BMW ramps up Bathurst 12 Hour preparations
BMW has undertaken an unprecedented private test at Mount Panorama as it ramps up preparations for February’s Bathurst 12 Hour.
The three M6s entered for the race – two from BMW Team SRM and one from MARC Cars Australia – completed three hours of track time today at the hallowed venue.
It came as part of BMW’s extensive customer event at Bathurst that will see over 100 BMW M road car owners take to the track across today and tomorrow.
While others including Audi and Mercedes-Benz have booked Bathurst for customer days in the past, BMW’s decision to allocate a portion of its day to the racing program leaves no doubts as to the Germany marque’s determination to win the 12 Hour.
Making the most of the costly track hire, BMW flew in a squad of GT3 engineers from Germany for the test as well as its star driver, two-time and reigning DTM champion Marco Wittmann.
Wittmann today shared the lead BMW Team SRM entry with his 12 Hour partners Steven Richards and Mark Winterbottom, turning the car’s first laps since its recent crash at Highlands Park.
The Mark Skaife/Russell Ingall/Tony Longhurst and Chaz Mostert/Paul Morris/Morgan Haber BMWs had also cut laps as part of the Challenge Bathurst sprint meeting last Thursday and Friday.
Challenge Bathurst saw a variety of cars on track with the BMWs, making for some close calls as the GT3 cars cut their way through traffic across a series of short timed sessions.
Today however marked a unique opportunity to conduct a full blown test, which BMW Motorsport’s head of race and test, Adam Baker, says the manufacturer grabbed with both hands.
“It was a good opportunity for us to offer support from the factory considering it was the first time the car has run here,” Baker told Speedcafe.com.
“The running was really valuable because it means we can come into the first practice sessions (at the February 3-5 event) and we’re not on the back foot.
“It was mainly about making sure the car worked as it should at a circuit that has quite unusual characteristics.
“It fits in somewhere between Spa and the Nordschleife, but it does have some characteristics which are quite unique.
“Here you’ve got a long section of corners that are interconnected, making it one long corner of different radius and then a long downhill section without any deceleration or much lateral load.
“Those things we don’t find anywhere else, so what we learnt there we can take back to the program for the rest of the world as well.”
Baker said that the mix of drivers made for an interesting testing process as some focussed on learning the circuit while others were foreign to the cars.
The test marked the first ever GT3 miles for Supercars stars Chaz Mostert – who drove on all three days in the MARC car – and Mark Winterbottom, who completed his first laps today.
Mostert and Wittmann, who adapted quickly to the circuit, were the most impressive of the squad, running 2:03s bests.
Although the times were some way off the 2:01s that Shane van Gisbergen clocked to claim pole earlier this year, BMW stressed that a lack of rubber down made lap time comparisons difficult.
“We tried to work together as much as possible,” said Baker of the array of drivers.
“We had data overlays between the cars and the drivers and tried to match the programs so the cars had the same amount of fuel and relatively similar tyre life so the drivers could compare.
“The drivers were talking openly with each other and when they identified areas they were slower or quicker they were interacting openly and productively about lines and all of that.
“It was really interesting for us to have so many extremes with the track experience being such a big element and also guys who had to learn a GT car.
“It was for them (GT rookies) more difficult because you need a circuit which allows you to learn a car in a more focussed way.
“Even if you are a master at this track, it’s more difficult than going to a short track where you have two or three corner types where you can hone your style.
“Here there’s perhaps only a couple of corners where you can try and adjust your style to suit the car.
“Chaz was quite impressive with it being his first GT experience, which was interesting for us to see.
“Marco having to just learn the track, it was something he had under control relatively quickly.
“Those guys for us were essentially the reference, between those two we had excellent benchmarks.”
Like Wittmann, Brit Tom Onslow-Cole also had his first taste of Bathurst, running on Thursday in a MARC V8 before switching to the MARC BMW today.
The British Touring Car star turned GT3 ace is hoping to put a deal together to race in the 12 Hour, either with MARC or another team.
German Timo Glock will meanwhile wait until the race meeting to have his first laps of Bathurst, joining Longhurst’s Castrol/Vodafone backed entry as its lead driver.