STUNNING RACING: A Mercedes-AMG GT3 leads the way in a field of stunning GT3 cars from the world's finest exotic brands.
STUNNING RACING: A Mercedes-AMG GT3 leads the way in a field of stunning GT3 cars from the world's finest exotic brands. Iain Curry

Bathurst 12 Hour: the greatest Australian race of all?

IS there a better motor sport event in Australia?  

The Bathurst 1000 has the history, the tradition and the right circuit, but spend a long weekend at the Bathurst 12 Hour and, dare to whisper it, the latter is the pick of the Mount Panorama endurance races.  

Why? Let's start with the cars. GT3 versions of the world's finest exotica - from Ferrari 488 to Bentley Continental, Mercedes-AMG GT to McLaren 650S, Audi R8 to Lamborghini Gallardo.

All with outrageous carbon fibre wide bodies, mighty rear wings and roaring, beastly exhaust notes.  

On the driver front there's the cream of Supercars talent (Lowndes, Whincup, van Gisbergen, Skaife, etc.) mixed in with international GT3 and former F1 pilots (Vilander, Engel, Glock, Capelli); such stellar names attracted to the challenge of conquering the famous Mountain.

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour
GT3 CHALLENGE: David Reynolds taking a break in between stints in his Mercedes-AMG GT3 Iain Curry

Mount Panorama is on the hit list of any self-respecting racing driver, and to charge a GT3 weapon around the treacherous narrow walls of Bathurst - starting in the pitch dark - tests mettle like few other racing challenges.  

The fans are the real winners. This year spectator numbers for the Bathurst 12 Hour were up nearly 10% over 2016, with over 40,000 gathering in scorching temperatures around the picturesque circuit, enjoying a field of nearly 60 superb race cars.  

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour
RACE WINNER: Lowndes/Whincup/Vilander Ferrari 488 GT3 Iain Curry

And what a spectacle we all enjoyed. I experienced the event as a guest of Mercedes-AMG, your ticket gaining access to Level 7 of the trackside Rydges hotel which offers a stunning elevated view of the circuit. This was an ideal retreat from the scorching temperatures, plus there was catering included, a giant screen showing the action and AMG drivers popping in for interviews. This is spoiling yourself as a motor sport spectator.  

Gathering on the balcony at 5.45am for race start, warming coffees in hand, only the bright headlights could be seen through the dark.

Then the noise. Flag dropped it was action time, as screaming V6 and V8 turbos competed with V10s and V12s for most delicious sounds.  

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour
DARK START: The thumping Bentley Continental GT3 roars along in the Bathurst 12 Hour's opening laps before sun up. Iain Curry

Keeping it real, I spent the bulk of my time trackside, exploring the numerous vantage points and settling on the grass at the top of the mountain alongside the hardcore campers. If you ever go, the steep hike across the top of Mount Panorama brings mighty rewards.

You feel the speed of these superb cars, appreciate the outrageous gradients and breathtaking close racing. It's a purist's race and track.  

Over the 12 hours we were treated to seven different race leaders, with Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Bentley and BMW all at times having a car at the front.  

Hardly any car escaped some form of damage due to the close racing and mistake-punishing circuit, while 16 safety cars were needed across the half day. Even the very best drivers were caught out - including Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergben.  

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour
RUBBIN' IS RACING: The rear end of a Mercedes-AMG GT3 shows its battle scars Iain Curry

With 45 minutes remaining the Kiwi driver's AMG GT3 was leading - ahead of the Lowndes/Whincup/Vilander Ferrari 488 GT3 which had been ahead for much of the race - when Whincup pulled off a stunning move on Conrod to pass, two wheels on the grass.  

In a desperate effort to keep pace van Gisbergen pushed a Porsche 911 into the wall, then sensationally smashed himself into the concrete coming out of the dipper after a safety car period. The AMG retired, van Gisbergen's teammate Maro Engel controversially criticised the Kiwi on live television and the Ferrari surged to a famous victory. Drama personified.  

From dawn to dusk, Bathurst had once more delivered an epic race for the ages.  

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour
2017 Bathurst 12 Hour Iain Curry

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour results

1. Ferrari 488 GT3 Lowndes/Whincup/Vilander  

2. Porsche 911 GT3 R Calvert-Jones/Long/Lieb/Campbell  

3. Bentley Continental GT3 Jarvis/Kane/Smith  

4. Porsche 911 GT3 R Talbot/Martin/Padayachee  

5. McLaren 650S GT3  Parente/Bell/Ledogar    

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour
2017 Bathurst 12 Hour Iain Curry