Rushed Success - 1999 BMW V12 LMR
Throughout the 94-year history of the 24 Heures Du Mans, Bavarian manufacturer BMW had partaken in only a handful of races in French territory. Their efforts for the 1998 edition of the race with the V12 LM saw the marque retire in opaque shame due to aerodynamic problems that plagued the V12 LM. Leading to an early retirement by lap 60, in which both LMs had been deliberately taken into pits to avoid a high speed shunt.
Eager to make a return for the following race, BMW saw themselves striking a deal with British racing firm WilliamsF1. Development for the car would be cut in two, having BMW in charge of the powertrain, whilst Williams would be responsible for the car’s aerodynamic parts, including a design started from scratch. Although the partnership was paving the way for success, both partners were running short on time, as the signed deal determined that BMW would enter the wildly competitive world of Formula One racing for the first season in the new millenium.
One of the most crucial things in endurance racing is utilizing a reliable engine, one that can withstand 24 hours of punishment in varying temperatures. Knowing full well the engine utilized in the co-developed McLaren F1 GTR “Longtail” was proven reliable enough, they set out to further improve on the S70 unit.
Receiving slight modifications in the intake and exhaust manifolds to comply with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s rulebooks, the revised 5.9l behemoth of an engine was now producing 580hp @ 6,500RPM and around 680 nm (501lb-ft) of torque. This power was transmitted to the 36/71R-18 Michelin tires via an X-trac provided six-speed sequential gearbox with a 4-plate clutch.
The Williams-designed shell was made entirely out of carbon fibre, helping this way to keep the weight down to a lightweight 914kg (2016 lb) figure. The car being light didn’t mean the brakes had to be overlooked, and so AP Racing manufactured 6-piston calipers were installed up front, pressing against the 380mm carbon-ceramic slotted brake discs, while 4-piston calipers were in contact with the 350mm discs at the rear wheels
To give an appropiate suspension in both the front and rear ends of the car, double wishbones and push-rods were installed, actuating the longitudinally mounted coil spring and damper units. Focused upon improving upon the LM’s airflow problems, the feasible choice at the time seemed to be the jump from open-top racers to more fuel efficient closed-top cars. Williams went against the current, having to race against teams that had opted for closed tops, and instead kept soldiering on with the open tops.
The V12 LMR made its debut at the 1999 12 Hours of Sebring, and based on that race’s results, things seemed to be set up for a good run. Cars #42 and #43 were driven to the first line of the grid, achieving an almost secure 1-2 victory for the race. Six hours into the race and the two car effort was still leading the pack, leaving more than forty cars behind. The cars seemed to be doing well not only on the speed part, but were also excelling on the reliability department, showing no signs of mechanical problems… yet. Later on in the race, car #43 suffered an accident that left the chassis written off beyond repair, leaving the sole #42 car to soldier on for the remaining part of the race.
Although alone in a track full of enemy teams, J.J. Lehto (FIN), Jörg Müller (GER) and Tom Kristensen (DEN) drove the debuting star to victory, leaving behind the Porsche 911 GT1 Evo and the Ferrari 333SP, to name a few. With the victorious debut now registered in the LMR’s tally, the focus was set on the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.
On paper, things weren’t looking good for BMW’s team efforts, since closed top racers were more fuel efficient, an advantage of utmost importancy on endurance racing, albeit slower throughout the course of a lap. Despite all of this, the race begun and the BMWs found themselves racing against Panozes, Toyotas, Mercedes and most importantly, Audi’s teutonic R8R.
For the first half of the race, the LMR’s were busy chasing the front-running GT-ONEs, doing too a good job fending off the R8Rs and CLRs, and judging the race by those partial results, BMW would be left with a bad reputation in the history books again. However, things took a turn for the better during the second half, and the LMRs were now at the same pace together with the GT-ONEs and R8Rs. As per with every good thing, there are bad things between it, and nearing the end of the race, Lehto’s car got involved in a high speed accident by the Porsche curves, caused by a stuck throttle.
Now that the team was reduced to a lone car, Pierluigi Martini (ITA), Yannick Dalmas (FRA) and Joachim Winkelhock (GER) were stuck with the obligation of winning the race by themselves. As the race got closer and closer to the end, Tsuchiya’s GT-ONE begun closing the gap at a quick rate, leaving the LMR in a juke position, given that although being faster in a lap, the low fuel at everyone’s disposal majorly benefitted the Japanese car.
When it seemed like the Toyota was about to leave the 20 second gap with the LMR behind, the German team saw themselves receiving a stroke of luck, as the runner-up Toyota suffered a high-speed blowout, doing nothing but further reassuring the car’s victory with more than a lap of separation. The LMR had victoriously taken on his failed brother’s history with honours.
After the victory at La Sarthe, BMW decided to embark back to the United States to finish the remaining races of the American Le Mans Series, gathering 4 victories throughout the entire season. The results for those four final races were split success for BMW and Panoz. After those two victories, the focus shifted back again to Europe, losing the chance to partake in Sebring and two more races, giving this way Panoz the manufacturers’ championship by only 2 points.
Once the LMR had successfully gathered 5 victories, the competitivity of it was nearing the end of its short lived “domination”, since BMW would set their focus on Formula 1 racing, as previously agreed with Williams.
Unwilling to let the now legendary LMR fade away in darkness, the car was re-entered to run a complete season of the 2000 ALMS season before giving it a farewell. There, the season was initiated at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and were then faced with Audi’s revised R8 LMP, together with two Panozes. Both rivals showed a very fast pace, taking the first four spots on the grid, leaving the year-old LMRs in the distant 5th and 6th places.
For the race, the Panozes dominated over the BMWs and the Audis, although the tables had turned for Audi, and the Münchners took 3rd and 4th place, showing that albeit being from a previous season, it could still be competitive.
For the local race at the Nürburgring, the Panozes once again won over the locals, although BMW found themselves in front of Audi once more. And for the following races, Audi decided to pull out the R8 to further improve it for Le Mans, seeing the R8R race again. This gave BMW two victories in Charlotte and Silverstone.
For the 68th celebration of the 24-hour long French race, Audi took the entire podium by storm, having a 24-lap difference between the first and fourth. Those results demonstrated that their R8 was now a complete work, leaving BMW to battle with it for the remainder of the season, having to conform with a second place in every race, spectating as Audi took home every trophy.
Trying to once again win like in the previous year, they took chassis #004, an art car designed by Jenny Holzer to race at Petit Le Mans. Unfortunately for BMW, things went anything but good, with one car flying onto the side barriers, in a fashion similar to that of the 911 GT1 that suffered the same accident just two years ago.
For the last two races in American soil, they could add zero victories to their tally, leading to the ultimate decision to not partake in the final race, leaving the battle in the land down under to be settled between Ingolstadt and Hoschton. Despite not participating, the V12 LMR left the racing environment giving BMW a second place in the manufacturers’ championship, behind the now dominant Audi.
Instead of attaining to F1 and not branching out into various things, BMW tried to continue the 5.9l behemoth’s legacy by racing it in the ever-growing competitivity of endurance racing, leaving a spot on the LMR’s history. Fortunately, the V12 LMR’s didn’t suffer the same fate as the LM’s, and were kept in Münich’s hands instead of being sold to private racing teams.
This was CTzen Sir GT-R, and until then, peace out.