Australia’s Mount Panorama Circuit is known as of the toughest places in the world to race. This weekend, more than 50 cars will make laps out there for a full 12 hours. You should tune in.
If you’re still on an endurance high from the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona last weekend and want to watch more cars lap a circuit for unnatural lengths of time, Bathurst is the place to do it. The track is hardcore, and so are the races. The first one of the season takes place this weekend: the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Bathurst, in general, is wild. Kangaroos hop across the track during the race, cars get eaten by an unforgiving circuit, drivers get hurt, cars stubbornly hold their own on pit lane, fires happen, and it’s all, really, an incredible thing to watch. After all, Australia is the land of the shoey—a celebration that involves drinking out of a gross, sweaty shoe. It’s bound to be a fun time there.
The Bathurst 12 Hour is a sports-car endurance race that includes GT3 and GT4 cars, as well as other production-based and specialized endurance race cars. It takes place at Mount Panorama Circuit, which is usually a public road that gets converted into a race track for a few handfuls of events each year.
Unlike a lot of tracks, there’s not much runoff area on Mount Panorama. That’s because it’s a road most of the time, and the lack of runoff has, over the years, led to the track phasing out motorcycle races. Motorcycles need more room to slide off the track, and without it, racing them becomes more dangerous. But the lack of runoff is part of what makes Bathurst what it is for car races, and it certainly doesn’t go easy on the cars that get out of line.
Mount Panorama is a nearly 3.9-mile circuit with varying elevation—it’s just under 600 feet from the lowest point of the race circuit to the highest, according to its website. Certain parts are geometric and straight, while others have small kinks for drivers to navigate.
It’s a rural area with residences and businesses nearby, since it spends most days as a normal road. Races run counter-clockwise around the track, and the speed limit when it’s a public road is under 40 mph.
The course transitions from road to track pretty well, as you can see in this intense on-board footage from an Audi R8 LMS at last year’s Bathurst 12 Hour:
Each car has three or four drivers who trade off over the course of the 12 hours, typical for endurance racing. Race officials divide the cars into four different classes, meaning, like the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona last weekend, varying speed and skill are circling each other on the track for the entire race.
There are more than 50 cars entered in this year’s race, and they’ll fall into one of four different classes. That means there are four leaders at any given time in the race, which can get a little confusing.
Here’s a breakdown of how to know which class is which.
Class A: GT3 Cars
The GT3 class has a ton of manufacturers and a ton of talent levels, and is the biggest class by far on this year’s entry list. More than half of all of the entires entered are under the “Class A” designation, with race cars from Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Mercedes, McLaren, BMW and Bentley all on the list.
Part of what makes the GT3 class so big is that it’s divided into three more class designations, based on drivers entered in the car and the FIA’s ranking system for skill levels. The Bathurst 12 Hour divides the FIA’s Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze rankings into the categories “seeded” and “unseeded.” The top two are seeded, while the bottom two are unseeded.
The GT3 Pro class is for cars with an all-professional lineup in terms of the FIA system, and the GT3 Pro-Am class mandates no more than two professional, or seeded, drivers on a team. The GT3 Am class doesn’t allow any seeded drivers, but at least one of the drivers on each team must have a Bronze FIA ranking.
On the current entry list, there are 12 GT3 Pro entries, 13 Pro-Am entries and three in the Am class.
Class B: GT3 Cup Cars
Ever heard of a Porsche GT3 Cup car? That’s what this class is all about. There are currently five cars entered in this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour in Class B.
Class C: GT4 Cars
Worldwide, GT4 cars are a step under GT3 cars. There are 10 of them in the Bathurst 12 Hour this year, including Ginetta, KTM, Porsche and BMW race cars.
Class I: The Invitation Class
The Class I cars are the ones that got invited to race the Bathurst 12 Hours. Race organizers decide which cars are eligible, and they compete against each other. It’s the wild-card class, really.
This year, 10 Class I cars are on the list. That includes MARC Mazda V8s, MARC Focus V8s, MARC II V8s, a Dodge Viper and a Daytona Coupe. If you’ve never heard of those first three, MARC Cars is an engineering and manufacturing firm that competes in international sports-car racing.
The race starts at 5:45 a.m. local time Sunday in Bathurst, which is in Australian Eastern Daylight Time. That means the race starts at 1:45 p.m. U.S. Eastern Standard Time on Saturday. Live streams and television coverage start 15 minutes before the race does.
If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, the race will be on regular television. Sky Sports will show the whole race live in New Zealand, and the Seven Network will have it in Australia. Seven Network’s 7mate channel plans to show the full 12 hours live in Australia, plus qualifying the day before.
And while that’s usually the ultimate sign that everyone else in the world will have to pay to watch the race, not this time. The Bathurst 12 Hour website will have free live streams of all of the race sessions, including Saturday’s practice and qualifying—which happen on Friday in America.
Friday coverage, in America, starts at 1:30 p.m. ET on the website. There’s live timing and scoring, too, in case you need to drop the stream for a bit but still want to follow along.