The 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge opens with the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour on January 31 to February 3, bringing a grid of 41 cars to the picturesque, and hugely challenging, 6.21 km Mount Panorama circuit.
The Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli enters its fourth season in 2019 and is expanded to five rounds with the addition of a season finale at Kyalami in November. The series is designed to attract manufacturers and competitors from around the world, based, primarily, on the highly successful GT3 platform.
There are three titles to compete for – the Manufacturers title, the Drivers title for the driver or drivers who have scored the highest number of points driving for a single manufacturer and the Bronze drivers title, provided that the driver has taken part in all events of the 2019 Challenge.
Three-time Manufacturers champion Audi returns for 2019, fully intending to defend its title. Audi is represented by five entries at Mount Panorama. The highest placed Audi driver line-up from 2018 to return to Bathurst intact is the trio of Frederic Vervisch, Garth Tander and Kelvin Van der Linde, sharing the piloting duties in the #22 Audi Sport Team Valvoline. Christopher Mies, Christopher Hasse and Markus Winelhock join forces in the sister #2 entry.
Of interest to UK fans will be the #3 Melbourne Performance Centre Audi R8 LMS which will be crewed by Gordon Sheddon, Matt Neal and Pete Storey. With Sheddon and Neal sharing six British Touring Car Championships between them and Storey having competed at Bathurst on five previous occasions, this will be a trio to watch.
Home fans will be able to follow the progress of two all-Australian Audi crews.
The #9 Audi Sport Team MPC will be piloted by Marc Cini, who first raced in the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2007, partnered with Lee Holdsworth and Dean Fiore, 2019 marking the trio’s third appearance as a driver line-up on The Mountain.
The second all-Australian Audi entry comes courtesy of the #98 Matt Stone Racing entry crewed by Todd Hazelwood, making his first appearance at Bathurst, Roger Lago, who first drove at Bathurst in 2011, and David Russell.
The largest manufacturer presence on the grid will be Mercedes with no less than six Mercedes-AMG GT GT3 looking for victory on The Mountain.
2018 Blancpain GT Series Drivers Champion Raffaele Marciello is joined by Maxi Buhk and Maxi Goetz in the #999 Mercedes-AMG team MANN FILTER GruppeM Racing entry in the 24-year old Italian drivers second visit to Bathurst. Marciello will be looking to go one better than 2018 when, with teammates Tristan Vautier, Jamie Whincup and Kenny Habul, he finished second behind the #37 Audi Sport Team WRT entry piloted by Stuart Leonard, Robin Frijns and Dries Vanthoor.
Vautier, meanwhile, reunites with Kenny Habul and is joined by Thomas Jäger in the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing entry.
Stefan Wendl, Head of Mercedes-AMG Cusomer Racing, commented earlier in January that the Stuttgart-based brand is focused on beating Audi to the manufacturers title in 2019.
“The Intercontinental GT Challenge is a highly attractive series,” said Stefan Wendl. “All the five endurance races are very demanding and the effort from our rivals is even bigger than in previous years. As a result, repeating our achievements from 2018 will not be easy, but we will do our utmost. We have put together a super strong driver line-up and numerically, we have the biggest presence in the GT3 field for the Bathurst season opener. Therefore, our expectations are at least as high as our anticipation.”
Four Porsche 911 GT3-Rs will be on the grid at Bathurst, with two being full factory-supported entries. Three Porsche factory drivers will pilot the #911 EBM entry, Romain Dumas sharing the driving duties with Sven Müller and Mathieu Jaminet. Dennis Olsen, Dirk Werner and Australian Matt Campbell will drive the #912.
Bentley Team M-Sport have laid down a marker that the Cumbrian team is looking for victory at Bathurst with a two-car entry for the new Bentley Continental GT3. Steven Kane, Jules Gounon and Jordan Pepper will crew the #107 Continental GT3 while the sister #108 will be driven by Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril.
Track action for the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour begins on Friday February 1 with Practice 1, a 30-minute session for all drivers with the exception of Class A Platinum and Gold drivers. Three more 60-minute practice sessions for the Bathurst grid continue throughout Saturday with the final session on Saturday morning before qualifying begins at 11:20 local time. Qualifying is split into two sessions, one of 45 minutes and one of 30 minutes, reserved for the Class A or GT3 field. The top 10 quickest Class A cars from the second, Class A only, session then go through to the 45-minutes Top 10 Shoot-Out to establish the first ten grid positions.
Drive times have to be closely monitored throughout the race with drivers allowed a maximum of three hours driving in one continuous stint, with a maximum cumulative drive time for any driver in a three-driver line-up set at 4 hours 40 minutes and 4 hours for a four-driver line up.
Qualifying for the 2019 running of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour begins at 11:20 local time on Saturday February 2 with the lights going out for the race at 05:15 local time on Sunday February 3.