Skaife: ‘Who would have thought…’

BMW DRIVERS Mark Skaife, Tony Longhurst and Russell Ingall are confident that they are a realistic shot at victory in next February’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.

The trio were announced as BMW drivers this morning at a function in Melbourne, as the German marque unveiled their plans to attempt to conquer the Mountain.

As well as multiple class victories, BMW won the Bathurst 1000 outright in 1997 when it was a race for two-litre Super Tourers. On that day another famous combination – brothers Geoff and David Brabham – prevailed in a dramatic affair that only saw them granted the victory when lead drivers Paul Morris and Craig Baird were excluded for breaching a regulation regarding maximum driver times.

Besides uniting old Supercars rivals Skaife and Ingall in the same car, Longhurst brings existing BMW heritage to the team having won his class in the Bathurst 1000 racing a BMW M3.

Six-time Bathurst winner Skaife, who now spends a majority of his time in the TV commentary box and host chair – alongside Ingall – said the BMW project was one that ‘came out of nowhere’.

His last major endurance race start came in 2011, when he partnered Craig Lowndes to finish a narrow second on the Mountain.

“Who would have thought I’d have a teammate like Russell Ingall at some stage, and to be re-joining Tony Longhurst after winning in 2001 is fantastic,” Skaife said.

“We want to go there and do a good solid job. You can’t go to a place like Bathurst and not feel comfortable, you have to go there and be able to drive the car well. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think we would enjoy the experience and be able to do it properly.”

Skaife wore Vodafone colours when he and Craig Lowndes won the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 in 2010 and said he was proud to represent the brand again.

“As a BMW factory effort with Steven Richards Motorsport we’re proud to bring Castrol and Vodafone along as great partners. It’s fantastic for Vodafone to be back in the sport.”

Ingall, who is almost as famous for his longstanding rivalry with Skaife as he is for his Bathurst and Supercars success, is suitably enthusiastic about the program.

“Who would have thought that myself and Mark Skaife would be pairing up together to do an endurance race? I would say nobody,” enthused Ingall.

“And when you look at someone like Tony Longhurst, who has been integral in putting this whole programme together, and you look at the Bathurst wins between the three of us, this is people who know how to win Bathurst and are very passionate about racing. It’s going to be fantastic.

“Make no mistake, we are taking this seriously. We’re going there to try and win the race. I’m looking forward to getting to Bathurst and having a big swing at it.”

Longhurst only recently returned to competitive racing and said the event is something of a full-circle journey from the beginnings of his career in the early 1980s.

“I started my career back in 1984 with Jim Richards, and this will be my last time at The Mountain with Steve Richards. That’s pretty neat,” Longhurst said.

“And to do it with BMW, that’s very special for me. The best moments of my career have been in BMWs, but what a difference between the M6 GT3 and the 635 that I drove in 1984. It’s an amazing journey.

“It’s a long, long way. It’s a 12 Hour race, and it’s going to be a full field. For the next four months, we have to plan to be very comfortable in the car and make no mistakes. Twelve hours around Mount Panorama is a huge ask.”

The Gold Coast based driver said the driving line-up was the ultimate that could be assembled for the race.

“We’ve got a trick team. We’re very, very fortunate to have Mark and Russell on board, and Steve and this team. We’ve got the cream of the crop. We’ve got the right people around us, no egos, it’s nice and calm.”

Team owner Steven Richards, himself a four-time Bathurst 1000 champion, said the trio would form a strong part of a two-car, factory supported attack on the race next February.

This is a very serious campaign,” he said.

“We have expectations of those guys running on the lead lap all day, and at the end of the day seeing where they pop up. With the right driver in the right car at the right time, it can make all the difference at the 12 Hour. We’re going there with a full-on, two-car attack for that race.”

Richards, who has raced both against and with all three of the former champions, said he was looking forward to getting the trio together in the same car.

“We’ve got three guys that have moved away from racing a little bit, and here’s a great opportunity for them to jump back in to a totally different car and learn a whole new way of driving.

“It’s fantastic. It’s going to create so much interest for motor racing in Australia. We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to put this group together, and that BMW Group Australia are so keen to be back in motorsport and take on this challenge.”