BMW MOTORSPORT AND THE WEC: GOODBYE – FOR NOW.

BMW M8 GTE in the garage

Living with an “amour fou” – an obsessive passion – sounds wild, romantic and exhilarating, like in a classic film. You can live neither with nor without the other person. It is a passionate love, which can drive a person mad and simply never lets go. Above all, it is never boring. Much like the relationship that BMW Motorsport enjoys with the legend that is Le Mans. In 2019, we are saying “au revoir” at the end of the WEC Super Season – as we have often done in the past. And yet this farewell is never for ever.

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BMW 328

The chronicle of our seemingly never-ending passion for the 24-hour race on the banks of the river Sarthe dates way back to the 1930s. BMW represented the German automobile industry when the endurance classic was held for the 16th time from 17th to 18th June 1939. The grid at the Circuit des 24 Heures featured three BMW 328. The roadster, which was built in Eisenach, had made its race debut in the Eifelrennen on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife. It won the 2000 cm³ class (without compressor) in the Green Hell, setting an average speed of 101.6 km/h with Ernst Jakob Henne at the wheel.

 

The BMW 328 was the dream sportscar of its era. 464 cars were built by 1940. One of them – the number 26 car – demolished the opposition in Le Mans, winning the 1501 to 2000 cm³ class. In doing so, it recorded the maiden class victory for BMW at arguably the most iconic 24-hour race in the world. 2019 is the 80th anniversary of this success.

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THE LIST OF LE MANS WINNERS IS FULL OF BMW LEGENDS.

By the end of the 1980s, the story of BMW in Le Mans featured a further six class victories. The BMW 3.0 CSL alone triumphed on four occasions. Originally designed for touring car racing, this car was unbeatable in 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1977. The BMW 3.0 CSL is regarded as the first product to come out of what went on to be BMW Motorsport GmbH. The CSL in the car’s title stood for Coupé Sport Lightweight. Background: The car was no more powerful than the BMW 3.0 CS. However, weight reductions – a Perspex rear windscreen, aluminium bonnet and doors – meant the car weighed a mere 1,165 kg.

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BMW 3.0 CSL

However, the list of winning cars in Le Mans is littered with more BMW legends, like the BMW 2002 ti. The acronym ti stands for Turismo Internazionale and refers to the more powerful versions of the M10 engine in the BMW 02. There were three production variants. The BMW 2002 ti was equipped with a 120-hp, two-litre engine. In 1975, the race version of this car was unbeatable in the touring car class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1975. The 1969 BMW 2002 ti, with which Dieter Quester was crowned European touring car champion, heralded the BMW Turbo era 50 years ago. Thanks to an additional 75 hp, courtesy of the turbocharger, the car generated a full 280 horsepower. A brutal boost of power at that time. The BMW M1 super sportscar also made a name for itself in Le Mans when it won the Group B class two years in a row in 1984 and 1985. The car arrived in the sporting spotlight with the BMW M1 Procar Series, which was held on the support programme for Formula 1 and first cast its spell over motorsport fans 40 years ago. That series is now set for a revival at the DTM race weekend at the Norisring in 2019. However, the major triumph in Le Mans would have to wait – for now.

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THE BMW V12 LMR IS THE ONLY BMW TO HAVE TAKEN OVERALL VICTORY IN LE MANS.

It happened on the afternoon of 13th June 1999. One year after wheel bearing damage had brought the Le Mans adventure to a premature end for the BMW V12 LM, the race car had been completely modified. BMW also tweaked the driver line-up. Pierluigi Martini and Joachim Winkelhock were joined by Yannick Dalmas. In the second car, Tom Kristensen welcomed two new team-mates – Finland’s J.J. Lehto and German Jörg Müller. After 197 laps, the trio in the number 17 car were forced to retire following an incident on Sunday morning. The number 15 car immediately slipped into the lead role – and became embroiled in a fiercely-contested battle with a Toyota, which saw the lead change hands no fewer than 15 times. However, after 4,967 kilometres of racing, it was the BMW V12 LMR run by BMW Team Schnitzer that crossed the finish line first under blue skies to take victory in Le Mans. Basic performance, reliability and favourable consumption were key to the success.

However, BMW also inspired passion in Le Mans away from the racetrack – with its world-famous BMW Art Cars. French auctioneer and racing driver Hervé Poulain was the man who came up with the idea of the BMW Art Car. It was on his initiative that American artist Alexander Calder painted a BMW 3.0 CSL in 1975. Poulain himself drove the car in the legendary 24-hour race that year. The following year, the race on the banks of the river Sarthe was the backdrop for a rolling work of art with striking black lines, created by New York’s Frank Stella using the BMW 3.0 CSL as his canvas. Cars designed by Roy Lichtenstein (1977), Andy Warhol (1979) and Jenny Holzer (1999) also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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BMW V12 LMR

LE MANS COMEBACK WITH THE NEW BMW M8 GTE IN 2018.

However, it was soon time to take another time-out from the relationship with Le Mans. After 2011 and the BMW M3 GT2, several long years passed without a BMW race car gracing the grid at the circuit on the river Sarthe. As always, however, the desire to rekindle that love grew ever stronger. Four years ago, BMW Motorsport began putting together the car with arguably the most efficient racing engine of all time – the BMW M8 GTE. The goal: To race in the FIA World Endurance Championship – and in Le Mans. BMW Team MTEK made a successful comeback with two new BMW M8 GTE in 2018. Six BMW works drivers took their place at the wheel of the two cars. Martin Tomczyk, Nick Catsburg and Philipp Eng shared the driving duties in the number 81 car. Car number 82 was driven by António Félix da Costa, Alexander Sims and Augusto Farfus. On the Friday before the race, the M Motorsport Hospitality in Le Mans was the venue for a very special premiere. The new BMW 8 Series Coupe was unveiled to the public for the first time. From the racetrack to the streets: Findings from the WEC project flowed directly into the development of the production car.

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BMW M8 GTE
BMW M8 GTE

When the chequered flag is waved on Sunday, 16th June 2019, BMW Motorsport and the BMW M8 GTE will say “au revoir, Le Mans”. But not until they have had another intense 24-hour flirt. The relationship with the race on the banks of the Sarthe is set for another time-out – as has often been the case in the past. The question is: For how long? “Although we decided to quit WEC after the end of this ‘Super Season’ in light of us sharpening our focus as part of our strategy for the future, we are all proud to get another chance to race on this legendary circuit“, says BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt.

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We would like to thank BMW Team MTEK for its dedication over recent years and we wish WEC all the best and hope that it makes good progress. Our Le Mans history may be taking a break, but our passion for the race remains.
Jens Marquardt, BMW Motorsport Director

“THE RACE OF OUR LIFE.”

The sky is drenched in blue and white, like the Bavarian flag. In the pit lane, the Schnitzer team is embracing, delirious with joy. It is probably the greatest triumph in the history of the team from Freilassing – and, to this day, it remains the only overall success for BMW Motorsport at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1999, Pierluigi Martini, Joachim Winkelhock and Yannick Dalmas took overall victory at the most prestigious endurance race in the world. Schnitzer’s team principal at the time, Charly Lamm, once called that success “the race of our life.” The car that presented him with that win remains a legend to this day: The BMW V12 LMR. Anyone who stands in front of it and casts their eyes over the extremely low silhouette can virtually feel the speed the race car was capable of in its prime. The chassis was developed by subsequent Formula 1 partner Williams. The engine in the BMW V12 >LMR was the tried-and-tested BMW S70, 6.1-litre V12 from the McLaren F1, which had already taken overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995. The BMW V12 LMR is still regarded as one of the most captivating race cars BMW has ever built.

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  • Technical data for the BMW V12 LMR

    Engine:

    6.1-litre (467 kW)

    Length:

    4,650 mm

    Width:

    2,000 mm

    Height:

    1,020 mm

    Wheelbase:

    2,790 mm

    Empty weight:

    915 kg

TRADITION MADE OUT OF PASSION.

BMW developed a fascination with Le Mans very early on. And the first success was not long in coming. 80 years ago, the BMW 328 was the first BMW to be crowned the winner in its class. Further icons in BMW’s motorsport history were to follow in its footsteps. However, even these successes are outshone by the only overall victory to date, which came back in 1999. Discover the fascinating story of BMW and Le Mans in pictures.
BMW 328
BMW 3.0 CSL
BMW V12 LMR at the 24-hour race of Le Mans.
BMW M3
BMW 3.0 CSL
BMW M8 GTE.
BMW V12 LMR at the 24-hour race of Le Mans.

BMW 328

BMW M3

BMW 3.0 CSL

BMW 3.0 CSL

BMW M8 GTE.

The BMW M8 GTE seen from above while driving on a racetrack

IMSA.

The IMSA series combines tradition and the modern era. It is the continuation of a long history of sports car racing in the USA and Canada, in which BMW has always played a major role. Legendary circuits provide the venues for thrilling GT races. Always in the thick of the action: the BMW M8 GTE and the BMW M6 GT3.
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