With a new-look driver lineup, a stunning new livery, and a world-class opposition, Melbourne’s Trofeo Motorsport were excited by the prospect of a return podium finish at the season-opening Bathurst 12 Hour – an event that also signalled the start of the 2020 Australian Endurance Championship.
Fielding the team’s experienced spearhead Dean Canto alongside a trio of new team-mates including Trofeo’s 2019 Australian Endurance Championship round winner Liam Talbot, Canto’s former ‘Development Series’ Supercar team-mate Grant Denyer, and passionate Porsche competitor Marcel Zalloua, the team had big ambitions in the hotly contested Silver class, and on past form, were well equipped to make a podium return.
Four and a half hours of practice allowed the team to settle in across Friday and Saturday morning, Zalloua and Denyer quickly up to speed to be right in the window the team were looking for, whilst Canto and the experienced Liam Talbot were well within reach of the leading Silver class competitors.
Looking for something special in qualifying, the laconic Canto was into the 2:05s and hunting down a 2:04 – something he’d achieved with the car during the 2018 Challenge Bathurst event – but whilst running as second fastest Australian Endurance Championship ‘Silver’ entry and looking to improve during the second qualifying leg, he lost the rear of the #29 Lamborghini as he tipped into ‘Skyline’ enduring a wild ride across the gravel trap and into the barriers.
Ultimately the car came to a stop in a cloud of dust, Canto actually sitting on top of the concrete barriers having flown across the final stages of the gravel trap, before bouncing off the top of the tyres to land almost flat on top of the grassed area behind the barrier, before rolling back onto the top of the concrete, Canto fortunate to stop the car before it rolled back any further.
Shaken but unhurt, the experienced racer extracted himself from the car to be alerted to a small fire in the engine bay, something which was quickly extinguished, but whilst the incident looked dramatic and was replayed in videocasts around the world, the biggest problem the team had to deal with was extracting the car from the top of the barriers without inflicting any further damage.
Fortunately the experienced recovery crews did just that, getting the #29 Trofeo Huracan back down to the pit garage for the team to begin work.
“I wasn’t really trying anything different, that lap was a couple of tenths up, but I wasn’t doing anything I felt was crazy but the car stepped out so quickly and I was too far behind it and was a passenger for one hell of a wild ride,” Canto explained. “As I was going backwards I was looking to my left and I could see the tyre wall and I thought, good, if you’re going to make contact up there and hit the tyre bundles, normally it looks after the car quite well. The next thing I knew I was looking at the ground, nose down and felt myself getting quite weightless. It wasn’t my intention, and I wasn’t going for glory but I’ve given the guys a whole heap of work to do. They’ll work through the night and get us back out there.”
“I’ve never seen so many tear ups at that part of the mountain this early in the weekend, that was incredible,” Grant Denyer added. “He was pushing really hard we’re obviously just trying to get ourselves into a nice position in our class – you know, Dean Canto can drive, there’s nothing wrong with that bloke’s skills but that was a really scary accident and to see it parked up on the wall is incredible.
“These are really, really horrific conditions, they’re tough for the driver – its 65 degrees inside the car and the track is super hot so it’s pretty slick – he was finding time, but everyone is pushing so hard – and 80% of the field are hot guns from Europe in factory supported cars and even those guys are binning them, so it’s going to be a fair old race of attrition, but I’m so glad he’s okay.”
A lengthy investigation by the crew and the scrutineers revealed no structural damage to the car, whilst a nervous hour to prepare the engine and gearbox to be fired back into life revealed that all was normal – the team had dodged a bullet, although a detailed final inspection and the replacement of damaged parts would see the experienced Trofeo team go without sleep as they repaired the car ahead of the race.
To applause from rival teams, the Trofeo crew had the car ready as the pit exit opened, allowing Canto to take his place on the grid for the 5:45am race start. Lining up fourth in class, Canto made a conservative start through the darkness, before handing over to Talbot, Denyer and then Zalloua.
“It’s truly unbelievable, I can’t thank the team enough, it’s a Bathurst miracle,” Liam Talbot explained on the grid. “There’s been no sleep for the team, it’s been a massive effort. At one stage we thought we were going to have to start in pit lane, so to get out and make the start in our correct position is truly unbelievable.”
Incredibly the car ran flawlessly all day with the exception of one lengthy pit stop to address an issue with the left-rear suspension, something traced back to the qualifying incident, although it didn’t slow their progress too dramatically, the team ultimately crossing the line fourth in the Silver class classification for the Bathurst 12 Hour – just shy of the podium – whilst their incredible run netted them second in Australian Endurance Championship points.
“I never doubted having the car back in the race,” Marcel Zalloua explained afterwards. “Trent Levi said to me on Saturday afternoon, don’t worry, you just be ready, we’ll have the car on track Sunday morning – in the minds of the team, it was never in question. I can’t thank each and every one of them enough, not only did we make it, but we finished the 12 hour journey to make my first ever Bathurst 12 Hour experience more than memorable.”
For the team, who earned a well deserved rest off the back of the 12 Hour event, their focus turns to the second round of the Australian Endurance Championship at Phillip Island on March 20-22 with the inaugural ‘GT Sportscar Festival’ – the driver lineup is yet to be finalised, but with 620-points on offer across the two remaining Endurance Championship events, the team sit just 54-points behind Silver class leaders Fraser Ross and Dominic Storey with everything still to play for.