The Intercontinental GT Challenge series (IGTC) opened its 2024 season this past weekend with a twelve-hour race on one of the coolest tracks in the world, the Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, Australia. BMW M Team WRT came to the race with a loaded roster of works drivers in their pair of M4 GT3s, which proved to be some of the quickest cars on the track but could only come away with a fifth-place finish.

The race weekend started out great for the BMW team, as the cars were quick in practice and were given a balance of performance weight reduction before qualifying. The trio of Sheldon van der Linde, Charles Weerts, and Dries Vanthoor got into the final pole shootout (which was for the top ten cars in the previous qualifying sessions) with the #32 M4 GT3, where van der Linde put it on the pole with a 2:01.9810 lap. “Coming back to Bathurst and driving this track is an honor for sure,” said van der Linde after qualifying. “To be on the pole in my second running in Bathurst is unexpected. I’m very happy with my lap and we have a really good race car.”

Sheldon van der Linde celebrates his pole position.

The #46 M4 GT3 driven by Maxime Martin, Valentino Rossi, and Raffaele Marciello (who was in his first race as a BMW driver) also got into the pole shootout, where Martin qualified in eighth with a 2:02.8230 lap. The top eight cars were within one second of each other. It was a birthday weekend for Rossi, as he celebrated his 45th birthday on the Friday before race day.

The Bathurst 12 Hour is a unique race in that it starts in the darkness at 5:45 a.m. The pair of BMWs had a strong start to the race, with van der Linde holding the lead for his entire first stint until pit stops, while Martin gained a position and stayed within the top seven. After the first round of pit stops, Valentino Rossi and Charles Weerts ran in formation in the top five and within reach of the leaders, and the two cars stayed in the top three or four positions in the first four hours.

Around five hours into the race, Maxime Martin was running in second place in the #46 car and was followed by Charles Weerts in the #32. Disaster struck when Weerts made an overly aggressive move to get around a Ginetta GT4 car going through the very fast and very narrow uphill section and clipped the front right of the Ginetta, which launched the rear of the BMW into the air and onto the edge of the wall. The rear end of the BMW rode along the wall for several feet before coming off and going backward into the wall, ending what was a very promising run for the pole-sitting car. “At the start of the race, everything went according to plan, we were always in the mix to fight for the lead,” said Weerts. “Then I unfortunately had this contact with a backmarker. It was quite unlucky to get that traffic at that exact spot. Looking back now for sure I would have waited a bit longer, but at the end of the day we are racers and if we see a gap we go for it. It was very unfortunate for our car and I feel sorry for my teammates, my team, BMW M Motorsport and also for myself because that was not the goal after everybody’s great work.”

The accident for the #32 left the #46 as the only BMW in the race, and that car stayed in the hunt through the second half of the race through other accidents and a long period of rain. It dried up for the last hour of the race, and Maxime Martin was fighting among the top four cars and got into second place before going wide and dropping back to fifth place in the final laps, which is there the car ultimately finished.

The race was won by the Manthey EMA Porsche 911 GT3 R. One of the winning drivers in the Porsche was factory driver Matt Campbell, who was also one of the winning drivers in the Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 that won overall last month at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Bathurst race was a disappointment for BMW M Team WRT after such a promising start. “We started with a pole position, which was a good thing,” said Team Principal Vincent Vosse. “Of course, it is a difficult one to swallow because we had two strong cars. There were some mistakes; it is a difficult race on a difficult track. Finishing fifth is of course not what we are looking for, especially as at one stage, ten minutes from the end, we were fighting for P2. It’s a very tough race and a very tough championship. There are some strong cars out there. Now we need to analyze where we lost it. This is not a race that you win but one that you lose. And that is what happened.”

The IGTC series consists of four rounds and two of them are the best GT endurance races in the world, with the Nürburgring 24 Hour coming up on May 30th – June 2nd, followed by the Spa 24 Hour at the end of June. The series finale will be at Indianapolis this year with the Indy 8 Hour in early October. BMW M Team is now getting ready for their FIA World Endurance Championship debut with the M Hybrid V8s at Qatar on March 2nd. —David Haueter

[Photos courtesy SRO and BMW]



©2024 BimmerLife™

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?