BMW makes return, unites with Rahal Letterman

BMW makes return, unites with Rahal Letterman

BMW unveiled its new M3 race car Wednesday at the Chicago Auto Show, signaling a return to the American Le Mans Series. The famed German auto maker has linked up with Rahal Letterman Racing (RLR) to field a two-car LM GT2 program beginning in ...

BMW unveiled its new M3 race car Wednesday at the Chicago Auto Show, signaling a return to the American Le Mans Series. The famed German auto maker has linked up with Rahal Letterman Racing (RLR) to field a two-car LM GT2 program beginning in 2009.

Bobby Rahal presents the new Rahal Letterman Racing BMW M3 LM GT2.
Photo by American Le Mans Series.

"With the sporting genes of the production BMW M3 being clearly evident, developing a racing version of the car was the next logical step," said BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen. "The fact that the road-going vehicle is fitted with a V8 engine as standard provided us with an ideal base. However, the BMW M3 is more than a race car; it has achieved legendary status amongst race fans across the globe. I am convinced that this unique story of the BMW M3 racing cars will now be expanded upon by the addition of further chapters."

BMW Motorsport has selected Rahal Letterman Racing to oversee its sportscar program. The Ohio-based team is no stranger to the ALMS, having competed in 2007 with a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Their debut season brought five podium finishes, ending up fourth in the GT2 Team Championship but the team is best known for its open-wheel triumphs. Bobby Rahal won three CART championships and scored the victory at the 1986 Indianapolis 500 before forming his own team with David Letterman.

Rahal and Letterman celebrated the Indy 500 win in 2004 with driver Buddy Rice. Since forming the team name in 2004, they continue to field cars in the IndyCar Series.

Rahal, team co-owner and racing legend, eagerly anticipates becoming part of BMW's racing heritage. "This is a very important day for the future of Rahal Letterman Racing and we are eagerly anticipating playing a lead role in returning BMW to the sharp end of the ALMS grid.

"In my years, not only in motorsports but also as a BMW dealer, I have always been impressed by the professionalism and efficiency of the BMW organization and we at RLR are proud to be a part of it," added Rahal.

The exciting announcement brings the fabled German brand back to the series after a two-year hiatus. Team PTG last represented BMW in 2006 when it ran two M3s in the GT2S category. However, 2007 marked the end of the team's 12-year association with BMW, as they switched to racing the Panoz Esperante.

BMW's roots were fully grown into the ALMS well before the 2006 season. The BMW V12 LMR won the Series' inaugural race, the 1999 Twelve Hours of Sebring and went on to take five further wins with its LMP. Attention shifted to the GT class in 2001, when BMW Motorsport campaigned the M3 GTR. Four of the V8-engined cars ran in the class, two each from the German Schnitzer squad and BMW Team PTG. The season brought seven class victories, including sweeping the class championships. However, the works teams elected to pull out of the series the following year due to a rules change. Now six years later, BMW is poised to conquer the series again.

"We are very pleased to be returning to the American Le Mans Series with our latest generation BMW M3," states Tom Purves, Chairman and CEO, BMW of North America. "Sports car racing has been part of BMW of North America's history practically from day one. Just two weeks after the company was formed in March 1975, a BMW CSL won the 12-hours of Sebring.

"We are confident that the fourth generation M3 will continue the legacy of its two predecessors which combined to win six manufacturer's championships over nine seasons. As it has been in the past we believe the ALMS is the ideal venue to showcase the potential of the newest BMW M3," continued Purves.

Bobby Rahal and Scott Atherton pose with the new Rahal Letterman Racing BMW M3 LM GT2.
Photo by American Le Mans Series.

BMW joins Ferrari, Porsche, Panoz, Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford as manufacturers represented in the GT2 category. ALMS' President and CEO Scott Atherton believes relevance to road-going cars is what attracts brands like BMW to the highly competitive class.

"The American Le Mans Series prides itself on being the ultimate R&D platform for manufacturers from all over the globe," said Atherton. "And now BMW - 'The Ultimate Driving Machine' - joins the most extensive list of world-class manufacturers to recognize the opportunity the Series offers to transfer the technology present on their race cars directly to showrooms and dealerships around the world. I have no doubt that BMW will capitalize on its investment in the American Le Mans Series and see the same rewards our other competing manufacturers have realized."

With the return of BMW, Atherton predicts a strong fan base to cheer on the new M3s in 2009. "Not only has the American Le Mans Series' fan base increased substantially over the years, but also has BMW's following among its owners and club members.

"BMW has some of the most passionate and outspoken fans - trust me, I hear them often... - and I believe we can speak for these fans in saying we are overjoyed that they will be returning to the Series. We share the passion and appreciation they have for world-class sports car racing and competition, and we can't wait to see the new BMW M3 back on the race track," said Atherton.

In the coming months, BMW Motorsport will start an extensive testing program with its works drivers Andy Priaulx, Jorg Muller and Augusto Farfus, who all currently compete in the World Touring Car Championship. The aim is to be fast right out of the box, fighting for race wins and the GT2 class championship in 2009. Full driver lineups will be announced at a later date.

It's uncertain if RLR will compete in the 2008 ALMS season.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Priaulx , Bobby Rahal , Jorg Muller , Mario Theissen