Bathurst kicks off Intercontinental GT Challenge 2024

Bathurst kicks off Intercontinental GT Challenge 2024

BMW, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche aiming for fast start to four-round global series

 

In GT racing circles February means just one thing: Repco Bathurst 12 Hour! One of the world’s great race tracks hosts the Intercontinental GT Challenge season opener this weekend when BMW and Porsche take on reigning champions Mercedes-AMG at Mount Panorama.

 

Defending IGTC drivers’ champion Jules Gounon is also in Australia hoping to score a fourth consecutive Bathurst victory, as well as his third alongside Kenny Habul and Luca Stolz at SunEnergy1. But repeating arguably the event’s greatest achievement requires the trio to overcome several full factory crews, Supercars stars and local pros.

 

The same three manufacturers that fought for Intercontinental honours last year have returned to the globe-trotting GT3 series, which also includes the ADAC Ravenol 24h Nurburgring, CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa and Indianapolis 8 Hour Presented by AWS. However, and unlike all campaigns since the series’ first back in 2016, registered marques no longer nominate IGTC entries. Instead, all of their cars are automatically eligible to score drivers’ and manufacturers’ points.

 

As previously, only each brand’s top two entries can claim points for their manufacturer, while IGTC’s first 10 finishers collect drivers’ points regardless of their marque.

 

All nine Mercedes-AMGs, three Porsches and two BMWs will feature white Fanatec windscreen banners – instead of black for non IGTC entries – and Intercontinental logos on the bonnet and doors.

 

IGTC’s Independent Cup currently includes three full-season contenders: Adrian D’Silva, Antares Au and Prince Jefri Ibrahim. The proviso to drop one round means only the latter – who was Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia Powered by AWS runner-up last year – has opted to race this weekend. 

 

But it’s not just IGTC 2024 that begins at Bathurst: Fanatec GT Australia’s opening round of the season also kicks off this year’s global Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS campaign – a series comprising 30 events and 52 races across four championships on as many continents.


BMW


2023 was a year of what-might-have-beens for BMW, which won three of IGTC’s five races but failed to prevent Mercedes-AMG from retaining its manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships. And with just four events on this season’s calendar, a fast start is absolutely essential at Bathurst.

 

Two M4 GT3s again make the long trip Down Under after BMW M Team WRT gave the car its 12 Hour debut last February. However, what the manufacturer lacks in numbers it makes up for in driver continuity: there’s just one change from that same race last year.

 

And what a change it is…

Valentino Rossi is again joined by Maxime Martin, but the established duo have a new driver alongside them in the shape of former Mercedes-AMG star Raffaele Marciello.

 

The second entry, meanwhile, is again shared by Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts.

 

However, the bulk of attention will naturally centre on #46 thanks to a certain MotoGP legend who fulfilled a lifetime ambition by racing at Mount Panorama last year. The experience did not disappoint, and neither did Rossi who held his own against drivers with far more experience of the daunting circuit.

 

Martin, meanwhile, was one of BMW’s standout GT3 performers last year when he helped Rossi get to grips with the M4. They also won together at Misano en route to fifth in the Fanatec GT Europe Sprint standings.

 

This year, though, they’ll be sharing the limelight with reigning Fanatec GT Europe champion and Macau FIA GT World Cup winner Marciello. Bathurst signals the Swiss driver’s maiden outing with BMW, which is also chasing its first GT3-era victory at the 12 Hour.

 

WRT won the event on its first appearance there with Audi back in 2018 when Vanthoor was also part of the line up. The Belgian and Van der Linde won two IGTC races in 2023 – at Kyalami and Indianapolis – en route to third and fifth in the final standings, while Weerts was also part of the victorious trio in South Africa.


MERCEDES-AMG


IGTC’s new nomination rule favours strength in numbers, and on that front Mercedes-AMG has a clear advantage this weekend thanks to its five Pro entries.

 

One of those has more of a Pro-Am feel, but that didn’t prevent the same crew – Habul, Gounon and Stolz – from somehow completing one of GT racing’s great upsets 12 months ago. 

 

That feat was made possible by the Pro class’ drive time regulations, which remain unchanged this year. In theory, one of the three drivers could race for as little as 40 minutes.

 

Still, the odds remain stacked against SunEnergy1’s entry, which must once more work out a way to beat several full factory and bona fide professional crews. 

 

2023 pole winner Maro Engel headlines a GruppeM squad also featuring Felipe Fraga and Bathurst 1000 winner David Reynolds, while Craft-Bamboo – which finished second two years ago – calls on Maximilian Goetz, Dani Juncadella and Jayden Ojeda.

 

But that’s not all. There’s more Supercars talent at Scott Taylor Motorsport in the shape of Craig Lowndes, Thomas Randle and Cam Waters who go up against domestic rivals – and Triple Eight team-mates – Will Brown and Broc Feeney in a National Storage Racing entry also featuring recent Gulf 12 Hours winner Mikael Grenier.

 

Elsewhere, Supercars GOAT Jamie Whincup joins Prince Jefri Ibrahim and Jordan Love in the second Triple Eight-run car, which should also be a major threat for Pro-Am honours. But that trio will face stiff opposition from the likes of Heart of Racing who count Aston Martin’s on-loan factory driver Ross Gunn amongst its trio.

 

MMotorsport and Supabarn Supermarkets/Tigani Motorsport complete Mercedes-AMG’s GT3 roster.


PORSCHE


HubAuto’s late withdrawal due to shipping delays has prevented what would have been one of this year’s fastest crews – Kevin Estre, Patrick Pilet and Klaus Bachler – from practicing and qualifying, let alone racing. But Porsche does at least have a contingency in the shape of two more overall contenders and a very capable Pro-Am car.

 

Focus will naturally centre on Manthey EMA and 2019 Bathurst winner Matt Campbell who were a second away from taking top spot last year. They’re now armed with the latest, 992-generation 911 GT3 R, and joined by two more factory drivers in the shape of Laurens Vanthoor and Ayhancan Güven. 

 

But Manthey EMA hasn’t entirely dispensed with the previous spec Porsche, which occupies the other side of its garage this weekend. Drivers Alessio Picarrielo and Harry King – who dominated Carrera Cup Australia at Bathurst with EMA last year – are also both seasoned 911 campaigners, while Yasser Shahin is a two-time Fanatec GT Australia champion. 

 

Porsche’s Bathurst contingent is completed by Phantom Global Racing, which has joined forces with Timo Bernhard’s Team 75 organisation to run a new 992-spec car for Joel Eriksson, Jaxon Evans and Bastian Buus. The outfit has predominantly raced in its native China but spent 2023 contesting Fanatec GT Asia.

 


REPCO BATHURST 12 HOUR TIMETABLE (AET / GMT +11)
Australia’s international enduro officially begins with Bathurst’s Track to Town parade on Thursday before the cars run in anger for the first time the following morning.

 

SRO’s GT World YouTube channel will show live coverage of qualifying, the top-10 pole shootout and race around the world and for free this Saturday and Sunday. TV rights agreements prevent these streams from being broadcast in Australia and New Zealand.

 

Thursday 15 February
10:30 – 13:00: Track to Town parade

Friday 16 February
08:15 – 08:55: Practice 1
09:50 – 10:30: Practice 2 (Bronze drivers only)
13:30 – 14:10: Practice 3
16:10 – 16:50: Practice 4 (Bronze drivers only)

Saturday 17 February
08:05 – 09:05: Practice 5
10:00 – 11:00: Practice 6
12:40 – 13:10: Qualifying Part 1 (Live)
13:30 – 14:00: Qualifying Part 2 (Live)
16:05 – 16:20: Top 10 Shootout Part 1 (Live)
16:30 – 16:45: Top 10 Shootout Part 2 (Live)

Sunday 18 February
05:45 – 17:45: Race (Live)
 


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