, I think it’s been well received.

“All the cars are owned by Ams, so they’re happy to bring Pros in with them.

“If you look at the caliber of drivers in the top 12 cars, we’ve got some really deep talent, which is really good. Clearly it would have been good to get another half a dozen cars to fill up the back of the grid nicely. But it is what it is, and we’ve got 20 so we’ll press on with that.

“Back to the Am thing, I’m not sure we’d like that next year, but I think there would be support for it to be like that next year from the Am drivers. But that’s above my paygrade.”

Bronze-rated driver Kenny Habul is very supportive of the contingency plan.

The U.S.-based Australian businessman and amateur racing driver was part of the SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG crew that finished second overall in 2018 and is now relishing the opportunity to have another crack at outright victory, this time against his fellow Bronzes.

“I think it’s exactly what should have been done,” Habul told Sportscar365.

“I think it’s a great idea and I love it. I think it’s a true reflection of what we have in life.

“There are plenty of drivers like me: I’ve been racing for 30 years and I happen to be a CEO of a large company, and that shouldn’t preclude me from wanting to win outright and to race in these events.

“It makes it hard if you don’t have something like the rules we have now. I was happy to hear it. It’s a good shot for us.”

Craft-Bamboo Racing team director Darryl O’Young believes the implementation of Pro-Am lineups in the top category will give a different ebb and flow to the racing.

“All the teams will be running with Bronze drivers who need to drive clean, smart races,” he said.

“That gives a fun aspect to this year’s race, adding a different element. Often with the works drivers, they’re all quite similar and consistent.

“It’s always nice to have a couple of changes. Macau has actually been nice going back to local racing. It’s been Pro with the World Cup, but it was a nice aspect to go back to its roots a bit.”

Grove Racing driver Ben Barker, meanwhile, added that amateur drivers “deserve a chance” to compete for the overall prize at the Bathurst 12 Hour.

The Grove squad is the reigning Pro-Am class winner and is now positioned to bid for a greater accolade with the same lineup of Barker, Stephen Grove and Brenton Grove that it fielded in 2020.

“It’s great for the Ams,” Barker told Sportscar365. “And it’s still going to be competitive: just as competitive as a Pro race.

“To have the opportunity to win overall is great for the Ams. They pump a lot of money into this game, and they deserve a chance to go outright.”

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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