Triple Eight win Bathurst GT enduro

The #888 of Feeney/Ibrahim early in the three-hour GT race and Image: Jack Martin Photography

The #888 of Feeney/Ibrahim early in the three-hour GT race and Image: Jack Martin Photography

Triple Eight’s Broc Feeny and Prince Jefri Ibrahim have driven the #888 Mercedes-AMG GT to victory in the Motorsport Australia Endurance Championship race at Mount Panorama.

The pairing proved dominant in the end after a thrilling battle with the Audi R8 of Tim Slade/Brad Schumacher for the majority of the race.

The win was somewhat of a consolation for the team after yesterday’s dramatic crash at McPhillamy Park which ended the weekend of sister car of Jamie Whincup/Prince Abu Bakar Ibrahim.

“It’s pretty awesome. I’m loving these things, and I’m just thanking these guys for bringing me along,” said Feeney. “Good battle with Timmy there; Brad’s been doing a ripper job all weekend and those boys have been really strong, but this man [Prince Jefri Ibrahim] did a fantastic job, put me in a good position and we had a fast car.”

Garth Walden/Mike Sheargold took out the Am class, while Nash Morris and Mark Griffith won the GT4 class in their Mercedes from Sam Brabham and Christos Batios.

The three-hour race started in wet conditions which caused the cancellation of the morning’s TCR race and a delay for the 13-car field, all of which began with their Am drivers and with wet tyres. Three pit stops timed at 120s each were mandated across the field.

Pole-sitter Schumacher lead from the rolling start in an uneventful opening lap, with the top four made up of Schumacher, Ibrahim in car #888, Ross Poulakis and Adrian Deitz. Schumacher immediately stamped his authority on the race by storming to a 6.5s lead over Ibrahim on Lap 1, a gap that remained for most of the opening stint.

With the leaders circulating in the 2:28s bracket in the early stages, the track became faster and faster as Ibrahim and Poulakis were first into the 2:27s, Schumacher into the 2:25s before he and Ibrahim were in the 2:24s on Lap 6.

The only entry in its class, the #50 KTM of David Campton/Trent Harrison pitted with smoke trailing from its rear, ending his race.

At the 30-minute mark, the leaders had completed nine laps with the order Schumacher 5.6s ahead of Ibrahim, a further 8.7s to Poulakis, 23.5s to Miles, 36.2 to Deitz and 36.7 to Koundouris who had Marc Cini on his tail.

As a dry line began to emerge, a battle developed between the Lamborghini of Deitz and Koundouris’ Audi, who was weaving behind him before getting by along Pit Straight for fifth place on Lap 9. The following lap, Marc Cini (Audi) passed Zalloua out of The Esses for seventh.

The leaders were now in the in the 2:23s, Schumacher leading by 5.8s with Poulakis in third, a further 16 seconds back. The leading Audi stretched the gap to 9.39s, dropping into the 2:20s as the first round of pit stops took place.

Sheargold’s Mercedes-AMG was the first to stop from ninth place and, crucially, the first to fit slick tyres as Garth Walden stepped into the drivers’ seat.

That set of stops form the lead pack, with Schumacher, Ibrahim from first and second place as well as Miles from fourth all in pit lane. Slade, Feeney and Wall – not helped by Deitz overshooting the Wall Racing pit box – stepped into the cars with a change to slick tyres as the track improved.

Poulakis and Koundouris inherited first and second until they both pitted in Lap 18, as Slade and Feeney immediately set fastest sectors.

Feeney lost ground early in traffic, the gap expanding to 11.6s before the Triple Eight driver chipped away at the Audi’s lead, setting the fastest time of 2:04.30 on Lap 28 with Love 30 seconds back in third place.

The order with two hours remaining Slade was 5.8s ahead of Feeney, who was closing the gap to Slade, with Love 42 seconds back ahead of Jack Smith’s Audi, Wall’s Lamborghini and Michael Caruso’s Audi in sixth.

On Lap 28 Feeney posted a 2:04.3018 – the fastest lap of the race – to Slade’s 2:06.0493 to sit 0.3s off the rear of the Audi. Slade defended hard at The Chase, but the move isn’t done as Feeney peels off to pit lane for his second stop with 1 hour 46 to go.

As Ibrahim got into #888, Slade stayed out the following lap as the strategy between Pro and Am drivers came into play. Within 10 minutes, Slade was on the back of Ibrahim in #888 who, just as Feeney had earlier, peeled into pit lane instead of making the pass.

Brad Schumacher took over from Slade and started setting 2:11s lap times as Ibrahim circulated in the 2:10s.

Having not made his second stop, Jordan Love was now in the race lead, with he and with second place David Wall both stretching their advantage over Schumacher and Ibrahim as the leaders looked to build a cushion ahead of their Am drivers’ stints.

Ibrahim closed the gap to climb all over the back of Schumacher in the Audi, but lost time when he was forced wide around the outside of Forrest’s Elbow when attempting to lap Tim Miles’ Audi.

Lap 39 Love and Wall pit from first and second positions, with more the two minutes’ advantage over third-placed Schumacher.

Love stepped out for Poulakis, who ended up ahead of Schumacher to maintain the lead, but Wall’s co-driver Adrian Deitz wasn’t as fortunate, coming out in fourth place behind Schumacher and Ibrahim.

Lap 40 and Schumacher passes Poulakis for the lead out of Brock Skyline, with Ibrahim three seconds behind in third, which the Audi driver continued to extend.

Love reported that he’d lost radio communications, making his race more challenging, as Schumacher lapped Deitz, meaning only three cars – Schumacher, Ibrahim and Poulakis – remained on the lead lap with 75 mins of the race to go.

With 45 laps complete and just over an hour on the clock, Ibrahim in car #888 pits from second place, 15 seconds behind Schumacher for Feeney to complete the final stint. The third of its 120sec compulsory pit stops.

As Schumacher circulated in the 2:08s, Feeney immediately set out after the Audi, but was thwarted in the opening laps of the stint by traffic, making little progress.

Meanwhile, a moment for Poulakis, now in second given #888’s stop, cost time, while Tim Miles passed Deitz’s Lamborghini for fourth place before the Audi pitted for Jack Smith to finish the race.

On Lap 50, Schumacher pitted from the lead with Slade behind the wheel to take on the challenge from Feeney for the final stint.

As the #55 Audi left pit lane, the straight fit for the victory was revealed as a 19-second gap back to the #888 Mercedes-AMG which was rounding Murray’s Corner. There were 55 minutes remaining for Feeney to reduce the deficit, with six seconds alone taken out on Lap 51 after Slade’s stop.

Love did his best to make it a three-way battle when he took over the Mercedes-AMG on Lap 52, 18 seconds behind Feeney, who was now just 10 seconds behind Slade.

Feeney was the fastest of the three – more the two seconds faster than Slade on Lap 53, while Love dropped further back in third place, unable to consistently match the Mercedes-AMG’s speed.

With 56 laps complete and 43 minutes left on the clock, Feeney was within 3s of Slade, with Love 27s back – who then started to set fastest sectors.

Slade responded with his best lap, a 2:05.81, as Love’s 2:04.15 was the new quickest lap of the race. Feeney was more consistent with his pace, however, and was on the rear bumper of Slade with 35 minutes to go – it had taken the Mercedes-AMG driver only 20 minutes to dissolve the 18s lead Slade enjoyed after the last pit stops.

Lap 61 was decisive as Feeney mounted an attack, going side-by-side with Slade into Griffins Bend, the Audi taking defensive line into Forrest’s Elbow and The Chase to stay in front. Yet Feeney set up the pass for the lead, with Slade defending into Murray’s Corner as Feeney switched back to execute the move on the Audi along Pit Straight at the start of Lap 62 with 28 minutes remaining.

Love now sat 25 seconds back ahead of Smith, Michael Caruso and Wall.

Feeney pulled out a gap up front, as Love made progress in catching Slade, but it wasn’t enough. Slade dropped in the 2:04s for the first time as the three-hour clock expired, the top three in the 2:04s, Slade setting his personal best lap on this 78th and final lap.

The Triple Eight driver took the flag by 11.07s from Slade, who was 15.8s ahead of Love.

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