Twelve months ago dual-Victorian State Series champion Justin McMillan made his ‘main game’ debut at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour, one of the most daunting circuits in the world. By the close of the event he had both impressed his highly-rated team-mate Steven Richards, and run strongly amongst the national GT regulars.
For his second attempt at the notorious Bathurst endurance event, McMillan employed not just a fourth driver, but the last Reiter Engineering-prepared Lamborghini Gallardo FLII built - it arrived just a fortnight before the season opener.
During testing at Phillip Island and Winton the new car performed brilliantly and that translated into pace during opening practice at Bathurst.
All four drivers - McMillan, Richards, Ross Lilley and new recruit Dale Wood were quick, but not 100% settled prior to qualifying. Despite setting a ‘comfortable’ pace,the team knew there was more to be found, and by Saturday night they’d unlocked the key to the new Gallardo’s ‘super powers’.
“It was exceptional,” Steven Richards admitted after running a double stint to start the event, the reigning Bathurst 1000 champion breaking the established lap record and taking the lead before a driver change at lap 58 - two hours and 22 minutes in.
“We made some adjustments to the chassis last night and it transformed the car. Sadly, like last year it was madness off the start, and I think we need an orange flag or something on the roof because it’s clear to me that we’re so low that some cars just don’t see us.
“I followed the Nissan through the Chase as he passed another car, but as soon as I got to the back of him, he moved over and forced me off into the grass. It was a little testy there for a bit but we gathered it up - I just think he didn’t see me.”
With Richards out the team put Dale Wood in for the third stint, but no sooner had the reigning V8 Supercar ‘Development Series’ champion hit the circuit, than a Safety Car was called to clear a big incident at the top of the circuit.
The team immediately called Wood in and put Ross Lilley in the seat whilst officials spent a number of valuable laps clearing the circuit of debris and doing their best to remove the oil and coolant from across Skyline.
After the restart Lilley was holding down seventh place but the hard charging leaders were soon on his tail looking for a way through. A big advocate of the slower cars giving the faster cars room, Lilley moved wide through Skyline to let the two leading cars through but sadly put two wheels into the fluid trail from the earlier accident . That put the Interlloy Gallardo into a spin, with it ultimately running across the gravel trap and hard into the outside wall at Skyline.
That brought the Safety Car back onto the circuit whilst officials raced to Lilley’s aid. Fortunately he extracted himself from the car, but was immediately taken into the custody of medical staff and transported to local hospital as a precaution.
“Ross is devastated,” team-boss Justin McMillan confirmed. “It’s the biggest crash he’s ever had, and all as a result of doing the right thing. We’re all disappointed, but that’s motor racing, the main thing is Ross is okay. We’ll fix the car for the opening round of Australian GT at the end of March, but it’s such a pity, we had a very fast car.”
“It takes more than just a fast car to win an event like this at Bathurst, but Justin’s right,” Steven Richards added. “The car today was phenomenal, and once I got clear of the Nissan and had some clean air, setting that quick lap [new lap record at that stage of the race] was just so comfortable.
“The interesting thing was that it was at the end of a long stint that we did the quick lap, which was testament to the Pirelli tyres. We think that would have been a big key late in the day because the weather prediction was hot and the tyres were perfect all week.”
For the M Motorsport team the hard work begins first thing Monday morning when they will strip the car, repair the chassis and start working towards the Australian GT Championship presented by Pirelli season opener at Sandown in Melbourne at the end of March (28-30).
“We’ll be there, no question,” McMillan confirmed. “It’s no small job, but it’s not tragic either. I suppose I should be upset, but the times I set here during practice were much quicker than I was turning here last year, the car was a jet - especially today - and we showed we had a handle on getting it to perform, so it’s not all bad news..!”
Race [12-Hours] (Mount Panorama, Bathurst - 9 February)
01. 88. Edwards/Bowe/Lowndes/Salo (Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) - 296-laps
02. 84. Jaeger/Primat/Buhk (Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3) - 296-laps
03. 63. Davison/Le Brocq/Crick (Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3) - 296-laps
04. 37. Quinn/Quinn/Kirkaldy/Van Gisbergen (McLaren MP4-12C) - 296-laps
05. 3. Frey/Rast/Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS ultra) - 296-laps
06. 25. Patterson/Lux/Winkelhock (Audi R8 LMS ultra) - 294-laps
DNF. 48. McMillan/Richards/Wood/Lilley (Gallardo FLII GT3) - 81-laps