As the interest and enthusiasm for GT Racing grows all over the world, the SRO Motorsports Group introduced the Intercontinental GT Challenge. The Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, Total 24 hours of Spa and the Motul Sepang 12 Hours are part of the inaugural calendar of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, the first-ever global GT3 Series.
Defending Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour Champions Tekno Autosports claimed a hard-earned top five finish, and a podium in the Pro class, in the 2017 edition of the race. McLaren Factory Drivers Rob Bell, Côme Ledogar and Alvaro Parente staged a valiant never-say-die effort in the #1 650S GT3 at Mount Panorama, Australia after early setbacks left the trio at the back of the field.
Bell’s strong opening drive in the early hours after the car rejoined the race set up a 10-hour fightback which culminated in the #1 650S GT3 climbing as high as P4 in the final dash to the flag. Ledogar’s closing stint in the car trailed an ironman performance by 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour winner Parente, who in-turn also benefitted from bold strategy calls by the team to move up the order.
Further down the order the #11 650S GT3 of customer team Objective Racing also made the finish of the gruelling endurance race P20 and an impressive P4 in the Pro-Am category. As with the leading Tekno Autosports car, it too suffered an early setback which resulted in it spending extended time in its pit box. Alex Davison, Warren Luff, Tim Slade and Tony Walls combined for an impressive run to the flag up against a highly-competitive and dense grid of Pro-Am GT3 runners.
Despite strong pace in the early stages and battling hard, the #37 650S GT3 of customer team Keltic Racing sustained damage while defending its position on the technical mountain section of the iconic circuit. The resulting damage forcing the team to retire from a solid top five position.
Bentley Motorsport finished in third place in the opening round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, Bathurst 12 Hours, in a race that was packed with dramatic action from the outset. The #17 Continental GT3 piloted by the all-British trio of Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Oliver Jarvis rose from 22nd on the grid to finish on the podium in Bentley’s first race of 2017.
As the sun began to rise over New South Wales and the more than 50 cars made their way over the tight and twisty Mount Panorama track, a punctured tyre preceded a brush with Mount Panorama’s unforgiving concrete walls and forced the #8 to pit.
Meanwhile, the #17 Continental GT3 was climbing through the pack, picking off competitors and taking advantage of numerous safety car interventions. After two hours, Guy Smith (GB) had moved the car inside the top ten and, by the time he handed the car to Steven Kane forty-minutes later, the #17 car was sitting in second place.
Steven, Olly and Guy maintained their pace for the remainder of the race and, after 12-hours of racing that saw seven different GT3s lead, including the #17 Bentley, the chequered flag fell with Steven bringing the car home in third place.
The #8 Continental GT3, that had dropped to the back of the pack after the early stop, earned a hard-fought comeback and Soulet, Andy Soucek (ES) and Vince Abril (MO) finished in twelfth place.
The #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari of Toni Vilander, Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes took victory with a one-lap advantage over the #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche.. The GT4 category saw a Porsche one-two, with the #19 PROSport Performance Cayman beating the #40 Brookspeed Cayman.
The #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari was among the frontrunners from the word go, up until a bizarre incident at one of the restarts. Craig Lowndes, leading from the #22 Mercedes-AMG, was hit by Craig Baird even before the cars crossed the starting line. The Ferrari spun into the gravel trap, but crucially for Lowndes, he was pulled free, seconds before he lost a lap.
Baird was penalized by a ten-second stop & hold penalty, but even after serving that penalty and thanks to some great strategic choices from the Ferrari camp, both cars were soon back at the front, this time with Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen respectively at the wheel. The V8 Supercars stars produced some of the best duels ever seen on the Mount Panorama Circuit, with Van Gisbergen eventually getting the upper hand.
The race was settled when Shane Van Gisbergen made contact with another car and was penalised with a drive-through. But before the Kiwi driver could take that penalty, he lost control over his car, hitting the wall hard some twenty minutes from the end. The Team STM/HTP Motorsport lost a certain podium finish and handed second place to the #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Long, Marc Lieb, Matt Campbell and David Calvert-Jones. The #17 M-Sport Bentley of Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Oliver Jarvis, a late entry to the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, took third.
In GT4 the #48 M-Motorsport KTM was battling for the class lead all day long, although the team had to deal with some bizarre problems, including the clamshell front end of the car opening up on track. Eventually a small fire in the KTM gave the #19 PROSport Performance and the #40 Brookspeed Porsches the opportunity to take full points, with the former claiming the win by a massive five laps. At the wheel of the winning Cayman PRO4 were Max Braams, Andrew Pilgrim, Jörg Viebahn and Nikolaj Möller-Madsen.
The Intercontinental GT Challenge is aimed at manufacturers, who are encouraged to use local teams to represent them in these leading GT3 races, as it is more cost- and time-effective to fly engineers and drivers around the world rather than cars and equipment.
Both a manufacturers’ and a drivers’ title will be awarded in the Pro category, while a Drivers’ title will be awarded in Pro-Am. The events will all have common technical regulations and the BOP will be managed by SRO. The Intercontinental GT Challenge will represent the highest achievement in long distance GT racing.
The next event in the series will be the Total 24 Hours of Spa on 27 July, followed by the Mazda Raceway California 8 Hours on 14 October and finally finishing with the Motul Sepang 12 Hours on 9 December.