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Intercontinental GT Challenge

SunEnergy1 Mercedes Wins Bathurst 12H Thriller

Gounon, Stolz, Habul go back-to-back at Bathurst 12H for SunEnergy1 Racing…

Photo: Mark Horsburgh

Jules Gounon held off Matt Campbell and Maro Engel in a nail-biting conclusion to win the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour for Mercedes-AMG squad SunEnergy1 Racing, which claimed back-to-back victories in the Australian enduro.

Gounon, who shared the No. 75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo with Luca Stolz and Kenny Habul, beat Campbell’s Manthey EMA Porsche 911 GT3 R to the line by just 0.9 seconds at the end of a record-breaking green flag run that lasted almost five hours.

Mercedes-AMG GruppeM Racing driver Engel chased Campbell to the checkered flag, as the top three finishers crossed the line within one-and-a-half seconds of each other.

Engel was on a recovery charge from a drive-through penalty after he spun fellow Mercedes-AMG factory driver Gounon into the Chase grass with less than 50 minutes to go.

Gounon assumed the lead at that point but faced pressure from Campbell, who in turn was being hunted down by Engel to set up a grandstand finish.

By holding off his two nearest pursuers, Gounon became the first driver to win three Bathurst 12 Hour races, which all have come in consecutive editions.

Campbell shared the No. 912 Porsche with Mathieu Jaminet and Thomas Preining, while Engel teamed up with Mikael Grenier and Raffaele Marciello.

A long strategic battle throughout the second half of the race came alive when SunEnergy1 elected to double stint Gounon’s final set of Pirelli tires.

That put the Andorran driver three seconds ahead of Engel, whose Mercedes had initially been around 30 seconds up the road until it lost all of its buffer when GruppeM was required to change the car’s data modem.

Engel immediately latched onto Gounon’s tail and looked set to find a way past at some point during the final hour of racing.

The German driver made a late-braking move into the Chase, only for his car’s right-front to strike Gounon’s left-rear and send the SunEnergy1 machine into the grass.

Gounon looked home and dry after Engel’s drive-through, however Campbell suddenly closed the gap to the No. 75 Mercedes, which was run by the Akkodis-ASP squad.

Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts finished 44 seconds down in fourth for BMW M Team WRT.

Both factory supported BMWs counted themselves among the front-runners during the opening half but their chances of challenging for the podium waned during the final green flag spell.

The Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes-AMG of Shane van Gisbergen, Broc Feeney and Maximilian Goetz finished fifth.

It led the race at certain points in the opening six hours, but a drive-through penalty for using a tool to adjust the rear wing dashed its chances of mixing for a podium with just over three hours to go.

Craft-Bamboo Racing was initially on course to complete the top five until Dani Juncadella spun exiting the Chase during the final stint.

The position fell to the Triple Eight crew when the Spanish driver pitted for hasty repairs to his No. 77 Mercedes’s front and rear.

Juncadella also dropped behind the No. 46 BMW of Augusto Farfus, Maxime Martin and Bathurst debutant Valentino Rossi, who had a trouble-free maiden race at the Mountain although the car made a trip to the garage due to faulty brake lights.

After returning to the track, Juncadella came under pressure from Chaz Mostert who made an overtake for seventh in the Pro-Am winning Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II.

Mostert, Liam Talbot and Fraser Ross won the Bronze driver-necessary class after the leading No. 777 Audi, also run by Melbourne Performance Centre, went for a late brake pad change that took longer than expected.

Audi’s challenge for outright honors was abruptly ended during the first hour, when MPC’s sole Pro-class entry was knocked into the Griffin’s Bend tire barriers by Valmont Racing’s Silver-class Mercedes.

Christopher Haase limped the No. 74 Audi back to the pits where it was immediately retired with extensive rear-end damage.

The Valmont car would later retire from the Silver lead when Aaron Cameron struck the left-side wall on the approach to the Dipper in hour four. The same spot also claimed the Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes in hour seven.

Both of those incidents contributed to two of the five safety car periods in total.

The first safety car occurred at the 5:45 a.m. race start, to enable drivers to get their Pirelli tires up to temperature in the cold pre-dawn conditions.

Stephen Grove’s accident at McPhillamy Park in his team’s Porsche produced another intervention, followed by the Cameron crash and a stoppage for the Nineteen Corporation Mercedes-AMG GT4.

The clean-up following Scott Taylor’s off was the last time that the safety car was seen, setting off an unbroken four hours, 45 minutes of racing that contributed to a new race distance record of 323 laps.

RESULTS: Bathurst 12H

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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