BMW has made it two-from-two at the Bathurst 6-Hour production car endurance event, with driver Luke Searle snatching victory in the closing five minutes of the race.
Teamed with Paul Morris in the Roadchill Express BMW M135i, Searle chased down and passed the Ford Focus RS of defending champions Chaz Mostert and Nathan Morcom despite Mostert setting the car’s fastest race lap just minutes earlier.
The 6-Hour also set a new record for the greatest number of cars to start an endurance race at Mount Panorama, with a field of 64 greeting the starter’s flag as the stopwatch began the 360 minutes of racing.
Previously, the record sat at 63 cars, which started in the 1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500, the 1978 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 and the 1984 James Hardie 1000.
The 2016 lap count could not be eclipsed, however, with this year’s 113 laps (702km) falling 12 laps short - thanks mostly to the 11 safety car interventions.
Both Mostert and Searle were setting new lap records during the final hour, with the race-winner saying the competition was fierce.
“I don’t know where that little Ford [Focus] found its legs at the end there,” Searle said.
“Chaz was driving the wheels off it, we were driving the wheels off it. Someone said [our lap times] were in the 25s. Wow… I have no words.”
In the end, it was Mostert who claimed the fastest lap with a 2m25.802s performance - three laps from the end.
Outright victory also secured the Class A1 victory (Extreme Performance - Forced Induction) for Roadchill’s M135i, while Class A2 (Extreme Performance - Naturally-Aspirated) was claimed by the #53 Bargwanna/Symonds/Lane HSV VY GTS which finished 12th outright.
Third outright and third in Class A1 was awarded to the #7 Pollicina/Simpson Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X, after the Padayachee/Porter/Woods #29 Mercedes-AMG A 45 crossed the line in third but was then penalised for a pit stop infringement.
The lead changed 18 times during the six hours of racing. Favoured teams for outright honours ahead of the race included teams with AMG A 45s, Mitsubishi Lancer Evos, the Sherrin/Sherrin BMW M4 and several other BMW teams, but each fell away as the race progressed - staying in outright contention only because by the numerous safety cars.
Spectator attendance was up by more than eight percent over the inaugural year, and some of the more interesting entries they witnessed included Ford AU Falcons, a Hyundai Excel, a Nissan N15 Pulsar SSS and a Toyota Camry.
The 2018 Bathurst 6-Hour will take place on Sunday 1 April.
2017 BATHURST 6-HOUR
- #62 - Searle/Morris - BMW M135i - Class A1 - 113 Laps
- #1 - Morcom/Mostert - Ford Focus RS - Class A1 - +9.6s
- #7 - Pollicina/Simpson - Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X RS - Class A1 - +23.97s
- #80 - Lynton/Leahey - BMW 1M - Class A1 - +41.485s
- #46 - Richmond/Reindler - Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X RS - Class A1 - +43.759s
- #62 - Searle/Morris - BMW M135i - Class A1 (Extreme Performance Forced Induction) - first outright
- #53 - Bargwanna/Symonds/Lane -HSV VY GTS - Class A2 (Extreme Performance Naturally-Aspirated) - 12th outright
- #11 - Perkins/Burges - BMW 335i - Class B1 (High Performance Forced Induction) - 8th outright
- #24 - Walden/Auld/Bloomfield - Holden VE Commodore SS-V Redline - Class B2 (High Performance Naturally Aspirated) - 27th outright
- #40 - Rubis/Hazelwood - BMW 130i - Class C (Performance) - 18th outright
- #3 - Reeves/Sutton - Toyota 86 GTS - Class D (Production) - 17th outright
- #23 - McCleverty/Zacka/Zacka - Ford AU Falcon - Class I (Invitational) - 21st outright