> GruppeM’s Mercedes-AMG simply unstoppable at Mount Panorama
> Provisional result: Pirelli Pole Shootout
GruppeM Racing and Mercedes-AMG’s Maro Engel clinched his second Allan Simonsen Pole Position Trophy by setting the fastest lap ever recorded at the LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour during this afternoon’s Pirelli Top-10 Shootout.
The German – whose entry is also nominated to score Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli points – served notice of his and the team’s intent by first lowering Shane van Gisbergen’s 2016 time during the second half of qualifying and then setting a 2m00.8819s on his final run in the decisive 15-minute session
That was the event’s first-ever sub-2m01s lap at Mount Panorama where Engel last took pole in 2014 – the first year since Bathurst legend Simonsen’s untimely death.
Broc Feeney and Supercheap Auto Racing emerged as GruppeM’s nearest challengers by initially trading fastest times with Engel. Indeed, the top-three – which also featured Manthey EMA’s Matt Campbell – was covered by less than a tenth until Engel extended his advantage to 0.2164s after the chequered flag had flown.
The bright-yellow Mann Filter-backed ‘Mamba’ Mercedes-AMG marked itself out as the clear favourite for pole when Engel recorded a 2m01.0536s in qualifying. That was far faster than anyone had expected and also ensured that GruppeM was one of the five teams to run in the final segment of the subsequent Shootout.
Chaz Mostert’s Sportsbet Team MPC Audi topped the first five-car session for those that had qualified sixth-to-10th quickest. However, his 2m01.8s was swiftly beaten by Feeney who was the first of the second group to set a representative time.
Engel lowered that by a tenth next time around but was forced to go again when his young Mercedes-AMG rival responded.
Not to be beaten, the German lapped a tenth quicker with five minutes remaining – a time that Feeney subsequently fell short of by just nine thousandths of a second.
Campbell, meanwhile, was also up to speed and threatening to gate-crash the Mercedes-AMG party that also featured Jules Gounon. However, 2019’s pole winner couldn’t quite sneak on to the front row despite visibly wringing every last ounce of performance from his ‘Grello’ Porsche.
With Feeney’s final effort also falling short of Engel’s provisional pole time, an entertaining session was in danger of ending without a suitable footnote. But that all changed in the dying moments when GruppeM’s Mercedes-AMG finally set the first-ever sub-2m01s lap that Bathurst’s fastest-ever day so deserved.
“It’s amazing,” said Engel, who is yet to win the 12 Hour. “I’m lost for words. The grip level this weekend has been amazing. Big, big thank you to the team, to these guys [co-drivers Raffaele Marciello and Mikael Grenier] for trusting me. And to the team for an amazing car, it was a pleasure.”
Gounon, who goes in search of his third consecutive 12 Hour victory on Sunday, finished 0.4s down on the top-three despite setting the Shootout’s fastest final sector on his last flying lap. SunEnergy1’s Mercedes-AMG finished the same margin ahead of WRT’s #32 BMW driven by Dries Vanthoor, which is also nominated to score IGTC points, while Mostert’s Audi was best of the Group 1 runners in sixth.
Valentino Rossi will start his first Bathurst 12 Hour from eighth thanks to his WRT co-driver Maxime Martin.
The LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour goes green before dawn at 05:45 AEDT (GMT +11) tomorrow. Viewers outside of Australia and New Zealand can watch it live on SRO’s GT World YouTube channel from 05:30.