It was announced last week that BMW’s Board of Management has decided to ‘strategically realign’ its motorsport activities. The pillars on which their motorsport programme will rest, will include: DTM, the FIA WEC, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC), FIA Formula E, customer race programmes in GT3 and GT4 categories, and the Dakar Rally. That is quite a wide-ranging set of racing platforms on which to be active, but those words – BMW returns to Le Mans – is what interests us.
The plan is for BMW to enter the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2018, the highlight of which is of course is the 24-hour race in Le Mans. BMW claimed overall victory there in 1999 with the open prototype BMW V12 LMR, but since then the company has only raced at Le Mans in 2010 and 2011. BMW’s adventure to Le Mans in 2011 resulted in a third place finish for their M3 GT in the LM GTE class.
“Starting with the 2018 season, we want to further expand our activities in GT racing and compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship,” BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt said. “This obviously also includes our return to Le Mans, which we are particularly looking forward to. The way the WEC has developed so well makes us confident that there is a big future for GT racing. This is also the motivation behind our further expansion in the customer racing sector. Our range is already spearheaded by a successful representative, in the form of the BMW M6 GT3. As of 2018, we will also be excellently represented by the BMW M4 GT4 in the GT4 class, which is currently experiencing something of a boom.”
An uprated M6 GT LM is in action in the IMSA series with special permission from the race organisers and the other manufacturers. At this stage though, BMW is not saying anything more about the likely new WEC contender, but the GTE racer will be a replacement for the M6 GT3. The new racer will most likely be based on the common chassis platform shared by the 5-, 6-, and 7-Series cars, but the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show would be a good event to mark in your diaries, as we might get to see something in the metal.
By way of a short (recent) history lesson, BMW competed at Le Mans in 1998 and 1999. In the first of those years, the 580bhp V12 LM Patrick Head-designed racer was entered by Schnitzer Motorsport. Piloted by the extremely experienced driver trios of Hans-Joachim Stuck/Steve Soper/Tom Kristensen and Pierluigi Martini/Joachim Winkelhock/Johnny Cecotto, great things were expected. Unfortunately, both cars were out inside the four-hour mark. The following year it was a bit different. In the hands of Joachim Winkelhock/Pierluigi Martini/Yannick Dalmas, the #15 BMW romped home the winner.
The next time that BMW entered Le Mans was in 2010. The #78 car was driven by Jörg Müller/Augusto Farfus/Uwe Alzen and qualified in seventh place, while the #79 car in the hands of Andy Priaulx/Dirk Müller/Dirk Werner qualified in twelfth place. The #79 car was the latest in a line of BMW Art Cars with artist Jeff Koons designing the graphics. The #78 car finished sixth in class, while the #79 car dropped out after just 53 laps. This was the last year of the GT2 class, the following season would see the GTE PRO and AM classes replacing the GT2 class, while GT1 disappeared altogether.
In 2011 BMW announced its intentions in no uncertain terms, when the #55 and #56 cars qualified first and third in the GTE PRO class. In the race, the #56 car in the hands of Andy Priaulx/Dirk Müller/Joey Hand crossed the line third in class giving BMW a much-deserved podium place. The #55 car driven by Augusto Farfus/Jörg Müller/Dirk Werner posted a DNF, bowing out after 276 laps with driveshaft related damage.
Should any further news regarding the new WEC racer come our way in the interim, we will be sure to bring this to your attention.
Written by: Glen Smale
Photos by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale and BMW Motorsport