IT began life as a humble production race some 11 years ago, with the re-introduction of one of Australia’s most gruelling races – a once around the clock challenge on the iconic Mt Panorama circuit in Bathurst.
The Garry Holt/Paul Morris/Craig Baird combination had 31 other cars to deal with when they took out that first race in 2007.
Little did the organisers Yeeha Events fathom at the time that the venture was the beginning of what is now one of the major GT endurance races around the world, this year becoming the opening round of the inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge.
On Saturday, Exhaust Notes Australia published an opinion piece on why we love the 12 Hour, and the figures show we’re not alone. This year’s race had a record attendance of 40,364 across the weekend – a staggering 8.8 per cent rise on last year’s best ever 37,079.
Not only was it the biggest crowd the event has seen, but champions Craig Lowndes/Toni Vilander had to negate a field of 52 cars (with a further three of the entries not making the opening lap), the highest car count ever.
“The event continues to grow year on year, with the 2017 running featuring the largest grid ever assembled for the race,” said John Casey, Bathurst 12 Hour Event Director.
“The build-up to the race gave us a good indication that this year would see a record crowd, and the fantastic support from race fans has not disappointed,” he said. “This event is now one of the marquee endurance races on the international motor sport calendar, enticing the best drivers, teams and cars on the planet in an attempt to master this iconic race track.”
The true success of the event came from a formula change back in 2011 – a controversial decision to open up the field to GT3 spec cars instead of keeping it a production car race.
Within months of the announcement, Australia’s longest race was on the radar of major players in GT racing – the likes of Joest Racing and Phoenix Motorsport.
The first few events saw a mixture of classes – GT3, GT4 and production cars, but over time there has been less and less production cars to a point now where it is solely GT cars and invitational equivalents.
With the change, came the manufacturer support. NISMO, McLaren, Bentley and Porsche have all committed factory teams/drivers to the event.
More contention would follow, in 2015, with Supercars Events taking over management of the race from Yeeha Events. Many feared that Supercars only bought the rights in order to kill it, but as we have seen in the past two years, it’s flourishing. And with such high incredible fields and growing crowds, we can be certain the future of this amazing event is bright.
Gallery images courtesy of Sydney photographer and media professional Rhys Vandersyde. A specialist in motor sport and automotive imagery, his past work includes Formula 1, the World Rally Championship, Supercars and GT racing across Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. Visit Insyde Media.