The 2012 Bathurst 12 Hour started in the pre-dawn chill on Australia’s Mount Panorama on Sunday morning in Australia, and the leaders took off in a hurry to try to stay warm, it seemed.
After two hours at a screaming pace, mechanical failures and rain changed the face of the race; most of the next hour was run under yellow.
The #1 Phoenix racing Audi of started from the pole but on lap three, the Maranello Motorsports Ferrari 458 of Allan Simonson took the lead tore off a stream of record-setting laps before an ECU error slowed the car on lap 28.
“It was very exciting straight out especially when the race started,” Simonson said on the Bathurst 12 Hour website. “We hadn’t done any sessions in the dark and I realized on the warm-up lap that I didn’t have any high beams. It was good that the Audi was quick at the start—I could let him light up the track o I knew where I was going. Once we got into the groove and the sun came up I had good car speed and was able to pull away.
On lap 28, as Simonson was preparing to pit, the car suddenly slowed; Simonson barely made it up the mountain to coast back to the pits.
The fuel gauge is wrong,” Simonson explained. “They told me to pit on the lap that I was coming around on but as soon as they said “You’ve got to pit this lap,’ it started coughing.”
Apparently the electronic control unit decided the car was out of gas, so it put the car into minimum-performance. Simonson filled up did a lap, and had to come back to reboot the ECU. He lost two laps because of the problem.
“It’s such a long race–anything can happen in 12 hours,” he said. “It’s not nice to come up a couple of laps down to begin with, but we’ve got a strong car and a strong driver lineup so I’m pretty confident. “
Once the car started working again, Simonson went out and set a few more lap records. Simonson brought the Ferrari 458 back into the pits after two hours for fuel and a driver change, when bad luck hit again—the #14 Seat blew a turbo and stopped on Conrod Straight, bringing out the race’s first safety car. Simonson missed the chance to pit under yellow and make up a lot more time.
“I was pushing qualifying laps every lap—I wanted to try to gain back what we lost,” he concluded. “I got one lap back but safety car just played to our disadvantage— it came one lap too late. Our luck will change—12 hour is a long time.”
As the yellow flag waved, rain started to fall, complicating the competition. Teams didn’t know how long the rain would last, and whether or not to switch to wet tires.
The rain stayed light—just enough to make the track slick. Everyone stayed on slicks, and on the lap 57 restart Craig Lowndes in the #2 Phoenix Audi out-dragged his teammate Christer Joens in the #1 car to take the lead of the race.
That order wasn’t to last. Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #20 Erebus Racing Mercedes SLS AMG took second on lap 57 and passed Lowndes for the lead on lap 58.
While Bleekemolen fought for the lead, the #23 JBS Lamborghini and the #3 Hunter Porsche both spun; Bleekemolen nearly lost it a few seconds later.
Everyone tiptoed around for a few laps as the rain continued to fall; then on lap 62, 2 hours, 31 minutes into the race, Frank Yu spun the #22 United Autosports Audi, slamming the concrete barriers in Turn Two, Griffin’s Bend, bringing out the second safety car.
The brief break to collect the Audi proved beneficial, as the rain blew over while the yellow flag flew.
Just as the United Autosports car got back to the garage, the #35 Sennheiser Mazda RX-7 went hard into the wall (under caution) extending the yellow-flag period.
After half-an-hour of safety-car procession, the green flag flew, and the field erupted on the uncertain track. Bleekemolen made a clean getaway, but behind him cars slid and shoved and, almost exactly as the clock hit three hours, the #21 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG slammed the barrier, causing yet another caution.
This caution did change the luck of the #17 Maranello Racing Ferrari—driver Jack Bowe got back on the lead lap, as did Roger Lago in the #23 JPS Lamborghini.
This put six of the fastest Class A cars on the lead lap; with the fastest of them all—the #17 Maranello Racing machine—in the back but ready to fight its way through the field.
When the race went green again on lap 69, the #2 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS was back in the lead, ahead of the #20 Mercedes, with the #1 Audi just behind. Two Ferrari,s the #33 Clearwater Racing and the #17 Maranello Racing 458s, were fourth and fifth, with the JBS Lamborghini just behind.
Bleekemolen took only two laps to get back into the lead, passing Craig Lowndes in the #2 Phoenix Racing Audi in the Falken Elbow. The Mercedes couldn’t gap the Audis, however; Lowndes and Joens were less than a second behind. A few laps later, Joens passed both to give the lead back to the pole-sitting Audi.
A lap later, both Ferraris earned themselves drive-through penalties, which set them well back but didn’t cost either a lap.
Unfortunately for race fans, the radar showed a huge storm front on the way. While the forecasters predicted 60-70 percent chance of heavy rain, the radar made a storm look inevitable. This put a lot of pressure on Maranello Racing and JBS racing—these cars needed to get back to the front before the weather hit.
Weather, like racing, is not really predictable. All anyone can do is try to prepare for various eventualities. A 12-Hour race can be several different races, just as there can be several types of weather during the race. Three-and-a-half hours into the race, the track was drying, the rain was coming, six different cars had held the lead, and the fastest cars were in the back of the pack and preparing to pass everyone. Another few hours? Anybody’s guess what the situation might be.
Class Leaders After Three Hours Thirty Minutes, 74 Laps
A #20 Erebus Racing Mercedes Benz SLS AMG
B #3 Hunter Sports Porsche 997 GT# Cup
C #53 Donut King Nissan R35 GTR
D #7 Maximum Motorsport Subaru WRX Sti
E #50 Racer Industries Holden HSV VX-R
I #35 Sennheiser Mazda RX-7