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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Top Audi squad’s bold Bathurst 12 Hour strategy

Melbourne Performance Centre is entering Bronze drivers in the Pro class of the 2024 Bathurst 12 Hour. Image: Supplied
Melbourne Performance Centre is entering Bronze drivers in the Pro class of the 2024 Bathurst 12 Hour. Image: Supplied

As Kenny Habul’s SunEnergy1 team did in 2023, MPC has decided to enter what would otherwise be two Pro-Am driving crews into the Pro class of the Mount Panorama GT3 enduro.

It will field a total of three Audi R8 LMSs, the other being that which will actually go into the Bausele Pro-Am class.

In Pro, the KFC/Jamec Racing entry will be steered by Bathurst local Brad Schumacher, Markus Winkelhock, and Ricardo Feller; and the Wash It/Jamec Racing entry by Aussie Liam Talbot along with internationals Kelvin van der Linde and Christopher Haase.

The Hallmarc Team MPC car will be driven by Bathurst 1000 winner Lee Holdsworth, Dean Fiore, and Marc Cini as a Pro-Am class entry.

The rationale for the seemingly counterintuitive move to run two cars in Pro is that it removes the minimum driver time requirement for Bronze-ranked steerers.

“After a few years of challenges and bad luck, we’ve taken a different approach this year but it’s one we think that can pay off,” said MPC boss Troy Russell.

“Pairing extremely experienced drivers like Brad and Liam with the Pros we have access to, all who have been here before and all who are extremely quick at Mount Panorama, we think is the way to go.

“The regulations allow those combinations to be competitive which gives guys like Liam and Brad a chance at winning Bathurst outright. We’re thrilled with those combinations in the pair of Jamec Racing entries, with KFC and Wash It on board as major partners.

“The Hallmarc car, with Marc, Lee and Dean, is such a solid combination. The Pro-Am competition is as tough as ever this year but at the same time we think they’re a good shot at challenging there.

“The Audi R8s still have plenty to give and we showed that by winning the GT World Challenge Australia Championship last year.”

MPC’s is a bold strategy but Talbot and Schumacher are regarded as some of the better Bronze-ranked drivers, and won the GT World Challenge Australia Pro-Am and Am titles, respectively, in 2023 – with at least six wins (in class) each.

Winkelhock is about to embark on his ninth campaign at the Bathurst 12 Hour, where he was a runner-up in 2015, while van der Linde has twice qualified on the front row in four starts at Mount Panorama.

Feller made his Bathurst debut in 2022 for MPC while Christopher Haase, a Nürburgring 24 Hour winner, is about to tackle the 12 Hour for the eighth time.

Liam Talbot is the Bronze component in the WashIt Audi entry. Image: Supplied
Liam Talbot is the Bronze component in the WashIt Audi entry. Image: Supplied

For Cini, this year’s race will be his 12th Bathurst 12 Hour, a record in the GT3 era.

He, Holdsworth, and Fiore are a regular driving trio, together finishing seventh outright in 2022.

Schumacher said, “It’s an honour to drive again with the Audi Team at this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour as a Pro entry, and a privilege to be teaming up with Ricardo and Markus, both having experience at the mountain which is very important.

“Personally, off the back of wining the Am-GT World Challenge Australia championship last year, and combined with my in-depth experience at Bathurst, I’m in a really good physical and mental space to perform well for the team.

“After coming so close to a good result with Audi in 2022, I feel there is unfinished business with us at the Mountain for sure, so the goal is of-course to aim for outright victory at this year’s event.

“The Audi R8 has great potential, and the team is stacked with experience, so let’s hope the Mountain Gods are kind”.

Talbot remarked, “Momentum is everything in Motorsport and after coming off potentially my best year of racing, I’m ready for the huge challenge of attempting the 12 Hour and going for an outright win.

“It’s an amazing line up of co-drivers and of course an absolutely stellar team as well.

“I’m super excited to race the Wash It / Jamec Racing Audi with Chris Haase and Kelvin van der Linde along with the incredible support of MPC.

“I’ve had a great time at Bathurst recently in GT World Challenge and Carrera Cup so I can’t wait to go back.”

The 2024 Bathurst 12 Hour takes place on February 16-18.

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