A Bathurst 12 Hour love affair
EVERY October, without fail, the Bathurst 1000 is a locked in shared family viewing experience which is non-negotiable. Has been for years.
But, I have to admit, last Sunday I fell in love with another.
Passions were properly ignited in 2015, and last weekend confirmed it. The Bathurst 12 Hour is the exotic and exciting new flame, and I can't hide I was far more excited in the lead up to Mount Panorama's GT endurance race than I was for the V8 Supercars' effort.
Look, the Great Race still gives me goosebumps, but the theatre of the 12 Hour has overtaken it in my affections.
First there's the early morning start in darkness. Drivers have to prove they're at their most fearless here - this is driving flat out, on the Mountain, with limited visibility. Heroes. The fans, meanwhile, have to make a commitment to haul themselves out of bed before dawn to watch it. It's an event not pandering to preferred television scheduling.
Then, of course, there are the GT3 cars. As I dragged myself from the sack at 4.30am on Sunday, the starting grid read like a who's who of dream models. Audi R8, Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari 458, Nissan GT-R, Bentley Continental, McLaren 650S and Mercedes SLS AMG, to name but a few.
We know the V8 Supercars have their rules and regs, but really, who wouldn't rather see Nissan racing its GT-R rather than an Altima, and Merc its SLS AMG instead of an E-Class?
The Germans also unveiled its 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT3 at Bathurst - now that's a race car. It sadly wasn't racing this year, nor was the eagerly-anticipated BMW M6 GT3 - but talk about stopping pit lane traffic.
The whole Bathurst 12 Hour was live on terrestrial TV with quality, insightful coverage; there was a free online streaming service (which I needed when the kids finally won control of the TV remote) and excellent hourly highlights on the website too. Very fan friendly.
I was even sharing social media comments with overseas friends enjoying the race on live streaming: the reach of the Bathurst 12 Hour goes way beyond Australian borders.
Much like last year, the race was thrilling. Tekno Autosports' McLaren 650S took ultimate honours on its debut, with Shane Van Gisbergen leading home the second placed Nissan GT-R Nismo by just over a second. The top five places were filled with different brands: a Bentley Continental rounding out the podium and followed by an Audi R8 and Mercedes SLS AMG.
As is typical of endurance racing, no win ever comes easy. The victorious McLaren had 13 visits to its pit box, a drive through penalty for pit lane speeding and stopped on track before a system re-set fired it back into life.
Despite these setbacks, Van Gisbergen scored a new outright lap record for Bathurst with a 2m01.567s circuit - the fastest ever recorded in a race.
The Bathurst 1000? A new race lap record was set by Jamie Whincup in his VF Commodore last year at 2m07.1s - over five seconds slower than the McLaren.
A record 297 laps (1845km) were completed, the lead changed places 29 times between eight different cars, there were 13 safety car interruptions and 20 cars finished from 36 starters. It was compelling viewing.
The Bathurst 12 Hour is cementing a prime place not just on the Australian motorsport calendar, but the global one too. The three-day attendance of 37,079 was still a long way short of the Bathurst 1000's 200,000, but crowds were up 15% over 2015's 12 Hour.
This will surely increase in the coming years as more GT3 cars and bigger name international drivers are inevitably attracted to this excellent event, held on one of the world's most iconic race circuits.
2016 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour results
1. Tekno Autosports - McLaren 650S (Van Gisbergen-Parente-Webb) - 297 laps.
2. NISMO Athlete Global Team - Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (Kelly-Chiyo-Strauss) +1.276.
3. Bentley Team M-Sport - Bentley Continental GT3 (Kane-Smith-Bell) +1:18.503.
4. Phoenix Racing - Audi R8-LMS (Winklehock-Vanthoor-Davison) +2:05.621.
5. Erebus Motorsport - Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 (Reynolds-Jaeger-Bastian) 296 laps.