The first round of the 2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge championship took place this past weekend, with the Bathurst 12 Hour race on the fantastic Mount Panorama circuit in Australia. BMW M Team WRT came to the race with a loaded roster in their pair of M4 GT3s, with Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor, and Charles Weerts in the #32 car and Maxime Martin, Augusto Farfus, and Valentino Rossi in the #46 car.
BMW M Team WRT has previous experience on the Mount Panorama circuit with Audi and won it in 2018, but it was their first race here and just their second race anywhere with BMW, after winning the Dubai 24 Hour race last month. It was also the first time that Rossi and Weerts had raced there. Farfus, van der Linde, and Martin were among a handful of drivers at Bathurst who had competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona just the weekend before, so those three had to get on a plane and head to the other side of the world right after racing in Florida for 24 hours.
The pair of M4 GT3s that were entered at Bathurst were owned by BMW M Motorsport and not WRT. We’ve seen the #46 car before, as it was the car that BMW M Team RLL raced in the GTD PRO class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship last season. After two rounds of qualifying that culminated in a top-ten shootout, Dries Vanthoor qualified the #32 BMW in fifth with a 2:01.724 lap, while Maxime Martin put the #46 car in eighth with a 2:02.508 lap. Mercedes-AMG locked out the top-two positions, with Maro Engel taking the pole with a lap time of 2:00.882. Engel was one of the drivers in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 that won the GTD PRO class in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The Mercedes entries were handed down a 10-kg weight increase between qualifying and the race, while the BMW, Audi, and Lamborghini entries were given a 10-kg decrease. The BMWs were also given an increase in boost pressure, but they still lacked the pace in the race to compete head-on with the Mercedes-AMG and Porsche entries. The BMWs were both in the top three at times during the race, but it became clear that the battle for the win would come down to a Mercedes and the Manthey Racing Porsche. Ultimately, the SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG won the race, followed by the #912 Manthey Racing Porsche and the #999 Team Gruppe M Mercedes that had started from pole. The #32 BMW finished in fourth and the #46 BMW ended up in sixth.
Despite a lack of pace compared to the Mercedes-AMG and Porsche, the M4 GT3s both ran well during the race and the team gained more experience with the car, which is still new to them. “It’s not the result we would have hoped for and we came for, but everybody did a great job,” said Dries Vanthoor after the race. “Nobody made any mistakes. It was just the maximum we could do this time. I think you can say that we are the best of the rest. I hope that at the next rounds we will be capable of fighting with the other cars because at the moment we can’t. What we can do is to continue to work on the car and on ourselves, but everybody did a great job.”
BMW M Team WRT intends to run the full Intercontinental GT Challenge season, which resumes on the weekend of February 23rd-25th with the Kyalami 9 Hour race in South Africa. —David Haueter
[Photos by SRO and BMW]