SunEnergy1, GruppeM battle for effective lead at Bathurst 12 Hour

The #75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG

The #75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG

Mercedes teams SunEnergy1 and GruppeM Racing are locked in battle for the effective lead of the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour with a quarter of a race to go.

The #75 SunEnergy1 entry has just pitted from the official lead after nine hours and 237 laps, having enjoyed a 10-second margin over the #999 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG as they run divergent strategies.

However, the true picture is yet to reveal itself given precarious position which Car #75 is in with respect to maximum driving times.

The latter six Pro class cars which are still in the race, including #999, are all on the same strategy, although the #912 Manthey EMA Porsche has now slipped to 25 seconds further back in what has just become second place.

Team WRT’s #32 BMW sits third and SunEnergy1 has just resumed in fourth after a very carefully-timed fuel-only stop, from the #46 WRT BMW, the #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes-AMG, and the #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG.

The SunEnergy1 stop moments ago has got Car #888 back onto the lead lap after Maximilian Gotz had to serve a drive-through penalty for a breach of regulations during that car’s most recent service.

Pro-Am is led by the #65 Melbourne Performance Centre Audi of Chaz Mostert/Liam Talbot/Fraser Ross, which runs eighth at one lap off the pace.

Earlier, strategy got SunEnergy1 into first position in the sixth hour of the race and Jules Gounon had stretched the gap over the previous leader, namely Manthey EMA, to over 18 seconds at the halfway mark.

At that point, the #999 GruppeM Mercedes-AMG was third and the #888 Triple Eight Mercedes-AMG seventh having not long pitted, but those four were looking good for victory, and the other three surviving Pro class entries – the #77 Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG and the two WRT BMWs – also looked in with a chance.

Jaminet was 20 seconds behind Gounon when he pitted on Lap 162, representing a 33-lap stint, before Dries Vanthoor and Valentino Rossi stopped the BMWs together on Lap 163, the latter after a wild ride over the kerb at The Esses.

Juncadella was into the lane for Craft-Bamboo on Lap 164 and Raffaele Marciello pitted the #999 Mercedes-AMG three laps later.

However, in an effective change of position, GruppeM opted for fuel only and the Italian retained second place when he exited the lane, trailing Gounon by well over a minute but up by about a dozen seconds on the #912 Porsche being steered by Matt Campbell by then, with Feeney having filtered back up to fourth in the #888 Supercheap Auto car.

Gounon completed a 35-lap stint on Lap 172 but stayed in Car #75 as it took on just fuel only, exiting the pits with a lead of 19 seconds over GruppeM’s Marciello.

Manthey EMA’s Campbell was eight seconds further back in third, from Feeney, Craft-Bamboo’s Philip Ellis, WRT’s Charles Weerts (Car #32), and Chaz Mostert in the #65 MPC Audi which was leading the Pro-Am class, while Valentino Rossi was last of those on the lead lap in eighth in the #46 BMW.

After just over 80 laps of green flag running, a fourth Safety Car period (in addition to the race start) was called during Lap 183, almost seven hours into proceedings, by which time Gounon’s lead had been snipped by Marciello to 17.5s.

The neutralisation was caused by a heavy crash for Scott Taylor in the Pro-Am #222 Scott Taylor Motorsport Mercedes-AMG at The Esses, and it prompted all of the Pro class entries except for Sun-Energy1 to pit.

Gounon thus retained the lead while Thomas Preining got out of the lane in second place, the Manthey EMA Porsche jumping the GruppeM Mercedes-AMG which resumed in third place with Maro Engel behind the wheel.

Shane van Gisbergen was fourth in the #888 Mercedes-AMG, from Craft-Bamboo’s Ellis, WRT’s Sheldon van der Linde, WRT’s Maxime Martin, Talbot in the #65 MPC Audi, and Yasser Shahin in the #777 MPC Audi, with the latter two getting back onto the lead lap thanks to the wave-by.

Gounon moved to a 1.3s lead when race restarted on Lap 188, while van Gisbergen was rounded up by Ellis at Griffins Bend and ceded position also to both of the BMWs by the time they negotiated The Cutting.

While Triple Eight was reportedly unconcerned, Car #888 gave up another three seconds relative to those ahead of him on Lap 189.

The GruppeM Mercedes-AMG was going in the other direction with Engel outbraking Preining for second at The Chase on Lap 190, and needed less than three laps more to catch up to the tail of the SunEnergy1 car which had been three seconds clear.

As Engel was reeling in Gounon, both van der Linde and BMW team-mate Martin overtook Ellis for fourth and fifth.

Gounon was still just ahead of the GruppeM car when he pitted on Lap 202, 466 minutes into the race, with Luca Stolz resuming in seventh position as new leader Engel enjoyed a gap of three seconds and counting over Preining.

Stolz was back up to sixth when Ellis pitted on Lap 204 to hand over the Craft-Bamboo car to Nicky Catsburg, as the race moved into something of a lull.

Engel was a full 20 seconds in the clear when Preining pitted from second place on Lap 220, almost eight-and-a-half hours since the start, and was followed into the lane by the two BMWs.

Engel himself stopped a lap later and Raffaele Marciello climbed aboard the #999 Mercedes-AMG, resuming about five seconds behind Stolz in the SunEnergy1 car.

With van Gisbergen also into the lane to hand over to Maximilian Gotz, at 53 seconds behind #999, it essentially marked the completion of the seventh pit stop cycle.

At that point, an off-sequence SunEnergy1 car led, from GruppeM, Manthey EMA, the #32 WRT BMW, Craft-Bamboo, the #46 WRT BMW, and the Supercheap Auto Triple Eight car, with just those seven Pro class entries on the lead lap.

Car #888’s hopes of a win were thus already starting to drift before Race Control announced a drive-through penalty for a pit stop infringement pertaining to use of tools in that seventh service.

Gotz initially stayed on the lead lap after he transited the pits again as punishment, but was overtaken on the road by Stolz shortly after.

However, the latest SunEnergy1 pit stop has put the Supercheap Auto car back on the lead lap, in sixth position, almost a minute up on Craft-Bamboo.

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