GARTH WALDEN RACING has locked in a powerhouse four-car attack on this year’s Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour, including two genuine contenders for outright victory.
The Sydney-based team has confirmed current Supercars championship Driving Standards Observer and Bathurst 12-hour winner Craig Baird will join Garth Walden in the team’s lead Mercedes-Benz AMG A45, the five-time Carrera Cup champion to make his six-hour debut this Easter.
The team will also enter a second AMG A45 for the first time, to be driven by Robert Woods, Ben Porter and Duvashen Padayachee.
Though it will be Woods’ first Bathurst experience both Porter and Padayachee have significant experience at the famous circuit, adding to the team’s chances of Bathurst success.
The team tested in Sydney on Friday and though Queensland’s storms forced Baird to miss the test, the other four drivers completed a successful day’s running with performance and reliability improvements found on the pair of AMG hatchbacks.
Team owner Garth Walden said the chance to snare the highly experienced Baird was an opportunity too good to miss.
“Craig literally texted me saying ‘I’ve got a Mercedes-Benz race suit, how do I get in one of your cars’ and it was as simple as that!” Walden said.
“Unfortunately he missed the test day but we know he’s experienced enough to jump in the car and be on the pace. He brings a lot to the team and it was a no-brainer to grab him to drive alongside me.
“He’s obviously got the Supercars and GT experience but he won the 12-hour when it was a Production Car race, too. I think we’ll be a good shot at a win and that’s what we’re going for.
“The sister car is also a real podium chance. Robert hasn’t been there before but should be up to speed quickly working with the other two guys in that car. Both Ben and Duvashen tested the car and were really quick – in fact all four drivers who tested were within the same ballpark.”
Walden said the team had significantly improved the A45 since its Bathurst debut last year, putting an emphasis on durability as well as performance.
In the 2016 Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour the car was fast and led the race early, though mechanical dramas pushed them out of the race before half-distance.
“We’ve made gains on the performance side but also on durability so it’s a better package overall,” Walden explained.
“There’s been gains in suspension and drivability so it will be a better package overall.”
GWR will also field cars in Class B, running the Race for a Cure Subaru Impreza WRX STi to be driven by Ben Kavich, Michal Kavich and Kieren Pilkington in class B1, for High Performance Forced Induction entries.
The team will also field the defending class winning Holden VE SS-V Redline in class B2, again driven by Brian Walden, Michael Auld and Richard Bloomfield.
“The ‘old boys’ are back in their Commodore and have a class win to defend, so we’re looking forward to seeing how they go.
“We’re looking after the Kavich’s Subaru again and they have put a great program together and are competing for a great cause called ‘Race for a Cure’ this year. They’re class contenders as well so we feel like we’ve got strong chances in A1, B1 and B2 in this race.”
The monumental operation will see GWR bring a total of 40 staff and drivers to Mount Panorama, plus a highly experienced engineering group to run the cars.
Walden’s existing engineer, Dejan Ninic – who brings World Rally Championship experience to the party - will run his and Baird’s car, while Nissan Motorsport’s Blake Smith will look after the sister Woods / Padayachee / Porter entry.
Fellow Supercars Championship engineer Barry Hay will manage the Subaru and Holden Commodore entries, while the team will also import an experienced engineer from Holland to help manage the performance of the team across the weekend.
Walden said the massive effort was an all-out attack on Bathurst victory – and that the team had other motives to drive their success.
“It’s a big program and it’s all in a bid to give us the best possible chance to go for a victory.. It’s a massive assault! A huge thanks goes to Myriam, our team manager, for pulling it all together,” he explained.
“We’re doing it for our mate Ron Searle, who was the instigator of getting the Mercedes’ on track but because he’s been crook still hasn’t seen the car run in person yet.
“He’s just gone through another round of surgery so won’t be with us this year, though his name will be on the car and he will be riding with us.
“It’s a big push to grab a Bathurst win for him.”