A WALK down the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour pit lane is like every car-loving kid’s dream come true.
GT supercars stretch out for almost as far as the eye can see. An array of exotic European muscle kitted out with big wings, big tyres and big-name drivers.
And big dollars.
This year’s 53-car entry represents around $22 million of the most beautiful, sweet-sounding, and mechanically diverse racing machines ever to grace Mount Panorama.
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Class A — the Pro, Pro-Am and Am outright divisions — is where the biggest money is at, with all the top machines unlikely to give you much change from $600,000.
The sleek McLaren 650 GT3s are back to avenge last year’s dour run and chase a repeat of 2016’s victory, their charge led by Supercars stars Shane van Gisbergen, Craig Lowndes, Scott McLaughlin and Tim Slade across a trio of McElrea Racing-run entries.
Then there’s Porsche, who has never triumphed in a big enduro at Bathurst but finished the bridesmaid twice in mid-nineties runnings of the 12 Hour as well as last year.
After dipping their toe in the water of the outright class last year, they’ve brought their big guns for 2018.
The factory has sent its crack Manthey Racing squad among a four-car attack, along with a host of their elite pilots, including Australia’s own factory junior driver Matt Campbell and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Earl Bamber.
“For a while there, it was this ‘far away race’,” Bamber explained.
“But after coming here last year the Manthey Racing guys have seen what race it is and it’s really clear it’s something we need to tick the box.”
Porsche’s German rivals are also chasing redemption of their own.
BMW left empty-handed from their return to Bathurst at last year’s 12 Hour, but for one of the privately-entered M6 GT3s making it onto the front row.
It was a drive that earnt Bathurst 1000-winner Chaz Mostert a call-up to race for the factory in Asia. This year he returns to the 12 Hour with the legendary Schnitzer team alongside two of the Munich marques favoured sons, two-time DTM champ Marco Wittmann and Augusto Farfus.
Mercedes has reigning Supercars champ Jamie Whincup and Bathurst 1000 winner David Reynolds among a five-car line-up, two of which hail from British squad Strakka Racing.
Audi has arrived with its now-traditional armada, a total of eight R8 LMS entries across Class A. Local heroes Garth Tander, Will Davison and Lee Holdsworth join former F1 prospects Robin Frijns, Markus Winkelhock and Pedro Lamy in a stacked driving roster.
And let’s not forget Bentley.
Yes, Bentley. A few years ago they took their Continental, ripped out 1000kg-worth of its luxurious features and took it racing.
This year’s 12 Hour represents the car’s last race before a new model comes on stream, the British M-Sport squad hoping to send it out a winner after near-misses in each of the past three events.
Though wildly different machines, the rules balance each vehicle to ensure even performance across the entire lap. Where some are bullets down the straights, others are lightning-fast across the top, while the rest are excellent all-rounders.
The action gets underway with four practice sessions on Friday ahead of qualifying and racing over the weekend.