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BMW’s lost factory bid to beat the Bathurst 24Hr Monaros

THE Nations Cup Holden Monaro famously swept to victory in the Bathurst 24 Hour races held in 2002 and 2003, largely unopposed on each occasion.

Garry Rogers Motorsport were the best-equipped outfit in both runnings of the race and, with Holden support, they were effectively the only factory-supported entries in the outright class.

That was set to change for 2004.

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BMW was planning to come to Mount Panorama with a full factory assault on the third edition of the Bathurst 24 Hour.

Its flagship GT endurance car in that era was the fire-breathing M3 GTR V8, which in 2004 took an emphatic 1-2 finish in the Nurburgring 24 Hour.

History shows the 2004 Bathurst 24 Hour never took place after PROCAR folded during the year, but according to then-factory BMW driver Andy Priaulx, the works team had been intending on making the trip down under.

“We were going to go with the [M3] GTR,” Priaulx told Motorsport News in 2008.

“A GTR around there would have been phenomenal; BMW love [Bathurst], the marketing guys love it.

“And then they cancelled it.”

The two BMW Motorsport M3s crossing the line to finish 1-2 in the 2004 Nurburgring 24 Hour. Pic: BMW

While the works cars never made the journey, the final Bathurst 24 Hour gave a taste of what a Holden vs BMW battle might have been like – both on and off the track.

Prancing Horse Racing ran an M3 GTR V8 sourced from Grand Am Series squad PTG, with the driver lineup consisting of John Bowe, Neil Crompton, Greg Crick and Maher Algadri.

The car’s late arrival from the United States severely limited preparation time, but Bowe was still able to secure third on the grid – albeit four seconds off the two GRM Monaros’ pace.

Its raucous four-litre V8 providing a sharp sonic contrast to the deep rumble of the Monaro’s seven-litre unit, the BMW ran strongly until the eighth hour when contact from eventual race-winner Peter Brock in the #05 Monaro sent Algadri into the wall across the top of the Mountain, causing an estimated $100,000 of damage.

“Brock was driving like a lunatic, I was highly unimpressed,” PHR Team Manager Terry Little told Motorsport News at the time.

“There is no need for it – the 24 Hour is a race with slower cars, and to be winning by three or four laps, it just doesn’t seem necessary.”

Brock brushed the incident off in the post-race press conference as being “fairly minor” – for the Monaro, anyway.

“I had put the car up the inside of the corner going into Reid Park, and I just figured that he probably hadn’t seen me, because he just turned right into the passenger door of the car,” he said.

“I felt a bit of a clunk and kept on going. It didn’t really hurt the Monaro … but it certainly didn’t do much good to the BMW.”

Bowe in the BMW leads Greg Murphy through the Esses during practice for the 2003 Bathurst 24 Hour. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The clash capped off what had already been a feisty build-up between the two squads after GRM questioned the legality of the BMW on the eve of practice.

“The evil empire has striked back with a phenomenon setting in at Bathurst with Garry Rogers writing letters and unsuccessfully trying to get drivers and teams to sign a petition regarding the eligibility of the BMW M3 GTR for the Bathurst 24 Hour,” Little said in a statement prior to the race.

“To Garry, I have always held you in high regard, however you must question a fully professional team with eight leading drivers running cars with backing for Australia’s biggest manufacturer with huge resources and funding, when they stoop to such levels to try and unsettle an unsponsored privateer team, with three fulltime staff, running a car that is 4.0s off the pace of the Monaros.

“Our car is not only legal, but was approved by PROCAR for this event and the 2004 Nations Cup prior to its purchase.  It has competed in the USA against the Porsche RS and Ferrari N-GT.  You could buy a road version of this car from the manufacturer.  It is not a purpose-built hybrid that you cannot buy.

“The ‘bully boy’ tactics being employed may have worked in the past by a team who last year threatened to pack their bags and go home when they couldn’t get their own way.  They got their way, subsequently winning the race.

“But I will say this to Garry put your money up and lodge your protest and we will see you in court. Or shut up and go racing, isn’t that what we are here for?”

Neither PHR nor GRM had been prepared to explain what elements of the BMW had been called into question, Little adding: “Obviously Garry knows our cars better than we do.”

The PHR BMW popped up for sale last year with the listing suggesting that Bathurst had proved the car’s last race.

While its factory assault on the 24 Hour never came to pass, the BMW has fielded works-supported entries in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in recent years.

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