I attended the 12 Hour in 2014 but didn’t end up competing as our car was damaged in the Friday practice. So, technically, this year wasn’t my first 12 Hour, but it was my first time actually racing.
This year was with a different team & a totally different configuration car. After having a taste of the Erebus SLS at a test day, I couldn’t contain my excitement. The car is an amazing piece of engineering & a treat to drive.
As I’ve competed at Bathurst many many times before, I know the track very well, I just needed to learn the car as downforce, ABS & traction control are something I’m not accustomed to having around the Mount Panorama circuit. My two team mates, Richard Muscat & Jack LeBrocq, have driven the SLS many times so I was learning from their data where my weak points were.
After my first handful of laps in the car I realised that the downforce the car has over the top of the mountain is amazing. The braking of the car was something that took me some time to get my head around. I also realised that the slow cars were going to be a big challenge in the race.
Qualifying was a little disappointing as a red flag during the session ruin our tyre plan. We ended up P7 but still in a good spot for the race start.
Sunday morning was a new experience for me. Normally I’m awake before my alarm but this year I was woken by it because I had to be up at 4:30am. Heading to the track in the dark is very eerie. I’m used to a warm up at 7:50am & a race start of 10:30am. By the time my usual start time came around, we were already 2 hours into racing.
Richard started the race as he had competed in the 2014 GT Championship & was accustomed to rolling starts & night driving. He did a solid job & drove a double stint (2 hours & 40 minutes), making up a number of spots. Then it was my turn to jump in for a double stint. I headed out of the pits on new tyres &, due to the cool temperatures, it took about 3 laps before they were up to optimum temperature which made for some slippery moments on my first few laps. I settled in & pressed on. It was fun moving in & out of traffic while racing someone else. You could either win or lose because of the traffic. Sometimes you would catch the slower cars in spots where you could pass quickly but other times you would catch them in awkward places too dangerous to pass and you’d lose 5 seconds to the car in front.
At the end of my double stunt I’d had a good battle with the Nissan & managed to stay in front of them, leading the race for 10 laps, & got some ground on them. Unfortunately I came across a slow car coming down the mountain which held me up all the way to Forest Elbow. It allowed the Nissan to catch up & get a run on me down Conrod Straight, eventually passing me with its straight line speed.
I handed the car over to Jack for about an hour & a half before jumping back in again. I settled in again – much more comfortable in the car after my earlier stint – & pressed on. I had some awesome battles with Audis, Bentleys & Aston Martins. A lap after a safety car restart, I read the traffic a little better than the AF Corse Ferrari in front of me, going into Turn 1. I moved tightly to the inside & got a run on them to go up Mountain Straight but I don’t think the Ferrari expected me to be there. He turned hard left to avoid hitting a slower car & came across the front of my car. It was a violent hit, ripping the steering wheel out of my hand & spinning the Ferrari off track. Luckily our car only sustained a little bit of wheel alignment damage (or so I thought) & I pressed on. I got on the radio to the team straight away to tell them about the incident & to check the front of the car as I came down the front straight & past the pits. No damage was visible but it turns out I was very lucky because the right front wheel was severely damaged. Somehow it managed to hold together until the end of my stint. Someone was taking care of me that day!
The call came over the radio that I had to serve a drive through penalty. I was angry because I knew it wasn’t my fault. The replay footage was from a bad camera angle but if slowed down, you can see the Ferrari turn left before I made contact. I served my drive through & rejoined the race in 6th. I pressed on & caught the Nissan who was leading the race. I tried for a few passes & managed to do the crossover pass a few times but I was no match for their power. At the end of my stint, I handed the car to Richard in P2.
The safety cars just kept coming making it hard to work out a strategy to the end. We missed an opportunity at one point which made us out of sync in the last 2 hours. It meant we had 2 more stops while the others in front only had 1.
Jack ended the race & the car came home P5. It was an awesome effort from everyone at the Erebus GT team. I left my first 12 Hour race with a Top 5 finish, the fastest lap for our car & the 4th fastest in the race. It was an amazing experience & I definitely caught the bug! A massive thanks to everyone at the Erebus GT team for their support & for the opportunity. Also a big thankyou to the fans who made the trek to Bathurst, especially those who came past the garage to say hi.
Fingers crossed I get the opportunity to go better in 2016!