The first race of the 2022 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli was held from the 13th to the 15th of May at the iconic Mount Panorama Circuit. Hong Kong team Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing pulled off a unique strategy to power themselves to a team-best P2 finish from the back of the grid at the Bathurst 12 Hour. The strategy was compounded by some determined driving by the star-studded line-up of Maro Engel, Dani Juncadella and Kevin Tse. The team came tantalizingly close to the win, finishing 8.707 seconds behind the leader at the end of the endurance classic.
The weekend started positively, clocking in competitive lap times at the first 4 practice sessions of the event. The skies cleared up on Friday after days of continuous rain, allowing the drivers to get in dry running around the 6.2km track. It was the first time racing at Mount Panorama for Tse and Juncadella, which is notoriously tricky and technically challenging. With Engel’s experience and increasing confidence, the trio was able to go faster each time out, finishing in P3 at the end of the day.
It was on Saturday when the team faced a real challenge. The engineers discovered some discrepancies overnight in one of the engine data channels, and although the team could have kept racing with the engine, in view of safety and reliability, the team ultimately made the decision to complete an engine change. The mechanics started working on replacing the Mercedes-AMG engine early on Saturday but despite the best efforts of the team, missed out on both the practice and qualifying sessions on Saturday, putting the team on the back foot.
Come race day the car was ready and the #91 Mercedes-AMG GT3 lined up on the last row of the grid, in P19. Engel started in the challenging foggy conditions at dusk, with his experienced driving allowing the team to make steady progress. The safety car came out multiple times in the first few hours of the race, essentially allowing the Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing to pull the trigger on their unorthodox pit stop strategy. The team regularly went off-sync, pitting during and immediately after the safety car, completing 14 pit stops in only the first half of the race and fulfilling the requirement of 9 compulsory 120-second stops by the 4-hour mark and still managing to stay on the lead lap and in contention.
The team confidently ran in P1 for 4 hours in the middle third of the race, putting pressure on other teams to adapt and cope with the team's unique pit stop strategy. From there it was all about managing the race and reacting to the drastic weather changes and making tactical driver changes to complete Juncadella’s and Tse’s stints to maintain track position. Rain in the middle part of the race affected the driver order and with 3 hours to go, the team was 13-odd seconds behind the leader. Engel was handed the responsibility to bring the car home in a final double stint. This unlocked an epic duel between himself and fellow AMG factory driver Jules Gounon. The pair traded tenths of a second for nearly 2.5 hours, and despite a 10-second faster final pit by Craft-Bamboo Racing, it was ultimately not enough to catch Gounon with the #91 entry crossing the checkered flag in P2, 8.707 seconds behind the eventual winner.
There were mixed emotions amongst the team, with a sense of both disappointment and happiness at the flag as everyone sought that maiden Bathurst 12 Hour win. Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing would like to thank everyone involved for this podium result, helping the German marquee secure a podium lockout at the IGTC season opener. All the partners including Mercedes-AMG Motorsport, Evisu, Motul Lubricants, Contempo Concept, Tarmac Works, Gravity, Hong Kong Asia Medical Group, SP Tools, Kaze, FreeM, and POAD came together for a successful weekend at Australia’s greatest International Endurance event. Despite the changing weather conditions, Motul lubrication in the engine and gearbox played a big role in keeping the car reliable and performing to the maximum.
Darryl O’Young Team Director, #91 Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing
“It’s a disappointment to come so close for sure, but I leave this race with nothing but gratitude. Firstly to all the race organizers, volunteers and Australian race fans at the event that gave our team so much support and encouragement throughout the week. Next are the drivers Kevin, Dani, and Maro, all of which drove to the maximum this weekend. To all the boys and girls at Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing, just an incredible effort from each and every person to bring us this podium result. No penalties, mistakes, or faults by the whole crew for the entire 12 hours. Also, big thanks to Kirby, our team manager, for all the hard work to prepare the event, Matt and the engineering team for the epic strategy, and a special shout out to all the Asia crew members that couldn't make it to Australia due to visas during the pandemic. We look forward to learning from this race and coming back to fight for the win again in 2023.”
Maro Engel | Driver, #91 Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing
“It’s been an amazing race. Very tough one once again. The team and drivers did an amazing coming from the last row of the grid to finish second and be leading the race for a significant amount of time. We tried everything to close that gap down at the end but just wasn’t quite enough. We can definitely be proud of the race and the result we achieved. It was a pleasure to once again race with Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing, thanks to everyone who made this possible, especially after the challenging Saturday we had. A big thank you to my teammates, Dani and Kevin, they drove amazingly. I hope we can come back in 9 months' time and have another go at that win.”
Daniel Juncadella | Driver, #91 Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing
“It was a great race for my debut at Bathurst. Obviously happy with second place as an overall result but we as drivers always want to win, so a bit disappointed having missed the win by just 8 seconds after all the setbacks during the weekend. Anyways, very happy with the performance of the entire team and they did an outstanding job the whole weekend, just missing out by a little bit. It was a pleasure to join Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing for this event and I think everyone can be proud of the result. This is going to give us more strength for the next time we come in February, and we are going to go for the win.”
Kevin Tse | Driver, #91 Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing
“I would really like to thank Mercedes-AMG and Craft-Bamboo Racing for the opportunity. It is a very iconic race. It was my first time at Bathurst and I am very proud to be part of the team. A big shout out to Matt Harvey and Maro Engel, they sat down and devised this strategy which we executed perfectly for the entire race, giving us this fantastic result. Congrats to Dani for being up to pace with the other drivers despite it being his first time here. I had the very best superstar AMG drivers alongside me, so I am very grateful to be a part of this team. We missed victory by 8 seconds but in hindsight, we should be very proud of what we achieved in Australia.”