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COMMENT: THE BEST BATHURST GRID EVER?

IS THIS year’s Bathurst 12 Hour field the best assembled at Mount Panorama?

WORDS: Richard Craill IMAGES: Bathurst 12 Hour

I don’t just mean for the 12-Hour, either. I mean, of all time.

I think there is a valid argument to suggest that the Mountain has yet to have seen a field so broadly capable: diverse in drivers with natural ability and proven success and the teams and machinery to ensure they are all relatively competitive.

It’s not the biggest Bathurst field ever but on a driver for driver, car for car, team for team basis I’m struggling to think of one that on paper looks as competitive as this.

CLICK HERE to check out the full, final entry list for yourself.

If you really know motorsport, as we’ve found most Race Torque readers generally do, you’ll appreciate where I’m coming from.

The Bathurst 1000 grid is, of course, sensational and filled with some of the very best drivers from this corner of the globe, and the occasional international to spice things up.

But, and history I think will back me up here, do we ever go into a Bathurst 1000 saying ‘Yeah, there’s definitely 20 cars that could be winners in this race’?

This may be a controversial argument and one that some people might not want to read – but I don’t think the October enduro grid has ever had the kind of depth that this year’s 12-Hour does.

Now I appreciate that right now you’ll be muttering under your breath that of course he’d be saying that. I am, after all, the PR guy for the race as well as working on the broadcast team as one of the commentators. It’s in my own best interest to talk it up.

And you’d be absolutely correct there, because it is and I will.

But even taking the biggest leap into impartiality that I possibly can, when I’ve sat down to truly consider each car I find it impossible to rule out more than, say, 35 percent of them as potential podium combinations.

The Professional class is outrageously good. Of the 20 cars entered, on paper there’s at least 15 that are absolutely contenders based on their history, their car, their drivers and their team.

All three Audi’s. All three Porsche’s. Both Bentleys. The two Nissan’s. The Astons. Three Mercedes-AMGs. All absolutely factors based on what we know of prior Bathurst form, team ability, likely Balance of Performance regulations and their driving squads lined up this year.

The Honda we don’t know – we’ve never seen it at Bathurst before, but JAS and the drivers are capable enough. We’ve not had a truly outright competitive Lamborghini Huracan on the Mountain yet, so that’s a question – but FFF Racing are a crack team and their drivers are all pros.

And so it goes.

And then there’s the combinations that this race delivers year on year again.

Earl Bamber is an FIA World Endurance Champion, Le Mans winner and Porsche Pro who just so happens to have Bathurst experience in a GT3 car and a Supercar as well.

Laurens Vanthoor is one of the fastest ever in GT3 machinery at the mountain and, with Bamber, the reigning IMSA GTE Champion. And you may have heard of Craig Lowndes..

And what about Scott Dixon? Everyone knows he’s an Indy Car driver – one of the best ever – but he’s also now got three Rolex 24 at Daytona outright victories to his credit, too. Rick Kelly is ultra quick; was fast in the Nissan GT3 car and remains a top-level driver in Supercars with oodles of experience. Jake Dennis was a star of last year’s race and returns a year later, battled hardened after a year in the DTM. What a combo!

Then there’s Garth Tander and the eight factory drivers Audi has brought to the party, spread through three cars.

Jamie and Shane paired with an AMG Pro in a Triple Eight car. Former winners Parente, Chiyo. The GruppeM car that so very nearly won last year. I could go on..

And I shall, because one of the best bits of the Bathurst 12 Hour is that while the grid is now dominated by all-professional squads filed with works drivers or Supercars stars, the Pro-Am combinations can still remain competitive.

After all, the ‘Am’ part of the class only comes into factor when the non-professional driver is behind the wheel.

Manage their stints properly, stay on the lead lap and make sure your superstar is behind the wheel for the closing stint to the flag and that car becomes ‘Pro-Am’ in name only.

Take the NED Racing Team entry of David Calvert-Jones, Jaxon Evans and Romain Dumas, for example.

You can’t tell me that if they can get to the final hour on the lead lap that either Jaxon or Romain couldn’t go with Garth Tander in a factory Audi, Laurens Vanthoor in the other Earl Bamber Porsche or, say, Shane van Gisbergen in the Triple Eight AMG. Of course they could: Romain Dumas has won so many major races in his career, I’d probably back him to be a chance if he was racing the BMW 335i that won the 2007 12-Hour, let alone a gun Porsche GT3R.

So, pending the strategy cards falling the right way, there’s contenders there as well. Like Nick Foster and Anton de Pasquale pairing with the brothers Shahin in an AMG.. think about that for a minute. Yasser is a winner in one-make Audi racing. Sam in one-make Porsche racing. Foster gets paid to race professionally everywhere and Anton is the heir-apparent in Supercars.

If you’ve watched Bathurst before and you know a bit about this race, you must consider that car a contender as well.

And so it goes.

One of the great joys of the 12-hour is the convergence of the very best drivers from our own backyard racing against those from abroad who are the best at their game as well. This year’s grid has gone above and beyond in delivering that.

I appreciate that right now this is all hypothetical and of course we won’t truly know until about 6 o’clock on Sunday afternoon. But I stand firm on one thing: If you can show me a Bathurst grid that one week out from the race is filled with more potential winners than this one, I’m all ears.

@theracetorque is where you can do just that.