A 12-hour smorgasbord for motoring aficionados

IT'S Bathurst, but not as you know it. While the track and some of the drivers are the same, everything else about the Bathurst 12 Hour is far removed from the much more famous Bathurst 1000.

Eight months earlier and nearly double the duration of the 1000, Sunday's Bathurst 12 Hour is a true endurance test for a multi-national field of drivers and cars.

Instead of the October classic's homegrown Holden and Ford V8 Supercars, the 12 Hour features exotic GT sports cars from renowned marquees Ferrari, Lamborgini, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz AMG and Audi.

Even with the addition of Nissan and Mercedes AMG this year, the 1000 won't have anywhere near the variety of the makes represented in the 12 Hour.

The diverse 51-car field is almost double the number of starters in the 1000, and for the pace-setting GT teams, constantly dodging the slower lapped cars around the unforgiving Mount Panorama circuit will be a major hazard.

The driver line-up is studded with highly-rated visitors and many moonlighting V8 Supercar exponents, including household names Craig Lowndes and Greg Murphy and rising stars Lee Holdsworth, Tim Slade and Shane van Gisbergen.

Although gaining international recognition as one of the world's premier GT endurance races, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour is as unknown to Australians at large as the 1000 is legendary.

Certainly, the contrast between this weekend at Mount Panorama and the V8 October fest goes beyond the multicultural entry list.

There's no all-day TV coverage, spectator attendance is tiny and the atmosphere in the pit paddock is relaxed, friendly and cosmopolitan.

For the few thousand aficionados who'll be trackside from 7am to 7pm on Sunday, the 12 Hour is a smorgasbord of speed, ranging from dream machines to attainable sporty cars.

Along with wailing Ferrari 458s, howling Audi R8s, rumbling Mercedes AMG SLSs and growling Porsche 911s, the 12 Hour has attracted a two-car team from French manufacturer Peugeot.

It is the only full factory backed effort in the race, with the pair of race-spec RCZ coupes despatched from France along with three drivers.

They form a Franco-Australian driving team with V8 Supercar drivers Jason Bright, David Wall and Andrew Jones.

Bright, a former Bathurst 1000 winner, is partnering two of the visiting Frenchmen, Stephane Caillet and Julien Rueflin, while Wall and Jones join Bruce Jouanny.

Peugeot is contesting an invitational class for cars with an engine capacity up to 1.6-litres with the 190 kW turbocharged four-cylinder RCZs, which are radically different to what the squad's V8 drivers are used to wrestling around the hillside track.

Compared with their Commodore V8 Supercars, the low-slung Pugs are slow up the hill, very fast across the twisting top section and swamped down Conrod Straight.

In qualifying on Saturday, Bright's class-leading fastest lap was 20 seconds slower than Holdsworth's pole-position winning time in his Mercedes AMG SLS GT racer.

This story A 12-hour smorgasbord for motoring aficionados first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.