Inside a Bathurst 6-Hour Class Win with 11Racing

The Hi-Tech Oils Bathurst 6 Hour holds a special place in Australian motorsport, offering competitors the opportunity to race in a multi-class production-based enduro at the famed Mount Panorama circuit. While most of the attention is focused on the race for outright honours, a lot is going on further back in the field, and it’s easy to miss. Writer Scott Guyatt spent the weekend embedded within Class D frontrunners Lone Star 11Racing. Here’s their Bathurst 6 Hour story.

Success at Bathurst rarely comes overnight. The list of Bathurst-winning rookies is short, and even then, rookie drivers are usually part of a team with significant Mt Panorama experience. More often, it’s a case of years of hard work to build knowledge, track familiarity, and the right combination of team, car, and drivers to succeed.
Lone Star 11Racing came to the Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour in 2023 for their fourth attempt at the event. The previous three visits included the satisfaction of a Class D podium with Matt Payne as part of the driving team in 2021, but also the lowest of lows. Friday practice in 2022 saw the team’s Toyota 86 heavily in the wall at the top of the mountain – only an epic all-night repair job seeing the car on track come race day. The chassis was never the same again, and it was all the team could do to get to the finish line, with underlying damage eventually forcing it to be retired from competition entirely. The team worked hard in 2022, applying all the lessons learned to build up a new 86 GTS for the 2023 event.

Arriving trackside in 2023, there is a sense of unfinished business about the Lone Star 11Racing squad, a sense of coming back to Mt Panorama to see about a little thing called redemption. Led by owner Murray Dowsett, the driving team includes emerging young talents Mitch Maddren (his third
6 Hour with 11Racing) and Lockie Bloxsom (new to the team). Dowsett has carefully assembled a pit lane crew led by the uber-experienced James Spengler and Adrian Raskin, together with Kristy McAndrew – Dowsett’s regular mechanic and co-builder of the Toyota 86 GTS and a dedicated bunch of family, friends and motorsport contacts.

Class D is home for 11Racing, and sees competitors hit the track in affordable sports cars – the kinds of cars that you and I could aspire to. For 2023 the field included the ever-trustworthy Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, Mazda RX8, BMW 125i, VW Golf GTi and Honda Integra Type R. The cars are usually seen in state-based production car series throughout the year, brought to Bathurst for their once-a-year assault battle.

There’s something special about class-based racing at Bathurst. It is, in a sense, harking back to the early days of racing on the mountain. While the battle rages up front for the outright win, back in the field there are a host of skirmishes going on within the various classes making up the race. Lone Star 11Racing is a team typical of those making up the bulk of the Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour field – blending youth and experience, amateur and experienced professionals and here for the love of the sport.

Practice at the 2023 race is something of a challenge for just about every team. Wet, cold, and windy weather, together with frequent red-flag stoppages conspired to limit track time over the three extended practice sessions. P1 sees the team manage just a half-dozen laps (as does most of the field), with Maddren getting a feel for the car in wet conditions and Bloxsom jumping in only just in time for the final red flag to fly. Encouragingly the car is fast and balanced in the difficult conditions, and the team top the Class D timesheets.
Practice Two starts better, Dowsett jumping in for an extended stint and beginning the process of re-acclimatising himself to the once-a-year track. It doesn’t finish so well though, with Maddren taking over only for an electrical gremlin to strike, stranding the car in the Cutting (and in the process causing yet another red flag for the field). Electrical issues can at times be hard to diagnose, and this one takes the crew a couple of hours to track down before they find and resolved it. The MDR Motorsports pairing of Clark and Aho is quick in the session, proving that they’ll be a big threat on Sunday.

Saturday is qualifying day. There’s a buzz in the air as the team gathers in the pit garage, Friday’s electrical gremlin is resolved and the 86 is ready to go. Team manager James Spengler puts young-gun Lockie Bloxsom in the car for his first dry laps during P3, then opts to give Dowsett some more wheel time to build confidence for Sunday’s expected long stints. All seems to go according to plan, with Bloxsom feeling very comfortable in the car even in the greasy early conditions and confident there is plenty of pace to be found. Post-practice and the crew comfortably complete a scheduled gearbox change – transmission life being a known challenge for the 86.

The field is split into two sessions for qualifying and fewer cars on track create a little more space for hot laps and reduces the impact of the incredible speed disparity between the fastest Class X cars, and the slower C, D and E Class vehicles. Bloxsom heads out in the 86 GTS and is immediately fast. On his first fast lap he banks a 2:39, the first time he, the car or the team have dipped below the 2:40 mark. There is genuine excitement in the garage as the numbers pop up on the timing screens. His next lap is even better; a stunning 2:38.76 not only the quickest the team has ever managed but the quickest Class D lap time any of us can find in the Bathurst 6 Hour record books. It gives the team a margin over the next best in Class D (Haydn Clark again doing in the business in the #39 MDR entry), and they’re practically bouncing off the walls. Nobody is getting ahead of themselves – it’s only qualifying after all – but there is delight to have brought a quick car to the race track after the dramas of 2022. Bloxsom talks enthusiastically about getting the 86 “up and dancing on the tyres”, particularly fast across the top of the mountain in the lightweight, but underpowered car. There is, it must be said, an air of anticipation as the crew leaves the track for the evening, the race car tucked up and ready for Sunday’s 6 Hour.

It’s colder and windier again on Sunday, and the day starts with a twenty-minute warmup session. It’s normally a low-key session, with teams bedding in brakes, checking tyre pressures, and confirming any changes that might be made after qualifying. Today though, with all that weather-interrupted practice, it feels a little more important. For many drivers, Mitch Maddren included, this race-day warmup represents the first dry running they’ve had all weekend. With 11Racing putting Maddren in the car for the start, those morning laps would be crucial to getting a feel for the car, track, and conditions.

Gathered around the car on the starting grid, anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and nervousness are all evident. We’re a long way back from the front-running Class X cars and surrounded by other teams just like ours. Each team, like 11Racing, is here battling for class honours, built from a motley crew of friends, family, and industry contacts. There’s a first-lap false-start that does nothing to settle the nerves, and the field is sent for a second warm-up lap before finally things get underway.

It’s a busy first few laps, drivers sorting themselves out and finding relative pace in full-fuel race trim. Maddren is strong, moving immediately out to a margin over the #39 MDR car that 11Racing would battle all day. In this first stint he bangs in a 2:39 lap time – the first he’s ever done – showing that even in race trim the Lone Star car is fast. The 2023 race is marked by a series of safety cars – 12 in all – and the first of those happens to fall the team’s way. Maddren’s raw pace has built a big class lead, and when the safety car drops into the gap between he and the #39, the margin blows out. The rest of his stint follows the same pattern – raw speed, consistency, and managing the safety car periods that pepper the race.

Late in the second hour, the team takes the first of its compulsory stops, Dowsett getting into the car, and the Class D lead holding steady at just under one lap. Where Maddren and Bloxsom are fast young drivers working toward a motorsport career destined for big things, Dowsett is a classic amateur driver, racing for the pure love of motorsport. He settles in and navigates the 2023 pattern of safety car interruptions beautifully. For the most part, he has the #39 car in sight just in front of him, maintaining that near one-lap gap and putting together a solid stint. A second stop complete mid-race, he hands over to Bloxsom, exhausted but filled with adrenaline as the race continues to unfold.

The lightweight Class D cars, unlike the faster, heavier Class X and A cars, can run through the 6 hours of this race on a single set of tyres. Three mandatory pits stops are used to juggle fuel requirements and driver changes. Relatively low power means relatively low fuel consumption and offers plenty of flexibility around stop times. It’s always a matter of judging safety cars, what your Class competition is up to, and, uniquely, working with the team you’re sharing a pit bay with to determine who pits when. Unlike the major races we’re used to seeing, where a team has its own pit bay and makes internal choices about which team car to pit in which sequence, the Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour sees different teams sharing pit bays. 11Racing is sharing with the #48 ASAP Marketing Lexus RC F crew of Steve Owen, Scott Gore and Keith Bensley who run in Class A2. They’ve shared garages for a few years running, and the two teams have built a good understanding. Still, the safety cars peppering the race mean regular, and rapid, negotiation between the two team managers whenever pit stops approach. Mid-race the Lexus finds the fence in a nasty accident at the
top of the mountain. They’re out, and while it simplifies the pit-stop arrangements for 11Racing, there is heartfelt sympathy from the 11Racing side of the garage that the #48 is done for the day.

Unexpectedly the red flag flies with just over two hours to run. There is oil on the track and several cars have gone off as a result. It’s unusual to see a red flag in this event and, momentarily, confusion reigns as the cars file into pit lane and nobody seems quite sure what work is allowed to be undertaken. Officials clarify the situation and crews jump in to change tyres and clean windscreens – within the apparent limits of what’s allowable. For Bloxsom it’s a chance to rest for twenty minutes, preparing himself for the last third of the race that lies ahead. By this time, he’s been out there blazing away and opened the gap even further over the Class D competition.

And then, back under green flag conditions, the #11 car drops into limp-home mode, losing power unexpectedly. It’s a unique challenge of production-car racing, manufacturer electronics combined with race systems seem to run into glitches like this. There’s a frantic radio conversation, Spengler and Bloxsom talk through restarting the car to reset the systems – and mercifully everything is back to normal. It lasts a few seconds but feels like an eternity as the team stare down the prospect of cruelly losing a hard-earned lead.

The MDR crew that have been the main Class D competition all weekend then run into trouble of their own, contact with another car resulting in an extended stop. They drop another lap or two back from 11Racing and that sets the scene for the final hour. Bloxsom’s job at this point sounds simple – drive safely and bring the car home. More late-race safety cars complicate things, of course, and even with a four-lap lead in Class D the final one-lap dash fills the garage with nerves. A spinning car in front of Bloxsom at Forrest’s Elbow on that final lap spikes heart rates again before he negotiates it safely and sets sail down Conrod Straight one last time. For the team it is left to make the classic run across pit lane to hang from the fences, wildly celebrating as Bloxsom takes the flag and with it, the Class D win. They finish 15th outright, an amazing result for a Class D car, and comfortably clear of the #39 BRZ of Clark and Aho, with the Mad Macks BMW of McMaster, Worrell, and Robson a deserved third after some post-race confusion.

Redemption seems to be the right word. 2022’s accident hurt a lot for the team, and the work that had gone on over the past twelve months to build a new race car feels all the more worthwhile for it. There’s something about shared experiences, about facing shared challenges that builds a sense of togetherness. This little team has that in spades, and it was obvious as I spent the weekend in and around the garage.

Reflecting with members of the team afterwards, there are a few things that contribute to performing at an event like this, to winning at Bathurst. There is the quality of the race car, of course, but beyond that, it’s mainly about the people. It takes the right mix of speed, consistency and reliability in the driving squad, the mechanical competence of the car crew, and the calm-under-pressure nature of an experienced Team Manager and strategist. And a little blessing from Lady Luck – there’s always a place for a little good fortune when it comes to motorsport.

Lone Star 11Racing is a textbook example of the Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour at its very best, and theirs is just one of 59 stories that we could tell. We’ll see them back on the mountain in future, of that we have no doubt. To join them in the garage this weekend, to watch the crew at work and see the race unfold from the inside was a delight. My thanks to the team for making me feel so welcome in their midst.

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