Team NZ Motorsport endured the toughest imaginable debut in the famous Bathurst 12 Hour but with a mix of sheer dogged perseverance and an equally big helping of good fortune we came away with a superb third place in Class B (GT3 Cup).
As the checkered flag fluttered in the late Sunday afternoon sunshine bathing Mt. Panorama Circuit we had pulled off the biggest turnaround imaginable and the celebrations in our garage were just as wild and enthusiastic as anywhere else in the paddock.
What a truly amazing weekend. One of our drivers commented after the race: “This must be the craziest third place in the history of Bathurst” – and that really summed up our day perfectly.
We actually made a late entry to the Bathurst 12 Hour, the decision only being taken in the wake of December’s Sepang 12 Hours, and that meant we had a huge amount of work to do when we arrived in the paddock mid last week. With plenty of raw Bathurst ‘rookies’ in the cockpit, including new drivers to our ‘endurance’ roster, the four lengthy free practice sessions were very important and everything went well.
Where it went all wrong however was during the qualifying session as the car suffered a major impact with the barriers in the mountain section and after diagnosing that it was potentially repairable we had a time hurdle to overcome, thanks to the scheduled 0545 start for the race, which meant there were much more limited hours available between qualifying and the lights turning green than at most other races.
The crew was immediately locked into a race against the clock to repair the Porsche ready for the early Sunday morning start time. They worked flat out through Saturday evening and into the night before finally finishing with just twenty minutes to spare.
We enjoyed fantastic support from within the paddock and from local companies in our attempt to get the car rebuilt and in particular thanks go to Michael Newton and his mechanics, who helped with the gearbox, and the enthusiastic chassis/bodywork experts from TAFE. Without the assistance we received when our backs were to the wall we certainly wouldn’t have made the race. Our team partners also rallied round to help us, Completion Products, Asia Pacific Spiral, Nakd Water and Motosure, their assistance was invaluable as our small, close knit team battled against the odds to repair the car.
The ‘997’ was literally finished with 20 minutes to spare before then being dropped off the jacks and refueled. Thus in the pitch darkness of the iconic Mount Panorama Circuit shortly after five o’clock in the morning the #77 car gunned its way out of the pit lane and round to the grid to resounding cheers from a crew that hadn’t yet slept a wink. Certainly, the car didn’t look pretty, but we were out there on the grid and really in that moment we had already scored a big victory from our first visit to Bathurst.
Nick Foster, who had been drafted into the cockpit at the very last minute to deputise for team core driver, Graeme Dowsett, who had been forced to step down due to an injury, was in for the first stint and he did a superb job, keeping it all clean and tidy at the start (which took place in the darkness of the night on a track with very limited lighting) and then steadily working his way up from our P4 grid slot despite driving a car that hadn’t been fully setup and clearly had issues associated with the ‘race against time’ repairs.
By the 1 hour 20 minute mark as a stunning blood-red sunrise hung over Mount Panorama the 23-year-old, who is the reigning Porsche Carrera Cup Australia champion, had worked his way up to second place and he then handed over to John Curran for the second stint of the race. The Irishman settled straight into the pace but after half an hour of his stint he pitted with transmission problems and they proved to be terminal. Our primary gearbox had been badly damaged during the qualifying incident so we had no further spare units and there was also no availability in the paddock. We had been stopped dead in our tracks.
However, despite having niggling transmission concerns of their own, Class B race leaders, Grove Racing, late in the race sourced us a replacement transmission and we were finally able to return to the action for the closing hour and a half. We really have to thank Grove Racing for their spirit of sportsmanship in making the unit available to us, without them it would have been an early and disappointing exit and also we would like to congratulate them on their richly deserved Class B (GT3 Cup) victory.
Over the closing laps John handed over to Craig Smith who brought the car safely to the checkered flag. Sensationally, during the dying minutes of the race the running order in Class B dramatically evolved as rival cars dropped out and our perseverance, along with the Bathurst 12 Hour regulations that allow all cars to be classified if they pass the checkered flag, we moved up to an incredible P3 at the finish.
The scenes of utter jubilation from the weary and sleepless team members hanging on the pitwall as Craig brought the battered car over the line really summed up just what we had gone through. An incredible experience from an incredible race on an incredible racetrack, we really wanted to race here and certainly we left overjoyed. For certain also we will be back to the Bathurst 12 Hour in the future.