A chance for some high-speed Bathurst practice has lured three of Supercars most successful drivers into the first round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Australia at Phillip Island.
They know that a front-running GT3 car will help to keep them sharp for the two-driver Supercars classic at Mount Panorama, as well as giving them much-needed match practice at a time when many Bathurst co-drivers are struggling to stay competitive.
But the presence of Chaz Mostert, Garth Tander and Jamie Whincup is more than just laps and giggles around one of Australia’s best circuits.
“You don’t go to any racetrack to make up the numbers,” Tander told Race News.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge, and trying to win,” said Mostert.
Whincup joins them as a late replacement for his Triple Eight team mate Shane van Gisbergen, down with a chip on his shoulder after a mountain bike crash that meant surgery for a broken collarbone, although he is less likely to star as co-driver to Australian GT newbie Prince Jefri Ibrahim of Johore.
Mostert and Tander will both be in Audi R8s as part of a 20-car GT field that points to a much needed, and long overdue, renaissance of quality sports car racing in Australia.
They have been picked up by class stalwarts Tony Bates and Yasser Shahin, who are part of the ‘championship’ entry of 11 cars, and their rivals will include new Supercars team owners – at Kelly Grove Racing – Stephen and Brenton Grove in a Porsche GT3-R 911-11.
Mostert is an experienced sports car driver who won his class at the Daytona 24-Hour in a BMW but has yet to race an Audi R8.
“Any time I can drive a GT3 car is always a buzz. In Australia, it is the category with the most downforce and a roof,” said Mostert.
“I’ve got plenty of miles in GT3 cars, not so much in the Audi. This will be my first time teaming up with Tony, although I’ve known him for plenty of years.”
Mostert is also keen for the whole of the World Challenge series, in a busy Supercars year that also includes racing in the TCR Australia Series.
“There is one clash that I cannot do. But I’ll do as many of the series as I can.”
For Tander, GT racing has become a pivotal part of his program in recent years and he has had plenty of wins. He also knows the value of high-speed laps to prepare for a return to Supercars alongside van Gisbergen in October.
“Both the Supercars and GT cars have their strengths and weaknesses. The GT car, as it’s faster and it’s trickier on the limit is good to keep you tuned up for Supercars.
“To drive the GT car on the limit is challenging. Very challenging.
“The weakness of the GT car is that it has ABS and traction control. But it keeps you fresh for Bathurst in the 1000, and it also keeps your GT miles up for the Bathurst 12-Hour.”
Tander is planning well ahead as he also considers a return to the TCR Australia grid ahead of the two-driver Bathurst 500 planned for November, as well as the likely return of the 12-hour in 2022.
“You’ve always got to think ahead. So you’ve got to have one eye on things. There is a TCR race at Bathurst in November, and that’s a two-driver race.
“That’s of interest. I’m working on it.”
With 20 cars at Phillip Island, the category manager for the GT World Challenge is confident that support will grow quickly.
“The good news there is that we know the interest is there for GT3 racing in Australia,” said Ken Collier.
“With big events coming up soon at Mount Panorama and The Bend, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have over 25 cars entering sooner rather than later.