1997 AMP Bathurst 1000 Winner
Geoff Brabham/David Brabham #83 Diet-Coke BMW 320i Chassis – E36 STC 96/008
The BMW that carried the Brabham brothers to victory in the 1997 Great Race had been built in 1996 by BMW Motorsport and originally competed that season with the Bigazzi team in the German ADAC SuperTourenWagen Cup.
Most sources state it was Steve Soper’s car, while Phil Branagan’s report of the Lakeside Super Touring round later in ’96 in the pages of Australian Motorsport News says it was ex-Joachim Winkelhock.
Either way, the local BMW team and Brad Jones’ Orix Audi team were pitted in a war for the local championship late in ’96. So BMW dispatched this car and a sister chassis to Australia, with Geoff Brabham driving the eventual Bathurst winner as #83 and Paul Morris the sister machine as #1 for the final two rounds at Lakeside and Oran Park.
Brabham was eliminated in a crash in Race 2 at Lakeside and the car damaged, though it was repaired for the final round where Brabham had
Ta miserable weekend and wound up fourth in the final series pointscore. He retained the car for the 1997 season and drove it throughout the BOC Gases Super Touring Championship, finishing runner-up to teammate Morris in a BMW 1-2.
However, the AMP Bathurst 1000 fell before the final two rounds of the series and Brabham had brother David join him for The Great Race.
Geoff took provisional pole on Friday but couldn’t back it up in the Top 10 Shootout, qualifying sixth, while Morris took pole.
He started the race in the #83 car and engaged in an early dice with Peter Brock in the Triple Eight-run Vectra before first hitting the lead on lap 33 as the first round of pit stops began.
As the race panned out, the Diet-Coke BMW only led eight laps all day and had to survive contact at The Cutting late in the day when an ambitious Belgian Jean-Francois Hemroulle punted David into a spin while trying to overtake him for third position.
Brabham recovered and hunted down the
other Audi of Frank Biela to take second spot on lap 155 and crossed the line behind the team car of Craig Baird, which would later be excluded, given the Kiwi pilot had exceeded the maximum allowed continuous driving time.
That gave victory to the Brabham brothers, the first – and so far only – brothers to win the Bathurst classic.
The factory BMW team shut up shop at the end of the season, so this car lay idle in 1998.
It returned to the track in 1999 when Paul Morris formed NEMO Racing and he ran it in the Australian Super Touring Championship as the #23 entry having been updated with a 1998-spec engine, drive train and suspension.
He beat Jim Richards’ Volvo S40 and the frontwheel-drive Audi A4s from Brad Jones’ team to claim his third Super Touring crown and then went on to win the Bathurst 500(km) in wet conditions.
On top of that he also raced the car in Macau in ’99 and finished runner-up in the traditional Guia touring car event before claiming a fourth ASTC crown (and 16 of the 17 races) against a comparatively weak field in what turned out to be the final year of Super Touring in Australia under TOCA Australia in 2000/2001.
The car was eventually sold to Peter Kelly, who raced it in the short-lived Touring Car Challenge (a category catering for ex-V8 Supercars, Super Tourers, Future Tourers, Group A cars, etc), during 2005 and 2006.
It was rebuilt in 2007 and sold late last year (including a pile of spares) in plain white livery to New Zealander Bruce Miles, who also owns an ex-Diet-Coke 1995 series car that he and Murray Cleland drove in the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000, the wet ’99 500km race and the 2002 24-Hour event at the Mountain.
“The Diet Coke car always had a soft spot in our hearts as it was the next generation from our car and technically very advanced for its time,” Cleland told us (no relation to the Scottish driver John by the way!).
“When it came up for sale having such great history, it was a no-brainer that it should come to New Zealand. It only arrived in late 2013 so nothing has been done to it.
“We are evaluating what needs to be done, then we will undertake a full restoration back to full racing trim and perhaps use it for events here and possibly take it over to the UK and run it in the Super Tourer series there, which supports the BTCC rounds.”
Oran Park 2000
Oran Park 1999