The 2018 Bathurst 12 Hour was a classic race, which given the event’s ability to serve up surprises, is certainly saying something. The Redline was given access to the Steve Richards Motorsport (SRM) team garage and we watched the race unfold, starting on Saturday afternoon and concluding at the race’s end on Sunday.
Disqualified from Qualifying
We arrived at possibly the most awkward moment you might imagine – in the lull between qualifying and the Top Ten Shootout, the SRM #100 car was excluded. A discrepancy in the boost pressures – the team said they were spikes in the boost on the in-lap – convinced the stewards the team had breached the regulations and tipped them out, condemning them to the back of the grid of over fifty cars.
Adding insult to the initial insult, the Schnitzer BMW team next door put the M6 GT3 on pole.
You might expect a team owner-driver like Steve to start throwing things, team members to be angry and just a general drama. But the awkwardness lasted just a few minutes. The three-week appeal process would be a waste of time, the stewards weren’t interested in hearing the team’s explanation and it was over. The team just got to work on the #100 car and the two M4 GTSes on the other side of the garage. Steve spoke to the media of his disappointment but declared Sunday to be another day and it was a long race.
Courtesy of a mega lap from Steve’s V8 Supercars colleague Chaz Mostert – himself a Bathurst 1000 winner – the Schnitzer BMW grabbed pole. The SRM team whooped and applauded. They didn’t have to, it wasn’t their car, it was just another BMW M6 GT3, but they were pleased for the Schnitzer boys.
2018 Bathurst 12 Hour Race
The race starts at the unearthly – and slightly strange – hour of 5:45am. That gives European and US viewers a good chance to watch the start at relatively sensible hours and also means that Australian viewers can watch the conclusion of the race before the host network urges Australians to turn over to watch the news.
The race start is epic – fifty cars rumble around the track in the dark behind the Safety Car, warming tyres and brakes, scoping the track for overnight changes.
Down at the grid, it was cool but not cold but, but as we would later discover, it was quite cold at the top of the “mountain”. Soon after the start we headed up to Skyline. The race suffered its first Safety Car on the first lap after a privateer MARC car slapped the wall.
An hour or so up there and we returned to the pits. The team was busy, a desk full of computer screens, Richards gliding around making sure everyone was happy, smiling and laughing as the car worked its way through the field, passing the slower Pro-Am, Class C and Class B cars unscathed.
Always a race of attrition, the #100 car’s progress was helped with Safety Car after Safety Car. That would also prove to be the first of two decisive moments for the two M6s.
I was initially a bit hesitant about spending twelve hours in the team “hot tub”, an area at the back of the pits for the team’s guests. While we stepped out for food and phone calls, it was absorbing. Watching a well-drilled team get on with the job of running and servicing a race car.
SRM also ran the new BMW M4 GTS. Sadly, it clouted the wall at Forrest Elbow, tearing off the right front wheel.
After a moment of disappointment, the car returned to the pits on a flat-bed truck and the team set about returning it to racing fitness. While the drama of the GT3 side of the garage unfolded, the GT4 crew worked for several hours – with half an eye on the team’s progress – to repair the damage.
The Race Unravels
The Schnitzer entry scored a drive-through penalty after an infringement on a Safety Car restart, but the worst for that car was yet to come.
The #100 continued to work its way forward, slowly but surely, leading the race on occasions and setting the team up for a possible podium. Both M6s were quick.
Quick until Chaz Mostert got himself in a silly situation. It’s a well-known rule that you don’t tangle with a Bentley at the 12 Hour – they’re built like tanks and have been driven like that – but Mostert did. He later admitted it wasn’t his finest hour but the damage was well and truly done.
"That didn't need to happen"
— Bathurst 12 Hour (@Bathurst12hour) February 4, 2018
Unfortunately for the #100 car, there were other problems. The brake pistons had “cocked” in the caliper. Poor Timo Glock – who had driven impeccably – had to hook his foot underneath the brake pedal to pull it back from the floor. The team pitted the car twice under Safety Car to change the discs and calipers. Without divine intervention, the race was done.
Shoulders sagged but Richards remained upbeat. His time in the car was just as impressive as the younger internationals, pushing the car forward in his customary low-key manner.
As is now well-documented, the race ended after a horror smash involving three cars – a privateer MARC, one of the many Audi R8 GT3s and an AMG GT3.
A notorious section of track, the MARC hammered the wall and the R8 went with it, ending up stranded across the track with Ash Walsh at the wheel. Three cars avoided the stricken Audi but John Martin arrived at full speed. Martin threw the AMG into a slide, hammering the Audi broadside and throwing it into air. It was sickening.
— Bathurst 12 Hour (@Bathurst12hour) February 4, 2018
At the risk of being slightly ghoulish about the situation, it was fascinating to watch the reaction in the SRM pit. As the team prepared themselves for an unlikely pit-stop – and activity that had become a reflex over the course of the day – all eyes stuck to the television on the wall. When Walsh climbed from the destroyed Audi the tension broke and polite, relieved applause broke out.
A Team Sport
The day in the pits was hugely instructive. GT3 teams are small. Compared to an F1 team, they’re microscopic. Steve had spend the last three months preparing his car and team for the day, working fifteen hours, being there for everyone and fulfilling all his duties as a team owner, driver and family man. His team are obviously inspired by him and co-drivers Eng and Glock in awe of his experience and professionalism.
The day is a busy one for the team, there was barely a moment where activity stopped. The constant interlopers in the hot tub couldn’t even distract or annoy them. Everybody had their job, they did it. When things were tight or difficult, plan B swung into action with a nod or a word. The only time I heard a raised voice was during an impromptu stop under Safety Car and the tyres were taking a while. And it wasn’t anger, it was encouragement.
The Bathurst 12 Hour is an absorbing race that never failed to entertain and terrify in equal measure. It’s a race of attrition, survival and speed. And a race for teams.
The Redline attended the 2018 Bathurst 12 Hour as a guest of BMW Australia. We drove there in the brilliant BMW M4 CS.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.