STAR DRIVER combinations are lining up to challenge for victory ahead of the 2017 Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour this Easter.
A significant increase in depth has thrown the race wide-open this year, with a large percentage of the outright cars entered amongst the 66-car grid thought to be chances at a Bathurst Podium on April 16.
The combination of brand-new cars yet to be tested on the Mountain and high quality driver combinations will likely make this race one of the most open Bathurst has seen in years.
Defending champions Nathan Morcom and Chaz Mostert (Ford Focus RS) will have their work cut out for them in their title defence as a host of high quality drivers fill the Class A1 (Extreme Performance, forced induction) entry list this year.
Leading the charge will be Garth Walden Racing’s pair of Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 entries, with Walden securing five-time Porsche Carrera Cup champion Craig Baird as his co-driver in the No. 45 entry.
Ben Porter and Duvashen Padayachee will drive with New South Wales racer Robert Woods in the sister GWR entry, giving the team two realistic chances at the podium.
Meanwhile, a third A45 separately entered by two-time Bathurst 12 hour winner Rod Salmon will see Australian GT ace Nathan Antunes join him behind the wheel, the pair bringing significant Mount Panorama enduro experience to the table.
The Mitsubishi brigade returns in strength, 2016 podium finishers David Wall and John Bowe reunited this year in a bid to go two places better than last year in their EVO IX GSR.
Jim Pollicina has secured Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champion and Kumho V8 Touring Cars race winner Ryan Simpson as a co-driver, while long-time Supercar Super2 series racers Aaron McGill and Aaron Tebb will combine in a Battery World supported EVO for the first time.
The CGR Performance / CXC Global fleet is again strong, their three cars headlined by team owner Dylan Thomas and his co-driver, Supercars Championship star Tim Slade.
Andrew Richmond will be joined by regular Supercars enduro co-driver Karl Reindler in one of the two additional cars the team has entered, while Radical champion and Sports Car ace Neale Muston will have fellow Radical Cup runner Peter Paddon as his co-driver.
After a horror six-hour campaign last year, where his car was forced out with engine issues early in the race, Luke Searle has confirmed former Bathurst 1000 and 12-hour winner Paul Morris and Barry Graham will return to co-drive his BMW M135i Hatch.
The BMW brigade will be bolstered by the Sherrin Rentals’ brand-new BMW M4, driven by last year’s B6HR runners-up brothers Iain and Grant, while Orange’s Tim Leahey will return to drive with current Australian Production Car Series champion Beric Lynton in his BMW 1M.
Tony Quinn has confirmed son Klark, a three-time Australian GT Champion, and young Kiwi ace Andrew Waite will drive his brand-new Ford Focus RS.
Audi fans, accustomed to success at Bathurst thanks to the brand’s wins in the 12-hour, will enjoy the addition of the Audi TT RS driven by Tony Alford and two-time GT Champion Mark Eddy this year, whie Subaru fans will be able to cheer for the Impreza WRX STi driven by Porsche Carrera Cup ace James Abela and former Australian Formula Ford champion Cameron Hill.
Fans of local muscle cars won’t be denied either – Jeremy Gray confirming Touring Car Masters frontrunner Jason Gomersall will join him in a Ford Falcon GT-F this year.
The full driver roster will be announced later this week.