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Bathurst’s endurance history

The LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour opens the Australian motorsport season once again as many of the best GT drivers in the world represent prestigious manufacturers including BMW, Audi, Mercedes-AMG, Lamborghini and Porsche, but endurance racing at the Mountain has gone through many iterations.

From the now internationally renowned 12 Hour, to the stunning 24 Hour events of the early 2000s and of course the 500 mile turned 1000km race, which is the hallmark of Australian motorsport. However, there’s been quite a few endurance events of various duration and for wide range of machinery, so Repco The Garage has delved back in time to reflect on the endurance history of Mount Panorama.

  • The Bathurst 500/1000

Australia’s crown jewel in motorsport, the Bathurst 1000 started as a 500 mile endurance event for production cars at Phillip Island before track surface problems forced organisers to move the race to Mount Panorama. Well, I think we know what happened next….

In 1973 the race turned metric with a requirement for two drivers due to the increased distance to 1000 kilometres as the race went from Series Production to Group C, then Group A where it was part of the 1987 World Touring Car Championship before the Group 3A or homegrown V8 regulations.

A split in 1997 led to two being held – one for Super Tourers and another for V8 Supercars. This lasted for two years before the Super Touring race went to a 500km event and was finished altogether after 1999.

The 1000 for Supercars will enter a new era this year when Gen3 Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros hit the track in October.

  • Bathurst 12 Hour

Started in 1991 for production cars, the Bathurst 12 Hour is now one of the most prestigious races of the international GT season. Brainchild of the event, Vince Tesoriero eyed an opportunity to host the original 12 Hour due to the decline of Group A touring car racing at the time. Securing naming rights from previous 1000 sponsor James Hardie, the race allowed a wider variety of models than the Australian Production Car Championship and a modest 24 entries started the inaugural event.

What followed was a rapid rise consisting of oversubscribed fields, factory backed teams from Mazda, Holden, Ford, Citroen, Peugeot, Porsche, Lotus and even Saab. Exotic models such as the Honda NSX, Lotus Esprit, Maserati Ghibli, Nissan Skyline GT-R, Porsche 968 and BMW M3 entered the fray in 1993. A move to Eastern Creek in 1995 proved the death of the event before a rebirth in 2007.

James O’Brien led the re-introduction of the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2007 as it gradually began to grow as an entry list of 48 took on the 2009 event. Though, after failing to bring in manufacturer entries like the 1990s it was decided to allow GT3 entries for 2011 and thus began a tough beginning, but rewarding end.

The first two years struggled for entries, but 2013 proved the breakthrough as manufacturers started to take notice.

In the following decade Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, BMW, Aston Martin, Corvette, Mosler, Bentley, McLaren, Nissan and Honda all battled for outright honours.

The Bathurst 12 Hour became part of the SRO Group’s Intercontinental GT Challenge in 2016 to align itself with the world’s best long distance GT events.

  • Bathurst 24 Hour

When Ross Palmer devised a 24 Hour race around the Mountain encompassing his PROCAR organisation’s categories before its demise in mid-2004. Much like the 12 Hour a decade later, the 24 Hour laid the foundations as international teams joined the locals in GT and production cars to race around the clock.

Garry Rogers Motorsport dominated the two events held in the Holden Monaro 427C, the first with the yellow entry and the second the red version featuring Peter Brock as part of its driver line-up.

Mosler, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Lamborghini and a Morgan contested the event, but were unable to prevent the Monaro from taking victory.

All was ready to go for 2004 until Palmer dissolved PROCAR and although endorsed by racing legend Brock the 24 Hour has failed to return. At least we have the 12 Hour.

  • Mount Panorama 500

In 1999, the 1000 war had been won by V8 Supercars as Super Touring was coming to its end around the world, including here in Australia. There was one last ditch attempt to hold a long distance Super Touring event at Bathurst, but the entry consisted of Australia’s now elderly fleet as no foreign manufacturers were enticed to return making for a race with limited contenders.

The weather also failed to play in the event’s favour as it forced an early end to the race by 17 laps with Paul Morris declared the winner in his BMW. The two factory Volvos followed ahead of Kiwi Mark Porter in a privateer BMW.

  • Bathurst 6 Hour

BMW has dominated this race since its inception in 2016 as a production replacement for the Bathurst 12 Hour. Chaz Mostert and Nathan Morcom won the first addition in a BMW 335i Coupe, but provided one of the closest the finishes when the pair moved to a Ford Focus RS the next year. In 2017, Paul Morris and Luke Searle defeated the reigning winners in a BMW M135i before the advent of the M3/M4.

The traditional Easter race returns again this year.

  • The Showroom Showdown

A fixture of the Bathurst 1000 support program from 1997 until 2001, then moving to run alongside the 24 Hour during its two years, the Showroom Showdown provided manufacturers an opportunity to display the latest offerings on Australia’s biggest racing weekend.

PROCAR’s GT Performance category was booming in the late 1990s as models ranging from the Ferrari F355 Challenge to Hyundai’s Excel contested multi-class races across the country culminating in the Showroom Showdown.

Initially three hours, it was shortened to two in 2001 as the exotics including Ferrari, Porsche, Dodge Viper, Nissan R33 Skyline GT-R, Toyota Supra RZ, Mazda RX-7 SP, BMW M3-R, Corvette and Saleen Mustang were ineligible after 1999 following worries about speed disparity to the lower classes.

This left HSV, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Ford, Nissan, Mazda and BMW to battle for the honours until the event failed to continue past the 2003 Bathurst 24 Hour.

The Fanatec GT World Challenge Australia powered by AWS also contested the final round of the Australian Tourist Trophy in the form of a three hour endurance race at the Mountain last year. Broc Feeney and Prince Jefri Ibrahim for Triple Eight Race Engineering won the event in a Mercedes-AMG GT3.