Australian motorsport is set for a massive shake-up as BMW leads a new push into GT sports car racing in 2016.
The German prestige brand has consistently snubbed V8 Supercars approaches but will field a factory-backed M6 GT3 in next year's major sports car contests including the Bathurst 12-hour race.
Steven Richards, a four-time Bathurst winner, will be the team boss and lead driver, as well as developing a program that links BMW owners with track events and rides in the car. There could also be a Targa Tasmania entry.
The GT3 program is BMW's first official motorsport involvement in Australia since it closed its 320i racing team at the end of the Super Touring era in the 1990s after winning titles with Paul Morris and Tony Longhurst.
"Why wouldn't we go racing? It's a well-known fact that Australians love performance vehicles," says Marc Werner, the CEO of BMW Group Australia.
"It makes perfect sense - it's part of our brand's performance heritage."
BMW is confident it can be an instant contender after an intensive test and development program in Europe
BMW's decision to field an official team in GT racing could easily spark a rush by rival carmakers including Audi, Bentley, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz and others. There are currently more than a dozen major carmakers involved in GT3 competition globally, although it's been a category for wealthy amateurs in Australia.
The key to development of GT3 racing is the 12 Hour at Mount Panorama, but sports car racing has boomed this year with full fields under the leadership of category boss - racer and former VIP Petfoods owner - Tony Quinn.
Ferrari and Audi have been the dominant brands but BMW is confident it can be an instant contender after an intensive test and development program in Europe with the M6 GT3.
"I am certain that we, our customers and the fans, will have a lot of fun with these cars," says Werner.
The official name of the team is SRM Team BMW, reflecting Steven Richards' involvement.
Richards said the BMW program developed after he contacted the company about buying an M6 GT3 to run in parallel with his continued involvement in the Carrera Cup with Porsche and V8 Supercars with Red Bull Racing.
"I've been looking for a while to expand into GT racing. The M6 GT3 is awesome. I cannot wait to get behind the wheel," Richards says.
"The whole objective for us is to be the customer support program. It will also include helping owners to drive their cars better."
BMW is hopeful the M6 GT3 will be cleared soon for racing, after a Balance of Performance evaluation in Europe, and will arrive in time for testing ahead of the Bathurst 12 Hour.
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