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Supercars 2023: Valentino Rossi huge hit as Bathurst comes alive with 12-hour endurance race

All roads head to back to Bathurst for the annual 12-hour enduro this weekend, but it’s the presence of an Italian living legend which already has motorsport fans in a lather.

A who’s who of Australian motorsport legends attracted a bumper crowd for the traditional town to track ahead of the Bathurst 12-Hour but it was the presence of an Italian living legend that had fans lining the streets on Thursday.

Nine-time Moto GP world champion Valentino Rossi is Down Under again and has this time swapped his motorbike for a BMW M4GT3 as part of Team WRT’s Class A Pro entry at the annual enduro event.

Owner of a record eight MotoGP victories at Phillip Island, Rossi enjoys a loyal fan following in Australia and welcomed the opportunity to add to his legacy at Mount Panorama this weekend.

“I have spent a long, long time in Australia (over) my life, a lot of time at Phillip Island for the MotoGP. The fans are very strong for motorsport and it’s always a great feeling,” Rossi said.

“The first time for me at Bathurst will be very different but the place looks fantastic. It’s incredible.

“I always drove just with the sim (racing simulator) … it’s an incredible track. All the drivers say that it’s also very beautiful, so we will wait tomorrow (to) try with the car.”

Supercars legends Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup also joined the track to town ahead of a Class A Pro-Am head-to-head between the two former teammates.

Lowndes will pilot the No. 222 Mercedes AMG GT3 alongside Alex Davison, Geoff Emery and Scott Taylor this weekend.

“This event just keeps growing and growing and of course last year with Covid we couldn’t get the international (competitors to Bathurst) — they’re back (this year),” beamed Lowndes.

“I think if we can stay out of trouble on Sunday the four of us will have a great run.

“If we can be on the podium at the end of the day that will be really special for us.”

Whincup is part of a three-man combination in the No. 99 Mercedes GT3 featuring Richie Stanaway and Prince Jefri Ibrahim.

His Triple Eight Supercars drivers Broc Feeney and Shane van Gisbergen will partner with Maximillian Gotz in the aptly numbered 888 GT3 in the Class A Pro category.

“There’s the three-hour, the six-hour, 12 hour and of course the 1000, so we’re here quite a bit these days,” Whincup said.

“This is one of the big international events of the year (and) while we have one eye looking at our Supercars program trying to get two Gen3 cars built to get on track, we’ve absolutely got all our crew here this weekend to make sure we get the best possible result.

“It’s a fantastic part of our sport (that) you can retire full-time and not go just cold turkey … fantastic for people like myself who can do five or six events for the year and be able to wind down.

“I really enjoy these types of things. I love driving, I’ve driven since I was seven years old, so I’m really looking forward to getting in the car this weekend.

“The (sunny) weather is a huge factor, but Valentino Rossi is a big factor (to the fan turnout) as well, let’s not deny that. So yeah, all those things combined a fantastic turnout and hopefully everyone has a fantastic weekend.”

Friday’s schedule will feature the first practice sessions ahead of qualifying on Saturday, before the Bathurst 12 Hour kicks off in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Supercars shakedown: Gen3 era begins ‘faultlessly’

The first Gen3 Supercars shakedown is in the books after Blanchard Racing Team recruit Todd Hazelwood took the new-look Cooldrive Ford Mustang for a spin around Winton on Wednesday.

Following delays in the supply chain process that led to homologation teams Dick Johnson Racing and Triple Eight abandoning their scheduled tests earlier this week, BRT stepped to the plate for the first shakedown of the Gen3 era.

“It’s a very important day for our little team to be the first team to get the Gen3 car out there,” team principal Tim Blanchard told News Corp.

“Apart from a few teething issues that we expected, the day has run faultlessly. It shows the car’s not stuck together, it’s been put together properly.”

Blanchard said the protracted development and build process “definitely made the project a lot more difficult” but after Wednesday’s outing was confident the team would be ready to race come the season opener in Newcastle on March 10-12.

“I guess it’s been well-documented the parts supply issues – it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in (at the moment) there’s supply chain issues,” Blanchard said

“(But) we’re a small, nimble team and I think we planned pretty well for it.

“The main thing today was to get the car out there and get mileage on it and see what areas the car needed tuning and working on. Next week we can start working on performance.

“It’s a one-car team and we’re still learning and growing as a team so we’re realistic but confident we’ve put ourselves in the best possible to get a good result (come Newcastle),” he added.

Hazelwood’s early stint confirmed the general driver consensus from pre-season testing sessions – the Gen3 cars will be a far different beast to their predecessors.

“The data from the prototype test showed these cars are a lot more aggressive on tire wear and that’s what we saw today, which will make for interesting racing,” Blanchard said.

“Like everyone that has driven these cars, they’ve found the way it reacts to the tire and how it moves around is quite different to the cars of last year.

“We’ve worked pretty hard and done some long hours to do everything possible to minimize the impact on the project.

“We’ve had no major issues, so we couldn’t be happier.”

The bulk of the Supercars teams are expected to have their first Gen3 runs over the next two weeks, with every team due to front-up at Sydney Motorsport Park for an all-in test on February 22.

Originally published as Supercars 2023: Valentino Rossi huge hit as Bathurst comes alive with 12-hour endurance race

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