Roland’s View: Australia’s other Great Race

The 2023 Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour takes place from February 3-5. Image: Ross Gibb Photography.

The New Year hangovers are still alive and kicking but already we’re flat chat into the lead up to the second-best event of the Australian motorsports year; the Bathurst 12 Hour on the 5th of February. I for one couldn’t be happier – I’m no fan of the off-season.

Whilst the Bathurst 1000 is, for me, still The Great Race, the 12 Hour runs it a close second. And now that the event has been restored to its correct place on the calendar (after having to run it in May last year due to border restrictions etc) we can hopefully enjoy some great weather and a large crowd.

The entry list looks like it should get close to 30 cars as things stand at the moment, given all the issues around world freight at the moment. That’s a pretty good effort and gives a platform to build on for 2024 when the target should be 40 high quality entries in my opinion, in line with pre-pandemic numbers.

Now, let me be very open. I personally was against a return to a solely PRO driver class as the top class for this event in 2023. GT3 racing relies very heavily on the AM drivers (the amateurs who go racing for fun and fund most of it) the world over, nowhere more so than here in Australia.

The 2022 event just wouldn’t have happened unless the AM drivers had been given the opportunity to win the race outright as a result of the PRO/AM category being the top class. That’s not to say that it’s impossible for a PRO/AM car to win the race outright against an all-PRO entry, but it’s not that likely. Therefore, the incentive for the (mostly locally based) AM drivers to enter their cars in the PRO/AM class last year was high and the organisers got a reasonable grid in very difficult circumstances.

My belief was that all those owners/drivers should have been given one more year of this structure as a reward for their support in 2022, with a return to the pre pandemic structure for 2024. The powers that be took a different view and the 2023 event features a full PRO class. Unfortunately, some locally based AM drivers appear to have decided to sit the event out and will probably be missing from the grid as a result. But that’s the call.

Now, given the way the grid is shaping up so far, the organisers may well be proven right to be going back to the full PRO category as the lead class. And all credit to them if we end up with a really strong group of 10-12 top level PRO cars plus another 10-12 good PRO/AM or AM/AM cars running. The signs look highly promising at the moment given the commitments announced so far from the likes of BMW and AMG. You know that there’ll be some strong Audis in there plus a Porsche or two.

Of course, the biggest announcement to date has to be that from the WRT team (2018 winners with Audi) who are not only bringing two new BMW M4 GT3 cars (the first time that model has raced in Australia) but also one of the biggest names in Motorsports as part of their driver line up – Valentino Rossi. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be a huge drawcard for the 12 Hour and his presence will not only massively increase local attention but worldwide visibility for the race.

I really hope now that some of the local AM drivers who have been, understandably, in two minds as to whether to enter the race this year will have a rethink having seen the way that the event is shaping up and will want to be a part of it.

It’s also incumbent on the organisers to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to enhance the event for those local guys and encourage them to come along. I’d really urge them to get on the phone now and ensure that the grid is as big and diverse as possible. And the great thing about local AM drivers is that they’re likely to use local PRO drivers as part of a PRO/AM line up. Having home-grown heroes going up against the top GT drivers from across the world is a big part of this event.

But hang on – there’s also the opportunity to see a real Red Bull Formula 1 car in action at the track! I was a part of bringing the McLaren F1 car to Mount Panorama in 2011 and it was an absolute thrill. And the car that Red Bull are bringing is a pre hybrid era car – so it’s full noise! It’ll be interesting to see who drives it on the day…

The rumour is that I might be back at Bathurst on the tools again this year. I really hope that you’ll all be there too – or watching it on the box if you can’t make it. It’s time for fans, competitors, commercial partners and all, to get behind the efforts to bring the Bathurst 12 Hour back to genuine prominence locally and internationally.

Happy New Year and see you at the Mountain.

Last week’s Roland’s View: Why Gen3 had to happen.

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