War of attrition
A particularly tough day at the office this year, as Mount Panorama dished out the punishment.
It wasn’t the result Audi Sport Team Valvoline was after, but the Bathurst 12 hour didn’t fail to turn on the excitement.
2 February, 2020
In the early running, it was the newcomer Mirko Bortolotti, who made the greatest inroads for the brand
It started without so much as a little bump or a polite push, and for the first hour it was clear sailing and very fast racing. But Mount Panorama’s brutal reputation was on show soon enough, and as the day wore on, one cruel blow after another saw the goal of adding a fourth Audi victory to the record tally, slip quietly away.
The Three Audi Sport Team Valvoline cars were spaced from the #222 in seventh position, and the others in 14th (car #2) and 19th (car #22). Markus Winkelhock took the first stint for the #222 car with Frederick Vervisch and Mirko Bortolotti behind the wheel of their respective cars for the start.
In the early running, it was the newcomer Mirko Bortolotti, who made the greatest inroads for the brand, improving six positions before the teams started looking to refuel and change drivers.
It was into the second drivers’ stint and two and a half hours into the race that the fortunes started to change, with Garth Tander behind the wheel of the #22 car, surviving a big accident on top of the Mountain, that ended his race and very nearly that of the #2 Audi Sport Team Valvoline car as well.
Teammate Dries Vanthoor in the #2 car had run slightly wide across the top of the Mountain, leaving Garth a slightly narrower line on the inside. The resultant change in line and the need to lift off so as not to contact his teammate upset the balance of the car and sent it right across the front of Vanthoor on the way to a heavy impact with the wall.
Obviously shaken by the impact, Tander was hugely disappointed but physically unhurt, praising Audi for ‘building such a safe car’. Back in the pits, his teammate Christopher Mies, was philosophical saying:
“That’s racing and the important thing is that Garth is alright.”
“There is nothing that can’t be fixed, although maybe not today,” he said with a philosophical smile. “Maybe tomorrow.”
After this disappointment, things settled down for the Audi Sport Team Valvoline and the remaining #2 and #222 cars first consolidated their positions and then began moving through the field.
Things weren’t so kind for the #24 Audi of Tony Bates, Geoff Emery, Max Twigg and Dylan O’Keefe, losing power through a technical issue that forced an end to their race. The #9 Hallmarc car of Marc Cini, Dean Fiore and Lee Holdsworth also had its share of issues, being hit from behind by a competitor and spun into the wall. The impact though was light enough that their pit crew were able to get the car back out on the circuit and their race continued.
The pace was frenetic, with average speeds cresting the 180km/h mark – putting the race on a course for a record result from early in the day. Markus Winkelhock got back behind the wheel for his second stint and took his #222 car into the top three, setting the fastest lap of the race to that point in the process. Frederic Vervisch also moved though the ranks into the top 10 to settle as high as fifth position – well and truly in touch with the race leaders.
The Audi Sport Team Valvoline and the remaining #2 and #222 cars first consolidated their positions and then began moving through the field
Kelvin van der Linde set the fastest race lap with just laps to go, beating Markus Winkelhock’s earlier benchmark
But as the halfway mark approached, things began to unravel for the Audi Sport Team Valvoline cars with a string of unfortunate incidents happening in rapid succession. Dries Vanthoor experienced technical issues in the #2 car and had to limp back to the pits for attention, while Mattia Drudi took over from Markus in #222 only to experience rear tyre issues from his first lap.
Debris left over from an early tyre issue had lodged in the tyre well, and though he was able to push on initially, the earlier issue contributed to another blown tyre and even more damage to the wheel hub.
The Audi pit crews worked tirelessly to ultimately fix the damaged axle and car #222 was returned to the track, the repair time meaning that the lead lap was now unattainable and it was now a matter of racing out of respect for the competition.
After 12 gruelling hours it was the #9 Hallmarc car of Marc Cini, Dean Fiore and Lee Holdsworth that finished best outright in 17th as well as clinching third in the ProAm category. Right behind them was the #222 Audi Sport Team Valvoline car of Markus Winkelhock, Kelvin van der Linde and Mattia Drudi in 18th outright – soldiering on to not only finish, but set the fastest lap of the race in the process.
But the race belonged to #7 Bentley Team M-Sport, which finished with a new record 314 laps of the famed track.
The thunder and sand storms threatened right up until the very end of the race, just adding to the high drama of the weekend, but for Audi is was a race that saw more lows than highs this year. Audi’s record as the most successful manufacturer in the Bathurst 12 Hour, remains intact, Kelvin van der Linde set the fastest race lap with just laps to go (beating Winkelhock’s earlier benchmark) and of course Garth Tander will consider it a lucky result even if not necessarily the one he was aiming for.
Disappointment is all part and parcel of motorsport and will make the next victory, when it comes, all the sweeter.
Congratulations to everyone at Bentley Team M-Sport on their victory and to all of the other competitors who make the Bathurst 12 Hour the thrilling race it is.
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