The world of motorsports has been an intricate part of the automotive industry. And from 1923 onwards, there has been a race in France that all significant automakers try to win. The 24 hours of Le Mans is a grueling nonstop challenge to test the limits of machines and the men behind the steering wheel. Endurance racing, as it is called, requires extreme engineering and reliability. A car at full speed for 24 hours is a test of reliability. Not too many have reached the podium in the event's long history. BMW did it once in 1999 with its BMW V12 LMR prototype. Now the German giant is back. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of M and prepare for a podium finish, it launched an all-new "M" Hybrid V8 GTP car that will race the IMSA series. These IMSA events include the Daytona 24 Hrs, the 12 hours of Sebring, and the Petit-Le Mans in Road Atlanta. All these races are within the United States.
BMW chose the Petersen museum for the world introduction and known motorsport commentator Leigh Diffey, serve as the presenter on this historic evening. "Los Angeles is a massive market for M cars, as more of these cars are sold here than anywhere else. It is also the number one market for BMW electric cars", said Diffey. "It is a trendsetter place for the automotive market and a logical place to present the new BMW Hybrid motorsports program."
BMW M CEO Franciscus van Meel continued: "it is no coincidence we are here in California to present this car because this state is a world leader in electrification and the biggest market for our M cars. I am excited about the hybrid V8 race car as it leads into our future. We have lots of electric M cars coming in the next year."
I had the chance to talk to John Doonan, president of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), who leads the organization founded in 1971 and organizes endurance races in the country. "This is a significant introduction for our series", he told me. The IMSA events are known as the car makers racing series. Winning an endurance championship has been part of marketing strategies for brands like Ferrari, Ford, Porsche, Aston Martin, Toyota, and Mazda. The new BMW car will run in the GTP (Grand Turismo Prototype) class, considered the most technologically advanced in world motorsports. This category for purpose-built race cars came to life in the 1980s, and it was a 1981 BMW M-1/C GTP car (based on a March Chassis) that created a revolution in car racing design. The M-1 C run its first race in the 6 hours of Riverside, just an hour east of downtown Los Angeles. The circuit is gone today, but BMW brought one to display it next to the new voiture de course.
The car incorporates a 4-liter engine (code 66/3) based on a V8 motor used on the production BMW 7 series. It possesses twin turbos, DOHC, and variable timing, coupled with a mild hybrid system. BMW did not disclose specifics on this as this is a race car; after all, specifics are highly guarded among competitors. Power should be around 640 to 680 HP with an acceleration of 0-60 in about 2.5 Seconds.
The design and graphics of the car are striking from every angle. And plenty of little details start to grow on you after the initial wow period. The traditional BMW colors and the M are there. But also a purple stripe to remind drivers to go for the fastest lap. The front of the car is striking and menacing with a pair of large, purposeful air intakes with the traditional BMW kidney grille.
Motorsports programs at this level require a high commitment from the company engineering team. Additionally, the investment in these international multi-year programs requires a high return in exchange, which means more car sales. BMW is betting on the Hybrid V8 race program, bringing more enthusiasts to engage in the next electrified M series sports cars. The car looks like a winner, so we will anxiously await its first outing in January 2023.