Valentino Rossi said he enjoyed turning his first laps around the “very difficult and very technical” Mount Panorama Circuit in practice for his Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour debut.
The seven-time MotoGP top-category world champion is discovering the 3.861-mile Australian track for the first time in the No. 46 Team WRT BMW M4 GT3.
Rossi topped the second practice session, which was reserved for Bronze-rated drivers, although he was allowed to take part as a Bathurst 12H rookie with an FIA Silver rating.
The 43-year-old Italian, who completed 14 laps in Practice 2, told Sportscar365 during a group interview that he enjoyed his first laps of the mountain in the BMW, which he has only raced once before.
“The track is very impressive,” he said. “It’s something different. I feel good with the car and have good grip, so I can push.
“It’s very difficult and very technical, but also you have great fun. Especially in all the fast parts on the mountain and when you come down.
“Every lap you want to make a little bit more, but it’s difficult because the walls are there.
“You also have to take a bit of margin because if you make a mistake, it’s a big problem. But it’s a great track.”
Rossi stated that he didn’t have any early scrapes with the walls at the top of the mountain and jested that “I always keep five centimeters” between the No. 46 BMW and the concrete perimeter.
He described the section between Reid Park and McPhillamy Park, and the subsequent rollercoaster leading towards Forrest’s Elbow, as highlights of the Mount Panorama lap.
“The best part, for me, is after Turn 5 when you enter Turn 6,” he said.
“The fast part that you go right-left-left-left on the top. But also the first part of the downhill is great. You have the snake and arrive to the bottom.
“It’s good because it’s two different tracks. Here it’s a normal track that is very fast and fun. The mountain is different.”
Rossi is best known to Australian motorsport as the most successful rider at the nation’s MotoGP Grand Prix, which he won eight times. This weekend marks his first outing at Mount Panorama, although he has driven the track extensively in the virtual world.
“We always play in the sim and Mount Panorama is one of the mythical tracks,” Rossi said.
“From the PlayStation to iRacing now, I have made a lot of laps. Sincerely, the preparation for the sim is good if you don’t see the track. You arrive and know more or less where the gears and lines are.
“I’m very happy to be back in Australia because I spent a lot of time here, mainly in Phillip Island. I have great memories. The fans are great and like motorsport a lot.
“Being in Mount Panorama after 20 years on the sim is an emotion when you see the track for the first time. It’s a very high-level race with lots of drivers and cars that are fast.”
Rossi Feels He “Can be Stronger” in BMW Than Audi
Team WRT switched from Audi to BMW machinery over the winter and Rossi followed the Belgian squad to its new manufacturer after one season in Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS.
Rossi has tested the M4 GT3 at Barcelona and Paul Ricard and made his race debut in the car at last month’s Hankook 24H Dubai. Although he is still adapting, Rossi feels he “can be stronger” in the BMW than he was in the Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II last year.
His best GTWC Europe Endurance Cup result was fifth at the Paul Ricard 1000km and the 3 Hours of Hockenheim.
“I feel very good in the BMW from the first time,” he said.
“For me, the Audi has very good potential, but it’s a difficult car for a guy like me that doesn’t have a lot of experience.
“With the Audi, you are always at the limit. With the BMW, it’s a different car but when you drive it’s like you have a bit more margin.
“For me, it’s a good step. I think I can be stronger in this car.”