US-based Australian racer Kenny Habul will make a much-anticipated return to racing this weekend with a goal of defending his Gulf 12 Hours Pro-Am title in his SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG GT3 at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi.
Habul has been totally focused on his physical recovery since breaking his back in practice for the 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium back in July.
The solar energy entrepreneur and his 2022 Abu Dhabi team-mates Philip Ellis and Martin Konrad will be joined by 31-year-old Austrian Dominik Baumann who has been a very consistent and competitive GT racer in Europe for more than 10 years.
Last year the SunEnergy1 Racing entry finished fifth outright in the 34-car field and first in the Pro-Am field of 10 entries at the Gulf 12 Hours.
This weekend's event, which comes just two weeks after the final round of the F1 World Championship at the same venue, has attracted 28 entries, including seven Mercedes-AMG GT3s and others from Audi, BMW, Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche.
The Gulf 12 Hours is again the final round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli season, and three championships are up for grabs, with overall drivers' and manufacturers' titles in the balance, as well as Independent Cup honours.
Habul, who won at Bathurst in February, cannot defend IGTC's Independent Cup due to his injury at Spa, which consequently ruled him out for the last round at Indianapolis back in October, however a strong result could see him finish as high as second in the title chase.
Fellow Australian Stephen Grove will team with his son Brenton and reigning Bathurst 1000 champion Richie Stanaway in a Porsche 911 GT3 R in an effort to win the Independents' Cup. Stanaway will join Grove Racing in next year's Supercars championship.
Ironically, the SunEnergy1 team went on to win the 24 Hours of Spa Pro-Am class after Habul rallied his team from his hospital bed, including the ordering of a new Mercedes-AMG GT3 which was prepared through the night.
Habul's unselfish act enabled Australian Chaz Mostert, Dutchman Nicky Catsburg, Konrad and local German ‘sub' Adam Osieka the chance to go on and win the race by 14.2 seconds after starting from pit lane.
The result has been widely considered one of the great stories of the global GT season.
“It has been a long process for me personally after the incident at Spa, but we have done all the work to put that behind us and I am ready to go,” said Habul.
“Physically, I continue to work every day, but I am strong enough to be back in the car and be competitive.
“It is great to have Dominik [Baumann] join myself, Philip [Ellis] and Martin [Konrad] this weekend as we set out to defend the Gulf 12-Hour title.
“Yas Marina is a great venue and probably one of the more comfortable facilities I could have chosen to make a return in regards to logistics and getting around.
“It will be good to get the seat time this weekend and then have a break to refocus for the Daytona 24-Hour [January 25-28] and then the Bathurst 12-Hour [February 16-18].”
Despite still in serious recovery mode, Habul was announced as the first 2024 Bathurst 12 Hour entry back in August – an event where he will be chasing a three-peat of victories.
Four qualifying sessions on Saturday December 9, starting at 6pm Abu Dhabi time (1pm in Europe, 12 noon in the UK, Midnight Australia EST, and 9am US-East Coast, 6am US-West Coast), will kick off the live video coverage via the event's official YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/@gulfmotorsport and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/gulf12hours.