After teaming up for GTD Pro class honors in last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Dani Juncadella are seeking a unique endurance double in this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, although this time, only can emerge victorious.
That’s because the Mercedes-AMG factory drivers, who shared WeatherTech Racing’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo with Cooper MacNeil just five days ago, are each in separate GT3 Pro class entries for the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season opener, in what Engel said has been a “weird feeling.”
Engel, the inaugural Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy winner in 2014, is tackling Bathurst with fellow works drivers Mikael Grenier and Raffaele Marciello, who both also traveled from Daytona, sharing the No. 999 GruppeM Racing entry.
“It’s a weird feeling, to be honest, with the three of us being in different cars, which is rare,” Engel told Sportscar365.
“But I guess it’s funny throughout the week and still today, you’re sort of pinching ourselves and say, ‘Hey guys, we won Daytona together’ and that’s an awesome feeling.
“I’m sure we’ll each do the best for our respective teams and hopefully at the end on Sunday afternoon, one of us can hold the winner’s trophy.”
Gounon, who is with SunEnergy1 Racing alongside Luca Stolz and Kenny Habul this weekend, holds the chance of becoming a three-time Bathurst 12H winner, after winning the 2020 and 2022 editions overall with Bentley Team M-Sport and SunEnergy1, respectively.
The Andorra-based Frenchman, however, will also face competition from Juncadella, who is in Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Mercedes with Philip Ellis and Nicky Catsburg.
“It’s another part of being a factory driver is that one weekend we win an amazing race together — one of the four biggest 24-hour races in the world — and the weekend after we’re going to fight very hard on track for winning one of the iconic races in the world,” Gounon told Sportscar365.
“It’s always kind of difficult because we are really close friends. Then when you need to do big moves it’s always kind of tricky.
“Hopefully we can be in front and we don’t have to do the big moves.”
Juncadella said: “The last time I got split up with Jules, it didn’t end up very well and he ended up crashing into me! I’ve warned him to chill!”
“It’s also fun. IGTC is a very cool series because you get to be shuffled up a bit. It’s just natural what happens with this series and so many races far away.
“For this race, I have some good guys next to me.”
Engel and Juncadella were co-drivers at Bathurst last year, finishing second with Kevin Tse in Craft-Bamboo’s entry in what was a Pro-Am enforced race.
The German driver, along with reigning IGTC champion Juncadella, are both seeking their first Bathurst victories in what has particularly eluded Engel over the years after having a number of standout drives on the mountain.
“It was a great race and a great week for us in Daytona,” he said. “Now we’re here in Bathurst, always one of the most special races of the year, a race I haven’t won.
“Obviously I really hope this can be the year.
“There’s been some highs and lows here, a few times where we had the opportunity to get it done but you just can’t plan these things here.
“The only way forward is to be as motivated as always, put our best foot forward, try to run a strong race and hope that it’s good enough at the end of the 12 hours.”
Juncadella Hoping to Defend IGTC Title
While not yet confirmed, Juncadella is hopeful to be in a position to defend his IGTC championship but told Sportscar365 that his status for the Kyalami 9 Hour remains unclear.
Unlike last year where a drop score was put into place by organizer SRO Motorsports Group, points from all five rounds of the globe-trotting GT3 series will count in the Pro class.
“That’s the main goal but I think Kyalami is not sure yet,” Juncadella said “I don’t know how many cars are going to be there and the lineups or nothing. I hope I can. I’d like to defend the [IGTC title].
“We’ll see after Bathurst what happens. But that’s the goal.
“It would be great if most of us go there. I’ve never been there and I’d love to see that race grow because I’ve heard really good things about the track and so on.”