LUKE SEARLE and PAUL MORRIS won a remarkable Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour at Mount Panorama, passing defending winner Chaz Mostert’s Ford Focus RS in the closing five minutes to take a thrilling victory.
The Roadchill Express BMW chased down and passed Mostert and Nathan Morcom’s Ford Focus RS after a pulsating battle throughout the closing half-hour, Mostert clinging on to the lead after withering Searle’s attack before ultimately succumbing in the closing five minutes when Searle passed at the inside of the Chase.
Both cars broke the lap record within the race’s final four laps as they battled for the lead, lapping faster than they both qualified – Mostert breaking the lap record on the 110th of 112 laps.
The result delivered Searle and his long-running family racing team their biggest ever racing result, and etched Morris’ name into the Bathurst history books as the first driver ever to win three Mount Panorama ‘majors’.
His Six-hour win joins his previous successes in the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000 races.
“I don’t know where that little Ford found its legs at the end there. Chaz was driving the wheels off it; we were driving the wheels off it. Someone said we were in the 25s. Wow… I have no words,” Searle said.
“I had to get him. I was putting it all on the line, so I had to get him. I wanted Paul to get the triple, it was always in my mind; get him the triple. I was up the inside of him and I started looking around for yellow flags because it was too easy, so I started looking around for yellow flags. He lost sixth gear or something, so that’s a shame.
“Paul was phenomenal in the middle stint, he didn’t put a foot wrong. I can’t say anymore.
“To win at Bathurst is the pinnacle in anyone’s career, be it this race or another Bathurst race. Bathurst is just phenomenal. When you’ve done a lap like we were doing at the end there, you know what it’s all about.”
Morris said he was thrilled to add the Bathurst 6 hour crown to his remarkable CV – especially the chance to do it with a family friend.
“As we flew down in the chopper me and Bairdo were talking about it going ‘yeah, it could happen’, so it was in the back of my mind. It was a pretty cool feeling to be able to do that,” Morris said.
“To do it with Luke is really cool. I’ve been friends with their family a long time and I rate him as probably one of the best drivers Australia’s had – but he’s just slipped through the net. You could put in a GT Car or any car and he just goes. He was the right man to have at the end of the race, that’s for sure.”
Defending winners Mostert and Morcom finished second, fighting their way into contention after starting only 16th.
Mostert’s drive at the end was particularly breathtaking as he hauled the Focus on lap record pace – despite dropping fifth and sixth gear at the very end.
“It was probably one of the most hectic races I’ve had around here,” he said.
“Back in ’14 chasing Whincup, obviously this time being on the opposite end of the stick. Those boys definitely deserve it 100%, they pushed us hard all day. At the end of the day we were second best today. But a great effort from the team to win last year, to release a brand new car this year and the lead-up, the practices, the qualifying, all those kind of things where we just had little errors and then to put it all together in the race is just awesome. I’m pretty sure the boys are going to enjoy a beer tonight, and maybe a sleep.”
A controversial finish for the final spot on the podium saw Jim Pollicina and Ryan Simpson finish third – after the Duvashen Padayachee / Ben Porter / Rob Woods Mercedes was penalised for an earlier pit stop infringement.
The winners completed 113 laps, while the race featured 11 safety car interruptions following another bruising day on the Mountain.
The pulsating race saw 18 lead changes across its duration and the early Safety Car interruptions saw nearly 20 cars remain on the lead lap for most of the race’s first half.
The big contenders again fell early, with the pole-sitting BMW M4 of Grant and Iain Sherrin dominating the race’s first 13 laps before a technical issue dropped them three laps from the lead while effecting the repair.
They then launched a major comeback drive, remarkably getting themselves onto the lead lap before a puncture again dropped them out of contention in the fifth hour.
An unknown technical issue ruled out the David Wall / John Bowe Mitsubishi Lancer in the second hour, while an enormous engine failure and fire ended an otherwise strong day for the Garth Walden / Craig Baird Mercedes AMG A45 in the final 30 minutes.
The car was running fourth in the closing stages before the enormous failure saw the car stop on the finish line, bringing out the race’s final Safety Car and setting up the grandstand finish.
The CXC Global Racing EVO of Dylan Thomas and Tim Slade were another high-profile non-finisher, out with engine failure after just 20.
Following the penalty to the No. 29 Mercedes, Beric Lynton and Tim Leahey finished fourth while Karl Reindler and Andrew Richmond completed a remarkable comeback from a qualifying disqualification to finish fifth.
Reindler started the race from 59th position after having his qualifying time removed due to a ride-height infringement, but stormed through to have his car second by his first pit stop.
Scott Bargwanna / Paul Lane / Trevor Symonds HSV Commodore won Class A2, and finished 12th outright.
Jack Perkins and Leigh Burges won B1, their BMW 335i finishing a strong 8th outright.
Brian Walden / Michael Auld and Richard Bloomfield defended their Class B2 victory, bringing their SS Commodore home in 27th outright.
Todd Hazelwood and Rob Rubis won a pulsating battle for Class C, their BMW winning the class by just 1.6s over the Cox / Gosling BMW.
Chris Reeves and Chris Sutton also went back-to-back in Bathurst wins, taking Class D by 5.7 seconds over Jimmy Vernon and Mark Caine’s similar Toyota.
John McCleverty, Brad Zacka and Michael Zacka won the Invitational class, finishing 21st outright.
64 cars started today’s race – a record field for an endurance race at Mount Panorama, eclipsing the previous record of 63 set at the 1969, 1978 and 1984 Bathurst 1000 races.
The event announced a three-day attendance of 17,487 – up 8.2 per cent on 2016.
HI-TEC OILS BATHURST 6 HOUR – TOP 10
1. Searle / Morris (BMW M135i) 113 Laps
2. Morcom / Mostert (Ford Focus RS) + 9.6s
3. Pollicina / Simpson (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X RS) + 23.97
4. Lynton / Leahey (BMW 1M) + 41.485
5. Richmond / Reindler (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X RS) + 43.759
6. Woods / Padayachee / Porter (Mercedes AMG A45) + 55.419
7. Alford / Eddy (Audi TT RS) + 1 Lap
8. Burges / Perkins (BMW 331i) + 1 Lap
9. Abela / Hill (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) + 1 Lap
10. Kavich / Kavich / Pilkington (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) + 1 lap
A1. Searle / Morris (BMW M135i)
A2. Bargwanna / Lane / Symonds (HSV GTS)
B1. Perkins / Burges (BMW 335i)
B2. Walden / Auld / Bloomfield (Holden SSV Redline)