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David Malsher-Lopez

Bathurst 12Hr: Van Gisbergen’s Mercedes leads after first quarter

GruppeM Racing’s polesitter Maro Engel led away from pole chased by Maxi Goetz in the similar Mercedes AMG GT3 of Supercheap Auto Racing, Thomas Priening’s Manthey Porsche 911 GT3R, Luca Stolz in the SunEnergy1 Mercedes, Augusto Farfus in the WRT BMW M4.

This quintet separated themselves from the pack over the opening eight laps, so that after 25minutes, Liam Talbot’s MPC Audi R8 ran sixth but 20sec off the lead, pursued by Phil Ellis, standing in for the injured Lucas Auer in the Craft Bamboo Mercedes, and Dries Vanthoor’s WRT BMW. However, just before the half-hour mark, Vanthoor demoted Ellis to claim seventh, and just after 30mins, Vanthoor grabbed sixth from Talbot. Now he had to try to close the 20sec gap to fifth place.

Not far behind, Duvashen Padayache’s Valmont Racing Mercedes punted Christopher Haase’s works Audi, damaging the right-rear and sending its left-rear into the wall.

Frederic Vervisch in the FUCHS Audi and Ricardo Feller’s Bend Motorsport Park Mercedes were impressing, demoting Talbot and Ellis by Lap 15, to move into seventh and eighth respectively, but Feller then passed Vervisch to become the top of the Pro-Am cars, and move onto the tail of Vanthoor, who was now 33sec off the front.

Up front, after 50mins, Engel had edged 4.5sec away from Goetz who had 1.5sec on Priening’s Porsche, which was a similar margin ahead of Stolz, who had the same advantage over Farfus. But 10mins later, the picture had shifted a tad, Priening dropping into the clutches of Stolz, who seemed eager to make it a Mercedes 1-2-3.

Vervisch was the first driver in the top 10 to duck into the pits, on Lap 29, but he stayed on board the FUCHS Audi. Feller and Ellis stopped two laps later, Feller handing off to Yasser Shahin, but Ellis remaining in the driving seat.

Vanthoor went to Lap 33 before stopping, followed in by Wall and Talbot. Talbot handed off to Chaz Mostert, but sadly the Supercars ace breached the pit exit line while struggling on cold tires, and was issued a drive-through penalty.

Goetz pitted on Lap 34 while lying 5.5sec behind Engel, and Priening also pitted to let Mathieu Jaminet in. When Engel stopped the following lap, Mikael Grenier took over the #999 Mercedes. By the time the cars were up to speed again, Grenier’s lead was out to nine seconds, but despite Goetz double-stinting his tires, he started closing down the gap.

SunEnergy1 replaced Stolz with team owner Kenny Habul, and got him out 10sec ahead of the Manthey Porsche, but he was now 25sec off the lead, and inevitably Jaminet, Maxime Martin – who had replaced Farfus in the WRT BMW M4 – and Vervisch started closing him down. Charles Weerts had replaced Vanthoor in the other WRT car and ran seventh, 25sec ahead of Shahin and Ellis, who on Lap 40 swapped places.

Jaminet passed Habul for third on Lap 40 but lay 27sec behind Goetz who had gotten his deficit to Grenier down to two seconds, while Martin and Vervisch were ahead of Habul on Lap 41, and locked in battle with each other. Weerts got around Habul on Lap 44, while Vervisch slotted his Audi ahead of Martin’s BMW just one lap later.

Mostert’s recovery from his penalty was mesmerizing, and he was up to 10th at the 1hr45min mark, and closing on leaders Grenier and Goetz – who were only half a second apart – to try and get his Audi back on the lead lap. He threw it down the inside of Goetz on Lap 51 braking into The Chase, and set his sights on Grenier. Next time by, Mostert got by the leader at the same spot and headed off to try and make up a whole lap and places. Before, the two-hour mark he was past Shahin and into ninth, but the gap ahead to Ellis in eighth was 40sec.

Meanwhile, Jaminet had also started closing on Grenier and Goetz, and his deficit was only 17sec, when Vervisch pitted the #55 FUCHS Audi from fourth to hand over to Brad Schumacher.

The first full course yellow flew at the 2hr08min mark for Stephen Grove shunting his Porsche at Skyline. Under the Safety Car, Grenier stopped and stayed aboard, Shane van Gisbergen replaced Goetz in the #888 car, Matt Campbell took over from Jaminet in the #912 Porsche and MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi took over the #46 WRT BMW M4.

Gruppe M was a lap late to get Grenier in, so the long-time leading car dropped to sixth, behind van Gisbergen in the lead, Campbell, Rossi and Weerts in the two WRT BMWs and Habul. Mostert handed the MPC Audi back to Liam Talbot to get the amateur’s drive-time nearer completion, and he came out in seventh.

The green flag on Lap 63, came at 2hr28min, and Campbell dragged past van Gisbergen but the Supercars ace’s Mercedes was back in front by the time they reached The Cutting. Behind, Grenier got past Habul, who would have to serve a drive-through penalty for crossing the pit exit blend line. He also had brief off before he served his penalty, and that allowed Talbot into sixth.

Next time by, Habul stopped yet again, ceding the wheel to Jules Gounon.

Campbell was hanging onto the rear wing of van Gisbergen like a terrier on a tennis ball, his purpose aided by traffic. Their battle pulled them seven seconds clear of the BMWs of Rossi and Weerts, the latter of whom was under heavy pressure from Grenier.

After three hours, the Valmont Racing Mercedes of Cameron led the Silver-rated category, between the second and third Pro-Am cars of Christopher Mies (The Bend Audi) and Jamie Whincup (Boost Mobile Racing Mercedes).

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