SunEnergy1 Racing is seeking a ‘new challenge’ of racing in the outright pro class at this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, as the Kenny Habul-led effort seeks back-to-back overall wins in the famed Australian GT3 enduro.
Habul, Jules Gounon and Luca Stolz teamed with Martin Konrad to win last year’s postponed race in a Triple Eight-supported Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, which didn’t see Pro class entries on the Mountain.
While faced with all-pro lineups for the first time since 2020, the U.S.-based Australian has opted to step up to the top class, while retaining his Mercedes-AMG factory co-drivers from 2022.
Such a move allows for greater flexibility in drive time requirements, with Habul, as the team’s only Bronze-rated driver, would have been required to complete a minimum of three hours of drive time in the race had he been contesting the Pro-Am division.
Per Bathurst 12H regulations, there is no minimum drive time for Bronze drivers competing in Pro, although Habul will need to complete at least 40 minutes of the race should both Gounon and Stolz max out their 340-minute maximum drive time.
“I wanted to go in Pro,” Habul told Sportscar365. “I know I’m discriminating against myself but I want to give it a chance. My times are pretty good here.
“Sometimes people say things about Pro-Am so let’s just try overall. What’s the difference?
“Really you can still win it as a Pro-Am [driver lineup]; it doesn’t really make any difference.
“Having won the Pro-Am last year, I wanted to try for the [Pro] win. I only have to do a stint or two.
“I think if I stay out of trouble and everyone stays out of trouble, we’re going to be there in the end.”
Gounon, who is seeking his third consecutive Bathurst 12H win, said they’ll need to “maximize everything” with the Mercedes, which is being run by by the 24 Hours of Spa-winning Akkodis-ASP operation this time around.
“I think we have all our chances,” he told Sportscar365.
“Kenny showed great pace last year – I don’t know if it’s because of his connection to the track, but he was quick and not at the pace of a Bronze.
“This year, when the opportunity came to do it in Pro, Kenny took the challenge. And he said, ‘Let’s go boys, we’re going to do it.’ That’s our challenge
“I really had a great race last year with Kenny, Luca and Martin. We’re trying to win, but when you think too much it doesn’t go well.
“Our plan is to enjoy it because every year when you go the mountain it’s a privileged moment.”
Habul has previously fought for Pro class honors at Mount Panorama, having teamed with Jamie Whincup, Tristan Vautier and Raffaele Maricello for a runner-up overall finish in the 2018 race.
This year’s event, however, prohibits four-driver lineups in the top class.
“Kenny finished second in 2018, so I think if he gets his driving time done early and me and Jules alternate quickly, we still have a chance,” Stolz said.
“[ASP] is supporting us with a brand-new car. I think we will have a good shot.
“The team was really successful in Europe and are really used to the Pirelli tire, so I think we have a really strong package.”
Habul added: “Luca and Jules are as good as anyone out there. On the other hand you have a lot more of the heroes that have come out of the woodwork.
“There’s always extra pressure because we won it and they expect you to win it again but it’s hard. It will be much harder this year than last year.
“There’s big contingents from Audi, BMW, so we’ll see.”
Bathurst Hat-Trick Prospects Not Fazing Gounon
Gounon said he’s not thinking about the possibility of becoming the event’s first three-time overall winner, in what could occur in consecutive editions dating back to the last Pro class-eligible race in 2020 with Bentley.
“Already winning twice at Mount Panorama is something I’m really proud of,” Gounon said. “This racetrack is something that really makes you humble.
“I will always remember my first impressions of the racetrack in the Bentley, with two legends Guy Smith and Steven Kane. I was 21 [years old].
“I asked Guy, ‘How do you know you’re close to the wall?’ Because it was my first time driving on the right-hand side.
“He said, ‘Look, Jules. When you go close to the wall, the door is going to open from the chassis and you’re going to see the sun.’
“I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’ This guy is bullshitting me – he’s teasing me. And I had one moment during practice when I went close to the wall and thought I was going to touch it.
“Suddenly, I saw the sun through the window because the door was opening. I thought, ‘Oh shoot!’ Guy Smith was right!’ And the whole race I was looking for the sun to [know I was] going close to the wall.
“Only on this track can you have this kind of experience where you have to be so humble of the place and respect it so much.
“Every time I arrive to Bathurst, I try to talk to the tarmac: ‘Take care of me, protect me and please give us good luck.’ It worked the last few years.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report