Feature Richard Craill January 7, 2023 (Comments off) (115)

BMWs at Bathurst: A history

BMW are coming back to Bathurst. 

Confirmation that the brand would enter a pair of BMW M4 GT3 entries in the 2023 LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour return the iconic blue and white roundel back to Mount Panorama this February, with a factory-backed two car squad fielded by crack German team, WRT.

BMW has a long and chequered history at Mount Panorama that has seen them experience the highs of winning and the lows of near-misses across the last four decades.

BMW has history in the Bathurst 1000, the 12-Hour and the 6-Hour and has claimed victories in all three races.

Their history on the Mountain dates back to the 1970s when a handful of class-running privateer entries contested the Great Race.

Their first proper outright crack came in 1981 via Frank Gardner’s iconic JPS Team BMW, Allan Grice and Brit David Hobbs finishing 7th outright and second in class aboard the first iteration of the 635 CSi.

In Group C specification the howling six-cylinder coupe’ struggled to compete with the V8’s at Bathurst but in the hands of Grice, and later Jim Richards, became a fan favourite.

Richards’ and Hobbs finished fifth in 1982 and qualified fourth in 1983 before the Group C era came to a close in 1984.

BMW came closest to outright victory in 1985 at the commencement of the Group A era, when a Bob Jane T-Marts backed 635 CSi finished second in the hands of Johnny Cecotto and Roberto Ravaglia, finishing on the same lap as the winning JRA Jaguar.

While Jim Richards won the 1987 Australian Touring Car Championship in a BMW M3, the four-cylinder car never claimed an outright win at Bathurst.

BMW would need to wait for the Super Tourer – V8 split of 1997 to claim their first Bathurst win: The Diet Coke team well placed to take the 1997 race – though it wasn’t without controversy.

After Paul Morris and Craig Baird crossed the line first, the pair were disqualified after the latter exceeded his maximum amount of time in the car.

Fortunately, right behind was the sister car steered by Geoff and David Brabham, who were crowned kings of the Mountain – BMWs first Bathurst win.

With the demise of Super Touring and the rise of Supercars, opportunities to claim victory at Bathurst would dry up until the return of the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2007: BMW again ideally placed to capitalise on the growing Production Car field via their 335i Coupe. 

In Production Car guise the 335i – in some ways a spiritual successor to the 635 – saw off the turbo, all-wheel-drive Subaru’s and Mitsubishi’s to claim victory in 2007 in the hands of Baird, Garry Holt and Morris.

The same car would win again in 2010 before the 12-hour switched to GT3 regulations in 2011.

The absence of a suitable GT3 car ensured the brand was absent from the outright category until 2017, when the advent of the M6 GT3 saw them return in force.

Three M6s raced in 2017, headed up by a two-car entry from BMW Team SRM, run by Steven Richards.

After a challenging day, Richards, Marco Wittmann and Mark Winterbottom finished nine laps down in 14th, while the high profile sister car of Mark Skaife, Russell Ingall and Timo Glock ran strongly before failing to finish following a crash at the dipper.

Quiet achievers that year were the privateer MARC Cars Australia team, led by Ryan McLeod and expanding into GT3 competition for the first time.

With Supercars star Chaz Mostert behind the wheel, the privateer car spectacularly qualified on the front row; missing pole by just 0.1 seconds to Toni Vilander’s flying Ferrari.

That performance got enough to gain the attention of the factory, who grabbed Mostert to head the BMW Team Schnitzer return effort the following year.

The results paid off, with Mostert grabbing the Allan Simonsen Pole Award with the second quickest 12-Hour qualifying lap in history.

The team led 59 laps that year – the most since 2010 – however failed to finish having completed 217 laps following contact on Conrod Straight.

Schnitzer returned in 2019 and finally delivered BMWs strongest 12 Hour result in the GT3 era: Having qualified only 15th, Mostert, Augusto Farfus and Martin Tomczyk made solid progress through the field and found themselves in the mix in the closing stages.

In the heady battle, the BMW was one of the cars passed by Matt Campbell on his remarkable charge to victory, however remained in contention and finished fifth outright.

BMW returned for one last attempt in 2020, with Walkenhorst Motorsport assuming the vehicle management and Mostert, Farfus and Nicky Catsburg steering.

In the most competitive GT3 field ever assembled in Australia, Mostert qualified 15th – 0.8s from pole – however the car was out after 156 laps having struck a Kangaroo while running behind the Safety Car – the subsequent damage forcing the car out with overheating issues.

The end of the M6s tenure as BMWs top model coupled with the Covid-19 Pandemic ensured that 2020 was the last time the brand competed for outright honours on the Mountain.

BMWs M4 GT4 car won its class in 2018, 2019 and 2020, while various iterations of the M3, M4 and M2 have been successful in the Production Car Bathurst 6 Hour each Easter, having won every iteration of the event since 2016.

In 2022 Thomas Sargent and Cameron Hill started last but charged to the front of the field to claim a Bathurst win from the lowest ever starting position in Mount Panorama enduro history. 

Of the major manufacturers in GT3 racing, BMW and Lamborghini are the only two to yet to have tasted outright success in the GT3 era of Australia’s International Enduro.

However, in 2023 the brand returns for another shot at outright success in the 12-Hour – and it could be their best opportunity yet.

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