After two top ten finishes and a Pro-Am podium across the last two years of the gruelling once-around-the-clock marathon on arguably the world’s toughest circuit, Trofeo Motorsport went into the 2019 Bathurst 12 Hour intent upon a podium return and were right on target before contact towards the end of the third hour ultimately put paid to their plans.
Qualifying – much like 2018 – was an all-in sprint with drivers giving their all as they fought for a start towards the front of the 38-car field. Trofeo’s Dean Canto was again charged with qualifying, the former Supercar winner setting the 23rd fastest time in the hectic 30-minute final session [the same starting position the team had in 2018 on their way to eighth outright], just four places behind multiple Bathurst 1000 champion Jamie Whincup – the pace was intense!
Having laid the foundations for Trofeo’s past successes at Bathurst, Canto was again installed for the 5:45am start, using his experience to work his way through the challenging early morning light, handing the car to team-owner Jim Manolios from inside the top ten during the opening pit stop cycles.
Frustratingly for the teams, the opening stanza occurred without the expected Safety Car interventions, but no sooner had Manolios taken the wheel of the #29 Haemokinesis/Trofeo Estate Huracan, than the first of what became three Safety Car periods brought the field back into line, regaining the Trofeo team valuable ground on their rivals.
Sadly though, despite the best efforts of Manolios and the team, it all came to an abrupt halt on lap 69, just a couple of laps before he had completed his full 100-minute stint, after contact with the #777 Mercedes-AMG of Yasser Shahin into the final corner, contact which incurred the Mercedes a drive-through penalty as a result.
“We were having issues with the mirrors – no driver’s side after damage and the passenger’s side was looking down, so rearward visibility wasn’t great so I was relying on the rear facing camera to see what was coming,” Manolios explained afterwards. “As I turned into Murray’s corner I could see the #777 approaching in the rear vision camera and saw him angling to come down the inside, but as I turned in I saw a flash of colour move to the right, so I thought he’d changed direction. Without the side mirror giving me a clear indication I thought I’d hold my line because I honestly didn’t know where he was and didn’t want to run him off the circuit, but next thing I knew he was into my drivers door and turned me around.”
Manolios was able to stop the car from going into the gravel trap on the outside of the circuit and rejoin, showing little sign of damage, but on pitting two laps later the team noticed drops of oil under the car and immediately pulled the Lamborghini into the garage.
“The contact was mostly superficial, but it’s damaged an oil cooler so we need to replace it,” Manolios explained.
The team lost 14-laps in pit-lane before Ivan Capelli was able to continue, the former F1-star able to push and work his way forward with no immediate signs of drama.
Capelli completed his double stint and handed the car to new Trofeo recruit Ben Porter who was able to punch out a number of quick laps to have the car moving forward again, albeit slowly being 14-laps down.
Ultimately though, an engine issues sidelined the team on lap 178, Porter noticing a change of engine note and a drop in power as he charged up the hill, however he was able to drive back to the garage where it was confirmed they’d have to retire the car.
For the Trofeo Motorsport team, focus now turns to the 2019 Australian GT Championship where the team hopes to be able to field the new EVO upgrade package for the Huracan, a package which includes a new engine and revised aero, time being the ultimate arbiter of whether the changes can be made, however a spare engine and limited damage from Bathurst will ensure that the #29 Trofeo machine will be on the grid in Melbourne.
What the drivers had to say;
“We were right on plan, everything was going well, but sometimes, that’s the way it goes.. The engine issue may have been brought on by the contact that took out the oil cooler – at the time there were no alarms, but it ran for two laps with the oil leak so it certainly contributed to the final outcome, but that’s the sport, you win some and sometimes – even when you’re trying to stay out of trouble – you lose some..!
“All up it was another fantastic weekend. Ben [Porter] fit seamlessly into the team and did everything we asked of him, and James [Spengler], Ryan [Millier] and the rest of the crew did a brilliant job preparing and running the car all weekend, their side was flawless. It was also fantastic to have the support of Jon Flinn and Giulio Di Lorenzo from Lamborghini Squadra Corse who made the trip down again especially for the event.”
“It was a very strong field this year and a lot of the professional drivers were out there starting the race so [it was] a pretty hard pace. The track [in the opening stint] was actually quite warm and the ambient temperature was quite warm whereas last year was quite cold, so tyre temperature was up straight away. It was a good clean start for everyone and then onto Jim. The incident was just one of those things, sometimes it can end your race, sometimes you can get away with it, this time though we lost a heap of laps and that might have also contributed to our retirement.”
“A circuit like this is always demanding. We were just cycling through our pit stops and things were going to plan. From my side, I hadn’t been in a race car since Bathurst 2018, so it was a steep learning curve. It was exciting to be back at Bathurst again, and even though I found some pace, I wanted more. The objective is always to compete and fight and to see the chequered flag in the highest position possible!”
“It was a nice surprise to get the late call up into the Trofeo team, I didn’t think I’d be here on the mountain this year. I was already comfortable with the car with my experience in Blancpain Asia, but it was a matter of getting into the team dynamic and working to the plan which I think was going well. I was happy with my pace and comfortable in the car, but just at the end I noticed a slight drop in power heading up the hill and called into the team. The data was showing a sensor failure which we’d seen in the past, but once I could hear a slight change to the engine note we felt it best to come in. A disappointing end, but a great experience with a great team.”