Devonport motor ace John Bowe is to split with the Dick Johnson Racing team after a record 11-year partnership.
Next year he will head a newly-formed West Australian team which will have him in a Ford AU for the 1999 Australian Touring Car Championship.
``I agonised over the decision and, in fact, twice knocked back their offers,'' Bowe said yesterday.
``My relationship with Dick Johnson went from boss- employee to a real friendship and we'll stay mates forever.''
It is understood to be the longest serving partnership in the history of Australian touring car history.
Bowe, 44, said he was looking forward to being in charge of his own team.
``It's like becoming captain of your own ship after being first officer for years.''
The West Australian partners are Kevin Otway who is involved in the transport industry and Steve Renshaw, an automotive engineer.
The team manager will be Les Laidlaw, who also previously worked for the Dick Johnson Racing team.
Bowe said the team's new race car was being built and should be close to completion for the first round of the ATCC in Melbourne in March.
One of Bowe's first tasks will be to select a co-driver for next year's endurance events.
``I have a short list of people who I will target after Christmas,'' he said.
During his 11 years with DJR Bowe combined with the team boss to win the Bathurst 1000 in 1988 and 1994, The Sandown 500 in 1994 and he took the ATCC in 1995.
Bowe had rejected two previous offers by Otway and Renshaw.
Bowe finally relented after talking it over with his family and said the new team had presented him with an exciting challenge.
Bowe's decision yesterday received the full blessing of Dick Johnson and his major sponsor Shell Helix Racing.
``It's one of those situations where John was made a better offer and I certainly wasn't able to match it,'' Johnson said.
Shell- Helix's general manager Wayne Cattach said he wished Bowe well in his future venture.