We all see it on the TV, motor racing is a fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled hive of action that is over as soon as it starts. However, there’s a massive effort in preparation and planning that often goes unnoticed to the average punter.
The 2017 Bathurst 12 Hour is a big deal, and more than 50 teams are vying for a competitive spot on the podium. One such team is BMW Team SRM, founded by Steven Richards – son of Australian racing legend Jim Richards.
Having debuted the BMW M6 GT3 in the Australian GT Championship last year, Richards always intended to come back to Bathurst in a competitive manner. Having missed out last year due to homologation reasons, his team now runs two BMW M6 GT3 race cars. Joining his team this year is Mark Winterbottom and Marco Wittmann – both names you should know. The team in the second car reads like the Bathurst 1000 Hall of Fame – Mark Skaife, Tony Longhurst, Russell Ingall and Timo Glock. Talk about putting your best foot forward.
So, with CarAdvice lucky enough to have been granted access to the team, we were able to give you the following insight into what happens behind the scenes during an endurance race, and shed light on exactly what teams get up to before, during, and after the race. Enjoy.
T minus 2 weeks
The early risers from BMW Team SRM descend on Phillip Island two weeks prior to the start of the Bathurst 12 Hour to conduct final testing on their M6 GT3, complete with brand new engine. Most issues have been sorted out on the car, but now the attention turns to the drivers. The team works on aligning each driver’s times to within an acceptable margin of one another.
Steven Richards has been planning an assault on Bathurst for the past six months, and nothing is more important than getting the drivers adequate seat time in the cars they’ll spend hours upon hours driving in come early February.
Richards credits Tony Longhurst with getting the second team off the ground, and praises his generosity in letting the rest of his team get plenty of time in the hot seat – even to his own detriment. Longhurst last raced at Bathurst back in 2009, so he described the journey to get back into the swing of things as a tough one.
T minus 72 hours
Setup day begins at Bathurst as the teams arrive at Mount Panorama for another year. Trucking up from Melbourne overnight, everyone is busy preparing for the first BMW factory-backed attack on the Bathurst 12 Hour.
BMW Team SRM are busy tinkering away on their car in the pits, ensuring all is ready to go ahead of the morning’s first practice sessions. The team is excited and putting all their heads together to troubleshoot any problems that arise.
BMW Team SRM are based in Dandenong in Melbourne. But, aside from them, there are two other M6 GT3 teams in the race. One being from Marc GT, a privateer team, and one from Walkenhorst Motorsport, a German team. Having all these different perspectives revolving around one model, each problem is dealt with quickly and easily.
T minus 66 hours
The BMW drivers gather on the main straight with all the other drivers from all the other teams and manufacturers for the official Bathurst 12 Hour photo. Marco Wittmann and Steven Richards stand proudly by their M6 GT3, hoping the car will be competitive over the weekend.
T minus 57 hours
After a long day setting up the two cars, BMW Team SRM wrap up their setup day ahead of the first practice sessions the following morning.
T minus 46 hours
Cloudy skies and a hint of rain greet a 6:00am start for the team ahead of an 8:45am first practice session.
T minus 43 hours
The first of the GT3 Pro cars start to roll out on track. After half an hour of on-track action, however, the session is red flagged and all cars are ordered off the track. There’s a bit of confusion about who or what caused the delay, until we hear it was car #60, that of Steven Richards.
Not much else is heard from the top of the mountain where things went wrong for the M6 GT3. But as the teams line up in pit lane ready for the remainder of the practice session, car #60 rolls into pit lane with no visible damage, however, its swiftly brought back into the garages for analysis.
T minus 40 hours
During the later sessions, Mount Panorama claims a few more victims – namely, the #37 McLaren 650S GT3,which is whisked back into the pits after blowing smoke coming down the mountain, and Florian Strauss in the #24 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, who made heavy contact with the wall and lost the bonnet while coming down Conrod Straight.
The session ends with a BMW M6 GT3 on top, however, it doesn’t belong to BMW Team SRM. The privately owned car #90 from Marc GT tops the leader board for the moment, with a time of 2:03.31.
T minus 38 hours 40minutes
Practice Four finishes on Friday. After a solid day of track testing, Marco Wittmann ended up the quickest, ahead of Christopher Mies (Audi) and Craig Lowndes (Ferrari) with a 2:03.219 lap around the mountain.
BMW Team SRM are ecstatic with the result, but are quick to not count their chickens before they hatch. Despite that, they can’t hide their good feeling ahead of the weekend’s action.
T minus 21 hours
Yet another Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 car crashes out at the top of the mountain during the first practice of the day. 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour-winner Katsumasa Chiyo is furious with himself as he pulls to the side coming down the chase.
BMW Team SRM are on the board, being second fastest in the final practice before qualifying.
T minus 18 hours 45 minutes
Almost as soon as qualifying starts, a red flag halts the fun due to a Porsche Cayman GT4 slamming into the wall on the outside of turn one.
Timo Glock in the BMW Team SRM car #7 has an ‘off’ up the top of the mountain, but while contact with the wall seems imminent, surprisingly, the car comes to a halt in the sand trap and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
One of the Nissan GT3 cars however, is on a committed lap and almost cleans up Glock as he re-enters the track up the top of the mountain. Hearts collectively skipped a beat as the Nissan quickly cuts the corner to avoid a weekend-ending crash.
As the session comes to a close, three BMWs make the Top 10 and qualify for the afternoon’s Shootout – this will determine who starts on pole position.
T minus 13 hours (Top Ten Shootout)
On old tyres, most of the times set in the shootout are slower than times seen previously throughout the day. Compared to the practice sessions, where all the BMWs were lapping in the 2:02s, times have been slowing by a second or two on most counts.
A benchmark is set by Alvaro Parente in the McLaren 650S GT3 car, with the BMW cars hitting the track soon after.
Timo Glock rounds the final corner to start his flying lap and immediately loses seven tenths of a second on the first corner, which in turn, ends up ruining his entire lap.
Marco Wittmann scores provisional first place with a clean lap, but soon after Aussie Chaz Mostert pips him for the first position, and then so too does Tony Vilander in the Ferrari.
This pushes BMW Team SRM to third and seventh, and leaves Ferrari and Vilander to claim the Allan Simonsen pole position trophy.
The teams are allowed one sighting lap before having to set up on the grid ahead of a formation lap. Then comes the rolling start, and with it, the start of the 2017 Bathurst 12 Hour.
5:45am (12 hours to go)
Lights out, and we’re racing! Tony Vilander in the Ferrari makes a quick escape from the chaos of the rest of the pack, so too do the two M6 GT3s (Chaz Mostert in second, Steven Richards in third) behind it.
Steven Richards holds steady in third place, while the leader is now Chaz Mostert in the privateer M6 GT3. Mostert is setting a stonking pace around the mountain, as the Ferrari and BMW behind him try to keep up.
From the top of the mountain, the sun starts to rise higher into the sky as the rest of the race is conducted under day light.
Both BMW Team SRM M6 GT3s are at the pointy end of the field now. Car #60, with Steven Richards behind the wheel, has now taken a place from Tony Vilander in the #88 Ferrari (courtesy of the Ferrari receiving a pit lane penalty), and Timo Glock holds steady in seventh place.
The #4 Porsche runs into the wall at the top of the mountain, swiftly triggering the deployment of the safety car. BMW Team SRM uses this opportunity to bring both cars in for driver changes.
Timo Glock is changed out of car #7 for Mark Skaife, while Steven Richards in car #60 is replaced by Marco Wittmann.
The field starts to get jumbled up due to everyone pitting, and for the first time it feels as though each team is running their own race. Steven Richards quickly rushes to Mark Winterbottom to debrief on his stint and provide insight into the gruelling nature of this particular endurance race.
Mark Skaife jumps out of the car making way for two-time Bathurst winner Tony Longhurst. With six Bathurst wins to his name, it’s great to see Mark Skaife is still well and truly up there with the young guns when it comes to endurance racing at Mount Panorama.
Skaife explains that the car is using the tyres up a little too quickly, especially the right-hand rear, so tyre pressures are dropped accordingly. Skaife, among others, is amazed at how much easier GT3 cars are to drive compared with Supercars. It’s a common topic throughout the weekend, with everyone describing how the ABS and traction control systems make the cars so much easier to drive.
With far greater aerodynamic assistance compared with Supercars though, it also means they can go significantly faster through the corners.
Mark Winterbottom brings the car into the pits with an unfortunate and unhelpful loss of power steering. The team roll the car into the garage and start working hard to fix it.
The team loses a few places with the struggle of not having power steering. The car is brought back into the pits every now and then for power steering fluid top-ups, and the time spent doing so is taking its toll.
At one of the most high speed and dangerous spots on the track, the Chase, the bonnet of car #7 pops up completely blocking the right of the windshield and partially blocking the left-hand side of the car. Russell Ingall miraculously navigates his way back to the pits and the team start haphazardly duct taping the bonnet shut.
Unfortunately, two-time Bathurst winner Ingall puts car #7 into the wall at the top of the mountain, and it’s immediately clear the car is out of the running. Ingall’s beside himself, head in his hands on the live in-car footage. “When this place kicks you in the guts, it kicks you pretty good,” Ingall says as he makes his way back to the pits.
BMW Team SRM still has one team on the go, with Marco Wittman battling on in 14th place.
A long pit stop takes place as the team rush to fit new brake discs and a new bonnet. Marco Wittmann rejoins in 15th position.
As the leaders of the race clock up 200 laps, BMW Team SRM are battling with an Audi back in 16th place. With three hours still to go, they’re seven laps off the pace, but still in good spirits.
One of the perks of having the German-based Walkenhorst Motorsport team out of the race, is that BMW Team SRM now get extra assistance from those engineers previously assigned to the manufacturer-backed team.
Marco Wittmann jumps out of the car and hands over to Mark Winterbottom, who will lead the car to the finish just over an hour away.
Sixteenth position overall, eighth in class, 259 laps down so far.
More time is lost as the team stops, yet again, for more power steering fluid. At least they’re used to it by now…
Shane van Gisbergen in the Mercedes-AMG and Jamie Whincup in the Ferrari are battling it out at the pointy end. One of these drivers goes just a bit too hard while coming down the mountain, and puts his car into a slide that results in a heavy frontal impact with the wall. Van Gisbergen and STM/HTP’s race is over with 15 minutes to go.
5:45pm (0 hours to go)
Maranello Motorsport and the 488 GT3 Ferrari win as the clock hits zero and the car crosses the finish line. Jamie Whincup, Tony Vilander, and Craig Lowndes proved phenomenally quick throughout the weekend, and take out the top prize.
Richards, Wittmann, and Winterbottom cross the line in 14th place (eighth in class) having completed 281 laps over an epic 12-hour period.
It was sad to see the legends of car #7 crash out after only five hours, however, it’s just special seeing those three back at Bathurst, especially in a competitive environment.
After spending a high-octane weekend of motorsport with the BMW Team SRM crew, we learn that you can give it your all, have a fantastic car, and still have curve balls thrown your way. The efforts from all the teams running the BMW M6 GT3s were spectacular, but seeing as this was the first year one has run at the Bathurst 12 Hour, we’re sure the experience will prove handy in 2018. We hope to see even more BMWs at the mountain in the future, and perhaps on top of the podium in 2018.
Steven Richards vows to return next year, and compete again with BMW, and you can catch him throughout the year competing in the Australian GT Championship.
Note: CarAdvice would like to say a huge thank you to everyone at BMW Team SRM and BMW Australia for all the help, support, and patience in making this piece happen.
Click on the Photos tab for (plenty) more 2017 Bathurst 12 Hour images by Tom Fraser.