This weekend is a bit of a motorsport extravaganza for circuit-racing fans. The Leadfoot Festival returns again up that famous strip of driveway in Hahei, the Castrol Toyota Racing Series hits Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo, and the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour is back on the opposite side of the ditch.
With each year, the Bathurst 12 Hour grows in stature. What started as something focused more on production-based cars has blossomed into an annual home for some of the biggest international GT3 teams in the world — not to mention some of the best racers from the Supercars Championship.
So ahead of Sunday's showdown, we thought it wise to issue a guide to the weekend.
How can I watch it?
Wonderful news for those with Sky TV — live coverage of the racing will screen tomorrow and Sunday on pop-up channel 57. Sadly the televised coverage only starts with tomorrow's top-10 shootout (scheduled for 6.30pm NZDT), with the race proper to commence at 7.30am NZDT on Sunday morning.
Qualifying, while not televised, will instead be live-streamed online via the official Bathurst 12 hour stream. It's set to start at 11.15am NZDT. Sadly that stream will cut off after qualifying, since Sky TV has exclusive rights to the rest of the weekend.
But ... what if I don't have Sky? How can I follow it? Is my life a sham?
First off, please don't be one of those jokers that posts woe-is-me comments on social media about it. Nobody likes those people — nobody. If you don't like Sky, just vote with your feet and support the alternatives. OK?
Secondly, the easiest way to mend this problem is to find a like-minded mate with Sky, and bribe them with alcohol, pizza, or both and watch the racing together.
Got no mates? Well, it's hard yakka for you then. But, it is doable. Radio Le Mans will once again deliver their A-grade commentary over the internet's radio airwaves. They always do an exceptional job, whether it's on commentating stuff in Australasia, or Asia, or America.
The other recommendation I can make is to follow the official Bathurst 12 Hour hashtag on Twitter — #B12HR. There's plenty of active Twitterers offering photos and updates from track-side, and you won't miss anything thanks to the dedicated motorsport outlets that post to social media.
There are also probably going to be a range of free boot-leg live-streams on the internet. But ... yeah, I'll leave that to you.
Why are almost all the pictures in this story from two years ago?
Because we're not there, and yes — we're quite sad about that. Attending the Bathurst 12 Hour is probably second only to the 1000 in terms of spectacle and atmosphere for a motorsport event in Australasia.
OK. So, how many Kiwis are there?
Less than previous years, actually. Just five of them will line up on Sunday morning, but there's a fair bit of quality there.
The biggest one to look out for will no doubt be Shane van Gisbergen. He's racing in a Triple 8 Vodafone Mercedes-AMG GT3 with his Supercars stablemates Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes. It's the first time the three of them have raced together, and they enter the weekend as probable favourites to win the entire thing.
Jaxon Evans is also there, fresh from winning last year's Carrera Cup Australia title and the Porsche Junior scholarship crown in Europe. He joins David Calvert-Jones and Porsche factory driver Kevin Estre in a 911 GT3-R partially run by Kiwi team owner Andy McElrea.
Chris van der Drift is there, racing in an internationally-flavoured Class B Porsche 911 with Phillip Hamprecht, Paul Tressider, and Jinlong Bao. Former Kiwi endurance series regular Sam Fillmore is there too, racing with his mate Danny Stutterd and Richard Muscat in another 911. Daniel Jileson rounds out the New Zealanders on the grid. He's racing one of those gorgeous MARC Ford Mustangs in the invitation class, alongside Adam Hargreaves and Steve Owen.
It's also worth noting that there's a Kiwi team on the grid, in the form of Earl Bamber Motorsport. The factory-affiliated Porsche squad will run a swish-looking 911 decked out with silver fern decals, although no Kiwi will actually drive it. Instead Romain Dumas, Mathieu Jaminet, and Sven Muller will race it ... and yes, they're a formidable trio.
Who else should I watch for?
Errr ... everyone.
There's 40 cars on the grid, split between Pro, Pro-Am, Amateur, Class B, Class C, and Invitational classes. The top three classes are all devoted to GT3 machinery, while the rest are populated by Carrera Cup cars, GT4 cars, MARC cars and more. The outright winner is most likely going to be a Pro car, but could very easily be an Pro-Am car too judging by the talent in play and the length of the race.
Factory and factory-affiliated efforts from Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Mercedes-AMG, and BMW are on the grid, with BTCC champions (Natt Neal, Gordon Sheddon), GT champions (Christopher Mies, Christopher Haase), DTM stars (Martyn Tomcyzk, Augusto Farfus, Gary Paffett), and Bathurst 1000 winners (David Reynolds, Nick Percat, Chaz Mostert, Paul Morris, Lowndes and Whincup) among the biggest names.
Honestly, there's too many talented names to list them all here. Check out the full entry list by clicking here.
Has it already started?
Yeah! Well, not the race, but certainly practice is well under way. And ... yeah, it's been a bit of a shocker.
Why? What's happened? TELL ME!
Crashes. Lots of crashes.
You'd think that most teams would take the build-up of a 12-hour race rather slowly, but each year there always happens to be a shunt or two in the first few practice sessions. And teams have doubled down on that this year.
The biggest crash of the day thus far has been the one involving Tim Pappas and his (once) handsome Black Swan Racing Porsche 911. At high speed, Pappas skidded backwards through The Chase, missing the sand-trap and smashing into the outside concrete with fill rearward force. He's since been transported to hospital for assessment.
Then you have arguably the biggest 'story' crash of the day thus far. Contact between van Gisbergen and Paul dalla Lana on the run to the final corner saw the latter spear off into the wall with significant frontal damage in his Ferrari (which had actually been the quickest car on track earlier in the day).
Van Gisbergen was able to get back to pit-lane having avoided taking on too much damage.
The other big shunt of the day was for the green Audi R8 driven by BTCC drivers Neal and Sheddon, as well as Peter Storey. Like the Porsche, they went off at The Chase (Storey at the wheel), taking on big damage on all corners. The team have since announced their retirement from the race.
For the moment, that #B12HR hashtag and Radio Le Mans are the best way to follow all the practice shenanigans.
Damn. Why is this crashy stuff such a regular thing?
It's just the way motorsport is these days. Endurance racing is a long way from being where it used to be, where those who just tootled around for 70 per cent of the race without trouble would always win.
Nowadays, pardon the cliché, but events like this one have become 12 hour sprint races. And that attitude of needing immediate gains and set-up improvements trickles all the way down to pre-race practice. But that's part of why the races themselves are so intense.
OK, great. That was quite helpful.
I've just got one more question ...
Sure. What's that?
How long is the Bathurst 12 Hour?