For the last two years, Audi has won what's called "The ultimate Aussie endurance race," the Bathurst 12-Hour event at Mt. Panorama, reverentially known as "The Mountain." It did so with factory-backed versions of the R8 LMS Ultra and factory-backed drivers sent over for the sole purpose of taking the checkered flag at the 3.861-mile course and then taking the silverware back to Ingolstadt.
Erebus Motorsport, owned by property developer Betty Klimenko, is 18 months old. You've read about Erebus in news about the V8 Supercar season, the team engaging in some international intrigue so it could run Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs against Holden, Ford and Nissan which also in the series. It took second in last year's Bathurt 12-hour race, and Klimenko said that this year they'd win it.
They'd have to get past Phoenix Motorsport, the Audi team that's taken two wins on the trot. Phoenix had different drivers this year, but the team still had race-winning experience and there were six other R8 LMS Ultras in the field with customer racing support, and we're still talking about Audi, a juggernaut going up against a team that, were it human, would barely be old enough to talk.
It was a crazy day on the mountain that would decide the day.
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All kinds of records were broken at this year's Bathurst 12-Hour race: 18 international entries from ten countries, 30 cars in the three GT classes, sixteen safety-car periods, track temperatures that reached 60 degrees Celsius. Then there were the Bathurst traditions that everyone expects, like wild weather and different climate systems on different parts of the track, and along with the wrecks that led to more than three hours of the race being run behind the safety car with a near-capacity field of 53 cars in eight classes.
Erebus Motorsport brought two cars to the race, the No. 63 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 driven by Lee Holdsworth and Tim Slade (who also driving Erebus' V8 Supercar entry), and Peter Hackett, and the No. 36 SLS AMG GT3 'international entry' driven by Alex Rolloff, Thomas Jaeger and and Bernd Schneider. Yes, the same 48-year-old Bernd Schneider that won five German DTM Championships and has retired from full-time racing but emerges periodically to do things like win this year's 24-Hours of Dubai endurance race.
Holdsworth put the No. 63 SLS AMG on pole, followed by two Ferrari 458 Italia racers of Clearwater Racing and Il Bello Rosso. Two Lamborghini Gallardo LP560s followed, then an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, then the No. 36 SLS AMG in seventh.
With so much traffic and so many classes – there was a factory backed Peugeot RCZ, an old Holden V8 Supercar and a Daytona Coupe among the runners – the leaders were lapping slower cars by lap three. The early hours of the race quickly saw contestants dropping out in back, while up front, there was a fight between both Erebus Motorsport cars, the Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 and the No. 5 VIP Pet Foods Porsche 997 GT3-R that had started in tenth.
By the halfway point, the Clearwater Ferrari was in the lead, trying to stay in front of both Erebus entries and the Phoenix Racing Audi R8s that have won the last two editions of the race, those four cars the only ones on the lead lap.
In the race's ninth hour, the ambient temperature was 93 degrees fahrenheit and the Erebus cars owned the lead, having come through a middle stint where they were swapping the lead, lapping within a tenth of one another. Behind them were the Clearwater Racing Ferrari and the VIP Pet Foods Porsche.
Then the tenth hour came, and so did the rain. And not just a little, either – the mountain was drenched and drivers were "at walking pace" on slicks going over the hill until they could get into the pits for rain tires. After the race, Schneider said, "I was not driving, it was more like surfing down the hill and I was really happy that I could get back in the pits." The two Erebus cars, still in the lead, were over a lap ahead of the Clearwater Ferrari and hadn't had a single issue all day. The Clearwater team owner had hit a car and repairs dropped them a lap down.
A Lotus Elise that needed to be removed during that rain spell brought out the safety car, and on the restart the No. 63 SLS AMG driven by Lee Holdsworth ran into another car and limped back to the pits with steering damage. The car was repaired, but it came back out on the track in 11th place and would finish in 6th.
The rain stopped and the leaders went back to slicks, but just ten minutes from the end, it started raining again even harder, this time with gusty winds. Barring catastrophe, the No. 36 SLS AMG being driven by Alex Rolloff would win the race since it was still a lap ahead of second place, but everyone in with a shot still came in for slicks. Rolloff took the win on those rain tires, a fact made all the more impressive in light of the fact that his radio wasn't working – nobody could tell him about track conditions.
Second place went to the Clearwater Ferrari – even though they finished a lap down, they stayed in contention for most of the race and had fought from being a lap down twice during the race. The last incident killed their chances. Third was the No. 5 VIP Pet Food Porsche driven by Klark Quinn, V8 Supercar driver Shane van Gisbergen and Matt Kingsley, the last of whom was drafted to drive just that weekend when regular driver Tony Quinn had an accident and wasn't cleared to race. Phoenix Racing, winner the past two years, took fourth.
The win for Erebus Motorsport, after doing 268 laps in the 12 allotted hours, was its first major international accolade, and Schneider said, "I really wanted to win a race at Bathurst once in my life because this is one of the big races missing from my career." We'll be hearing from Erebus again in less than a week when it unveils its AMG Customer Sports E-Class for the V8 Supercars series.