Stars of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship will descend on the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in greater numbers than ever before this February.
Already the last three series Champions – Shane van Gisbergen, Mark Winterbottom and Jamie Whincup – are committed to the around-the-clock GT enduro while Garth Tander and Lee Holdsworth are the newest additions to an ever growing list.
Tander, who announced just before Christmas that he would return to the familiar confines of Garry Rogers Motorsport in 2017, confirmed just after the New Year that he would head a factory-supported Audi squad at the 12-hour this year.
Tander, who made his 12 Hour GT3 debut last year with an eighth place finish, will drive one of two Jamec-Pem Racing Audi R8’s with double race winner Christoper Mies and his fellow factory Audi pilot Christoper Haase. The second car will be filled with factory International stars and both are expected to contend for outright victory.
Meanwhile, Preston Hire Racing’s Lee Holdsworth will also race an Audi R8 LMS alongside Pirtek Enduro Cup regular Dean Fiore and noted Porsche Carrera Cup Australia expert, Marc Cini.
Holdsworth, like Tander, is no stranger to the 12-hour having sixth outright in the 2013 running of the race while driving a Mercedes Benz SLS AMG for Erebus Motorsport.
Van Gisbergen launched his remarkable 2016 season – one that ended in winning his maiden Supercars title – with a storming victory in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 hour with then-McLaren teammates Alvaro Parent and Jonathon Webb.
However the Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver surprised the establishment late last year when he confirmed a move from the British brand to Mercedes-Benz for 2017.
The Kiwi will link with countryman Craig Baird – himself a former 12-hour winner – and former Supercars full-timer and factory AMG driver Maro Engel in a Scott Taylor Motorsport AMG GT3 this February, in what is being touted as an early race favourite.
Ferrari will also have a strong chance at outright victory, thanks mainly to the fact that Maranello Motorsport snared both Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup to steer their 488 GT3 entry, alongside returning factory pilot Toni Vilander.
With a remarkable 209 ATCC / Supercars victories between them, the pair also combined to win the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 three times in a row between 2006 and 2008 and have won the October Bathurst classic a combined ten times.
The 12-hour, however, will mark Whincup’s GT debut while Lowndes is a former winner of the event – helping Ferrari to their first Bathurst triumph in 2014.
Ferrari aren’t the only brand bringing former powerhouse Bathurst combinations back together: four-time Great Race champion Steven Richards to be joined by his 2013 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 winning teammate Mark Winterbottom in a factory-backed BMW M6 GT3.
Like the Lowndes / Whincup combination, Richards enters the race as the experienced GT driver while Bathurst will mark Frosty’s first experience at long-distance GT3 competition – though a strong test day at the mountain in late November last year proved that the former Supercars champion would have no dramas getting up to speed.
Also like the Lowndes / Whincup combo, Richo and Frosty will be joined by a gun international to help their quest for victory: Double DTM (German Touring Car) Champion Marco Wittmann to join the team.
More current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship stars are expected to be confirmed in the coming days, with Nissan Motorsport, in particular, a key team targeting outright victory yet to announce their driving squad.
As well as their four-car Nissan Altima Supercars team, Nissan will field two Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3s in the 12-hour for the first time.