Sears Point BMW preview

Munich. Following their one-two victory in Jarama, Spain, Team BMW Motorsport and their two BMW M3 GTRs are pumped up for their first US victory in the 2001 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) to be held this coming Sunday. On 22 July, the two 450 bhp...

Munich. Following their one-two victory in Jarama, Spain, Team BMW Motorsport and their two BMW M3 GTRs are pumped up for their first US victory in the 2001 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) to be held this coming Sunday. On 22 July, the two 450 bhp GTs manned by the familiar driving duos of JJ Lehto (FIN) / Jorg Muller (D) and Fredrik Ekblom(S) / Dirk Muller (D) will be lining up on the Sears Point Raceway sited amid the scenic vineyards of California's Sonoma Valley.

The 4.055-kilometre (2.52-mile) road course at the gateway of this famous wine-growing region is spectacular -- and has the lowest average speed of any American ALMS circuit. Dirk Muller, the reigning title-holder and last year's winner of the GT class, explains this phenomenon: "The circuit has no rhythm. It has two hairpin bends and several very fast stretches, including some really challenging corners. You take the entire snaking stretch from the seventh to the final eleventh turn in sixth gear -- with an embankment to your left and the crash barrier to your right. The 'jump' after Turn 5 is another feature. The track surface varies from an almost-sticky drag strip where acceleration battles are fought out, all the way to fairly smooth asphalt." Says the German driver in summary: "All in all it's a pretty challenging circuit, and I'm really excited about getting behind the wheel of the M3 GTR again after the long break."

The race starts at 12 noon and will last the usual two hours and 45 minutes of the ALMS events. It marks the fifth race for the Team this season and the fourth for the new V8-powered M3 GTR.

The pace heats up: seven races in three months

Following a break of nine weeks -- the ALMS was pausing because numerous teams were taking part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans -- the California race will kick off an extremely busy period: Seven races are scheduled for the next three months, four of them within the space of just five weeks. Team BMW Motorsport and its two BMW M3 GTRs will be moving to America for three months. "Between races we have to travel long distances across the continent and carry out our normal race preparations," says Team Manager Charly Lamm. "You can't afford to have any serious problems during that kind of phase. There just isn't enough time to respond."

That's why the Team has been particularly diligent during its preparation stage, carrying out tests on two different circuits as well as BMW's own track in Ismaning near Munich. Right at the top of the brief is reliability. "Because the project was launched at a relatively late stage, work on getting the cars race-ready has run into the season," adds Lamm. "In the meantime we've ticked off a number of tasks and the most recent test has been very promising."

One crucial criterion at Sears Point for Team BMW Motorsport and partner Michelin will be the tyres -- the course with its generally low-grip surface proved problematic for the BMW V12 LMR in last year's race. JJ Lehto and Jorg Muller came third in the overall placings. Partnered by Steve Soper (GB), Lehto had celebrated victory with the prototype at Sears Point in 1999.

BMW Team PTG, which is backed by BMW North America, will also be contending Sunday's race, fielding two new M3 GTRs for the first time. It will make for an interesting comparison on the tyre front in particular as the US team led by Tom Milner have signed up Yokohama as their tyre partner.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in the BMW M3 GTR

Among the PTG drivers Bill Auberlen (USA), Nic Jonsson (S), Boris Said (USA) and Hans-Joachim Stuck, BMW's star driver from Germany will be making a very special appearance on Wednesday: At11 o'clock, as part of a publicity event, Stuck will set out to cross the Golden Gate Bridge in the BMW M3 GTR and then drive through the streets of San Francisco. He is thrilled at the prospect: "I've driven all kinds of cars, including Formula 1 racers, on countless circuits, but to drive a racing car across the Golden Gate Bridge will be one of the most exciting moments in my life."

Therace takes place on Sunday, 22 July 2001, from 12.00-2.45 pm local time.

Live information and radio reports are available on the Internet at www.americanlemans.com.

NBCSports will be broadcasting the event live.

Eurosport will broadcast a 60-minute summary on Sunday, 29 July, from 7.45 to 8.45 pm CET. (repeated on 30.7. at 11.30 am and on 31.7. at 00.15 am)

-BMW

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Series ALMS