Successful start for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport in 2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge. Second consecutive Bathurst victory for SunEnergy1 Racing. P3 for Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing. Class podium results for Triple Eight Race Engineering and Volante Rosso Motorsport.
Mercedes-AMG Motorsport got the new Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) season underway with a convincing win, a further podium result and two class podium finishes. In the first of the series’ five rounds, the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, Jules Gounon (AND), Kenny Habul (AUS) and Luca Stolz (GER) secured victory with the #75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 run by SunEnergy1 Racing. Less than 1.5 seconds down, the #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing car claimed the final podium spot in third place. A pair of class podium results for the #99 Triple Eight Race Engineering car and the #101 Volante Rosso Motorsport entry rounded out the successful race weekend at the 6.213 kilometres long Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst. Thus, the performance and sports car brand from Affalterbach continued its recent success story in the Australian endurance race: last year, Mercedes-AMG had secured a historic 1-2-3 at the same venue.
In the practice and qualifying sessions, the nine Mercedes-AMG GT3s and the singleton Mercedes-AMG GT4 already proved to be strong. Maro Engel (GER) in particular impressed with his lap times. Initially, the second- placed from last year’s race established a new lap record in the Bathurst 12 Hour in qualifying. In the subsequent Top Ten Shootout, he posted a new fastest time straight away with the first-ever lap under 2m01s driven at the circuit. As a result, Engel put the #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing on pole- position for the 12-hour race. Broc Feeney (AUS) put the #888 Mercedes-AMG Team Triple Eight Race Engineering second on the grid while Jules Gounon also secured a good position for the 2022-race winning #75 SunEnergy1 Racing car in P4. At the start of the 2023 Bathurst 12 Hour, traditionally before dawn, Maro Engel (#999), Maximilian Götz (#888, GER) and Luca Stolz (#75) commandingly kept their positions at the front of the 24-car strong field. Subsequently, the trio was able to pull a slight gap, together with three opponents. However, frequent yellow flag situations towards the end of the opening third of the race bunched up the field time and again.
With three hours completed, around half of the cars was still on the same lap. These included the car with starting number 75 that Luca Stolz brought back into the group of the frontrunners after multiple pit stops and a penalty. Alternating with the #999 car, the #75 went on to rack up numerous laps in the lead. However, after two thirds of the race, none of the competitors was able to pull a decisive gap. This changed during the final four hours: in a race that now went without interruptions, the gaps between the cars at the front of the field increased as well. In the process, Maro Engel, Raffaele Marciello (SUI) and Mikaël Grenier (CAN) with the #999 car in P1 managed to continuously extend their lead over the second-placed car as well as the #75 in P3.
In the final pit stop with around one hour remaining, SunEnergy1 made a move that played a role in the outcome of the race: Jules Gounon stayed out on track one lap longer than the drivers in front of him, kept his tyres that were already up to the right temperature on and secured the lead for his team as a result. Maro Engel, the final driver in the #999 car, lost valuable seconds due to a transponder change as required by the organiser. Exactly like in the previous year, the two Mercedes-AMG drivers went on to stage a thrilling duel for victory in the final part. As the #999 received an unfortunate drive-through penalty just before the end, the battle was decided early. After 323 laps, Jules Gounon drove the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 across the finish line in first place, enabling the team to repeat its success from the previous year. The #999 still showed an impressive recovery drive and finished in P3, less than one and a half seconds down. Moreover, the customer teams Triple Eight Race Engineering (PIC3 Pro-Am) and Volante Rosso Motorsport (PIC2 Silver) scored podium results in their respective classes.
Next to the race win, Jules Gounon also got to celebrate a special personal success: he already won the Bathurst 12 Hour for the third consecutive time and is the first driver ever with three wins in the prestigious endurance race. For Mercedes-AMG Motorsport, it was also the third victory in Bathurst after 2013 and 2022.
Four further endurance races in the 2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge
After the season opener in Bathurst, the calendar of the Intercontinental GT Challenge includes four further endurance races. At the end of this month already (23rd-25th February), the Kyalami 9 Hour will be held in South Africa. From 29th June till 2nd July, the Mercedes-AMG customer teams will head to Belgium for the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. Next up is the Indianapolis 8 Hour Presented by AWS (5th-7th October) while the Gulf 12 Hours (8th-10th December) is the season finale.
Christoph Sagemüller - head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport
“It was a demanding and very intense race for us, especially in the closing stages. Our customer teams have shown a great competitive spirit. I am very proud of the fact that we have won here for the second time in a row and were also able to secure another podium result. Being on the top step of the podium here as well after the victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona is a very good start of the new season for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport. My thanks go out to all our teams that have staged great motorsport here and thus represented our brand in an outstanding way.”