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Intercontinental GT Challenge

SunEnergy1 Wins Bathurst 12H in Mercedes-AMG Sweep

Gounon, Stolz, Habul, Konrad win Bathurst 12 Hour for SunEnergy1 Racing…

Photo: Mark Horsburgh

Jules Gounon, Luca Stolz, Kenny Habul and Martin Konrad won the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour for SunEnergy1 Racing to lead a 1-2-3 result for Mercedes-AMG entries.

Gounon brought the No. 75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo to the line 8.7 seconds ahead of Maro Engel in the No. 91 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG that also featured Daniel Juncadella and Kevin Tse.

The all-Mercedes podium was completed by the Triple Eight Race Engineering crew of Shane van Gisbergen, Broc Feeney and Prince Jefri Ibrahim, one minute and 35 seconds behind the winner.

The opening round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season was a battle between teams running Mercedes-AMG and Audi machinery after other manufacturers refrained from lending international support to the rescheduled event.

It was a Bathurst 12 Hour with a different feel to past editions, due to the predominantly national grid of teams and the elimination of all-professional driver lineups, as well as rule changes such as safety car wave-bys and an adapted qualifying format.

But the race still provided plenty of drama, courtesy of variable weather including fog at the start and rain at two stages that created tricky driving conditions at Mount Panorama.

There were also sporting twists, most notably a two-minute penalty that cost the Audi Sport Team Valvoline squad a shot at victory with three and a half hours to go.

Kelvin van der Linde led by more than a minute when he brought the No. 74 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II down pit road for what first appeared to be a routine pit stop, but turned into a long hold due to a miscalculation of Bronze-rated Brad Schumacher’s driving time.

The Melbourne Performance Centre-run Audi was then unable to regain its lost lap under the day’s eighth safety car because the wave-by option was removed due to slippery track conditions caused by light rain.

Van der Linde reeled off a series of quick laps, including the fastest of the race, in a bid to reclaim the ground himself but the deficit was too great to erase without the help of another safety car, which never came.

That turned attention onto which of the three Mercedes-AMGs would take the outright victory, with SunEnergy1 Racing assuming the lead when the Audi served its penalty.

With three hours to go, Stolz led Juncadella by around 17 seconds and that margin persisted until the penultimate stops took place around 45 minutes later.

After recovering from an off-track moment at Hell Corner, Engel reduced the gap to Gounon by a few seconds before the margin stabilized, while van Gisbergen sat around 50 seconds behind the pair as the outside bet.

The final round of pit stops took place at the end of the penultimate hour, with the Triple Eight-run SunEnergy1 entry losing nine seconds to Craft-Bamboo as all three of the contenders took a full set of slick tires.

Gounon entered the final stint with eight seconds in hand to Engel and managed to maintain that number over his fellow AMG factory ace to secure his second consecutive Bathurst 12 Hour accolade, after winning the 2020 race with Bentley Team M-Sport. 

It also marked SunEnergy1’s biggest GT racing triumph to date, after the outfit run by Australian businessman and amateur racer Habul operation finished second in 2018.

Two penalties early in the race for Habul overtaking under separate safety cars provided initial setbacks, but SunEnergy1 managed to work back into the frame.

There was also a notable recovery from Craft-Bamboo, which started from the back row of the grid due to an engine change that forced it to miss qualifying.

The only international team in the race pulled off an aggressive pit stop strategy to complete its nine mandatory 120-second timed stops long before anyone else, giving it more strategic flexibility in the second half.

Van der Linde shared fourth place with Schumacher and Nathanael Berthon, with the top Audi finishing three laps ahead of the Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo of Tony D’Alberto, David Wall, Adrian Deitz and Grant Denyer in fifth.

Lee Holdsworth, Dean Fiore and Marc Cini took sixth in the No. 9 Hallmarc Audi.

Holdsworth’s fellow reigning Bathurst 1000 winner Chaz Mostert, who claimed the Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy on Saturday afternoon, endured a tough afternoon with his Coinspot Audi co-drivers Liam Talbot and Fraser Ross.

Mechanical issues in the sixth hour dropped the No. 65 car out of podium contention, before Ross scraped the wall at Skyline in hour eight, resulting in right-rear damage.

The No. 777 Audi Sport Team Valvoline crew of Markus Winkelhock, Ricardo Feller and Yasser Shahin also had a hard day, with two penalties and a long pit stop to solve the effects of a right-rear contributing to a six-lap loss on the leaders.

Feller took the checkered flag in seventh, one place ahead of the Team BRM Audi driven by Nick Percat, who led the race on three hours due to some smart pit calls, as well as Joey Mawson and Mark Rosser.

The highest-finishing Am-class entry was the No. 47 Supabarn Audi that raced as a replacement chassis following an accident for the original car during practice.

Theo Koundouris, James Koundouris, David Russell and Paul Stokell put together a reliable run in their MPC-run machine, as did the Cup class-winning quartet of Craig Lowndes, Geoff Emery, Scott Taylor and Alex Davison whose entry was raising money and awareness for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

RESULTS: Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour

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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