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Offline AshSimmonds

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The Bathurst 12-Hour endurance race returns on Easter Sunday after 13 years in the wilderness, but not every car maker is a happy bunny. JEZ SPINKS reports.

Production car racing returns to Bathurst on Easter Sunday after a 13-year absence, but the 12-hour endurance event has already alienated some car manufacturers.

The 12 Hour Showroom Enduro on April 8th brings together at Australia?s hallowed Mount Panorama circuit an eclectic mix of mass-production vehicles divided into 10 different classes.
Most of the field comprises sedans and hatchbacks, with the BMW 335i, Subaru Impreza, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo favoured to win the event outright.

All the entrants are production car-based, with a number of modifications allowed in addition to the regulation roll-cages and fire extinguishers. The race regulations permits changes to areas such as suspension, brakes, and engine cooling.

Lotus Cars Australia, however, has described Australian motorsport regulations as "a nightmare" after its high-performance Exige S model was refused entry to the event.

?I don?t know the exact ins and outs of all the regulations,? says Lotus?s marketing manager Jon Stretton, ?but I?m told [the entry refusal] is centred around the event being a production car race more oriented towards saloon cars, and the Exige S is seen as a sports car.

"However, they do have, or were allowing Nissan 350Zs and [BMW] Z4s in, albeit potentially with a weight penalty. But they won't let the Exige S in at all.

A 350Z Track coupe will be competing in Class 2, for performance cars with engines of 4.5 litres or less. The 10th and final class is specifically for former Lotus Trophy Cars, but the event's eligibiity list states the racing weight for Lotuses is to be advised by the promoter.

?It?s very disappointing. Yes, we absolutely want our cars in [the race]. People want to buy our cars and they want to use our cars [in the race] because [the Lotus] is a car that?s honed for that type of environment [the racetrack]."

The $114,990 Exige S squeezes under the $125,000 price ceiling set by the organisers to keep out the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Stretton says motorsport is pivotal to Lotus and that the company just wants to race against cars of a similar ilk.

?It?s just finding where we?re allowed to go on a level playing field. And at the moment there?s not a huge amount of that opportunity. It?s some of the frustrations we have these days.?

Mazda Australia won the last four consecutive 12-hour enduro races from 1991 to 1994, but  wasn?t even prepared to enter the event on its return this year.

?There are just a heap of categories in there with all sorts of different rules, so we gave it a miss,? says Allan Horsley, Mazda Australia?s vehicle projects manager. ?There?s a lot more modifications allowed than what I would consider right for a production car race.?

Horsley says a production car race needs to be equal cars running against equal cars, and that setting up a race with mass-production cars would be very simple.

?You would leave off [exhaust] mufflers for a bit of excitement and noise,? he says. ?Electronics you would need to free up a bit because they would be almost impossible to scrutineer, but that?s pretty much it. There?s other things you need to discuss, such as tyres, but I believe that?s the way to go.?

The 12-hour event?s organizer, Spherix, says the race?s regulations were created in consultation with parties, including car makers, who expressed interest in competing.

Spherix?s Craig Denyer says: ?CAMS [Confederation of Australian Motorsport] and the Federation of Australian Motorsport ran a number of forums in January and February to get input from manufacturers about what sort of regulations would entice them back into the sport."

Denyer says attendees expressed the desire for a set of regulations that would allow car makers to use their motorsport-tailored cars in other events besides an endurance race.

"[The permissable modifications] mean the cars are significantly safer from an endurance point of view," says Denyer. "[But it also] means manufacturers can run one week in the Bathurst 12-Hour and the next week in a Targa rally. It allows them to get more leverage from their investment."

?If we believe there?d be enough entrants out there to build 50 cars to run a pure showroom production car event and sustain it, we?d certainly consider it,? says Denyer. ?But from the forums CAMS conducted, that wasn?t the feedback we were getting from all the manufacturers.

?In motorsport you can never keep everyone happy. It?s just not possible. All you can do is provide a set of rules that overall we think long term are right for the future direction of production car racing.

Subaru and Holden are the only two manufacturers fielding 'factory' teams, but Denyer says it will take another two or three years to convince more manufacturers that production car racing is a viable opportunity to invest in.

?Not taking anything away from the V8 Supercar circuit,? says Denyer, ?there is clearly a need for other manufacturers [besides Ford and Holden] that can?t play in that arena to profile their motorsport heritage.?

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