BMW WINS THE 1999 24-HOUR RACE IN LE MANS
The secret of the BMW success: Strategy, reliability and very quick pit-stops
Munich, Sunday June 13, 1999, 4:00 p.m.: The Italian, Pierluigi Martini, at the wheel of a BMW V12 LMR, was first to cross the finish line of the 67th edition of the 24-Hours of Le Mans. Along with his team-mates Joachim Winkelhock (Germany) and Yannick Dalmas (Finland), he lapped the 13.60 kilometer circuit 366 times. Drivers and mechanics embraced each other, joy and exhaustion marking their faces, race tension giving way to tears of happiness.
"We are very glad," says Dr. Wolfgang Ziebart, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, "that we have won one of the world's most demanding and important motor races, in the year before our return to Formula 1. We did so by proving our capability of winning over the entire race distance. This in turn demonstrates explicitly our competitiveness and ability to work as a team."
There were, of course, celebrations in the BMW garage, but also consolation: the second BMW V12 LMR, piloted by Tom Kristensen (DK), JJ Lehto (FIN) and Jörg Müller (D), was forced to retire shortly before noon on Sunday following an accident, after having lead comfortably. The trio had taken the lead on Saturday afternoon at 5:29 p.m. and held on to it for more than three-quarters of the race.
BMW had dominated in Le Mans with a one-two lead in the race from shortly after three in the morning until the retirement of the one car at noon on Sunday. Behind them, the privately entered 1998 BMW V12 LM, driven by Thomas Bscher/Bill Auberlen/Steve Soper had established itself in fifth place early in the race.
Gerhard Berger: "Motivation for the future""We have not only fulfilled our aim for the season, by taking the victory in Le Mans, but we have also underlined the quality of our partnership," Motorsport Director Berger commented. "That is very promising for the engagement of the BMW V12 LMR in the American Le Mans Series. In the wake of the victories in Sebring and in Le Mans, we also view the project as a sort of dress rehearsal for the Formula 1 co-operation with Williams. That motivates us tremendously for the start into the future."
Dr. Mario Theissen, Director of BMW Motorsport, explains the technical advantages which BMW had in Le Mans: "We have built an aerodynamically very efficient and compact car and avoided any extras which tend to go wrong in such an endurance race."
Dr. Mario Theissen: "The engineers deserve accolades"
The BMW V12 engine once again thrilled the drivers with its torque and drivability. "It is also at the same time one of the most economical engines in Le Mans," continues Theissen. "It is high level racing technology, which is also blessed with many virtues from the series model - which is where this engine once originated from. The engineers in charge of the project - Herbert Vögele for the engine, John Russell for the car and Dr. Ulrich Schiefer at the head of the team - deserve accolades."
The record for fuel economy was set by BMW driver Yannick Dalmas this year: The Frenchman, with impressive Le Mans experience to his name (nine entries, with four wins), drove a total of thirteen race laps following the two reconnaissance laps at the start of the race, before pitting to refuel.
The 24 hour marathon in detail: 53 pit-stops with twenty five tire changes
The BMW V12 LMR refueled regularly every 13 laps, were given a change of tires every second pit-stop and took advantage of this procedure to change drivers.
Exceptions confirm the rule: in safety-car phases, when all cars have to travel at a slower pace behind each other, the fuel lasts an extra few laps. Lehto, on the other hand, drove two twelve-lap stints during the night - he had been given the go-ahead to push harder in order to shake off a competitor.
Gerhard Berger: "The drivers and the pit-crews didn't make a single mistake and harmonized excellently with one another."
The BMW crew, under the direction of Team Manager Charly Lamm, carried out 53 planned fuel stops including 25 tire changes - and each time they were a few valuable seconds quicker than the competition. The winning car was refueled 30 times, picking up fresh tires a total of 14 times, over the total race distance of 4,982.974 kilometers.
Race strategist Lamm: "Perfect drivers"
The strategy for the two BMW V12 LMR worked. Charly Lamm: "Tom Kristensen dealt with the speed of the Mercedes and the Toyotas at the beginning of the race supremely. He remained disciplined and kept his rhythm within that which had been agreed. Lehto and Müller also absolved perfect turns - they put on the pressure when they were supposed to and slowed down when we wanted them to."
The winning BMW V12 LMR, driven by Winkelhock, Martini and Dalmas, was running under a different strategy. Lamm: "We decided to play safe with the number 15 car, especially with regards to going easy on the material. We changed the set-up on this car during the second and fourth pit-stop by increasing the downforce, in order to improve the drivability."
These three also demonstrated that they were also able to go faster when it became necessary to do so during the final sprint at the end of the race. Lamm: "After our car number 17 retired, they became the leaders and had to stay ahead of the number 3 Toyota. That was no wheel-to-wheel dog fight, but an intense three hour long duel where you cannot see the opponent and during which, the lap times you wish to achieve to optimize fuel economy and speed as well as the remaining time for pit-stops, have to be permanently recalculated. We were, in any case, safely within our limits when the Toyota punctured a tire 50 minutes before the finish."
A brief look back in time: 1999 - the first overall victory for a BMW works team
1999 saw the third BMW works engagement in Le Mans in a row, with the first overall victory for the works team there. The BMW V12 engine however, does have a successful Le Mans history, the renaissance of the GT sportscars resulting in the spectacular triumph of the McLaren BMW in 1995 - the McLaren came first, third, fourth and fifth. The winning trio was Yannick Dalmas, JJ Lehto and Masanori Sekiya. In 1996, two McLaren came fourth (John Nielsen/Thomas Bscher/ Peter Kox) and fifth (Lindsay Owen-Jones/Pierre-Henri Raphanel/David Brabham).
The McLaren BMW, powered by the V12 engine, took a one-two victory in the GT-1 category in 1997, coming second and third overall. Jean Marc Gounon/Anders Olofsson/Pierre-Henri Raphanel saw the checkered flag ahead of Eric Hélary/Peter Kox/Roberto Ravaglia. BMW entered two open-top sportscars for the first time in 1998. The team was however forced to retire early due to defects in the wheel bearings.
Category win 60 years ago - touring cars, M1 and Art Cars
The first successful BMW engagement in Le Mans took place exactly 60 years ago: on June 17, 1939 with a BMW Type 328 touring coupé. Max zu Schaumburg-Lippe and Fritz Wencher took the victory in their category and were fifth overall.
BMW teams returned to the Sarthe with Class 2 touring cars in 1972. Dieter Quester/Toine Hezemans came 11th in 1973 with a BMW 3.0 CSL coupé. Harald Grohs/Sam Posey/Hugues de Fierlant Platz were tenth in a BMW CSL in 1975. The European Touring Car Champions Pierre Dieudonné/Jean Xhenceval took the victory in their category and were eighth overall in a BMW 3.0 CSL in 1976. The BMW 320, which had been turned into an Art Car by Roy Lichtenstein, with Hervé Poulain/Marcel Mignot at the wheel, came ninth.
BMW sent an M1 into the fray in 1979, to race in Group 4 (Special GT) in the form of a rolling work of art, fashioned by Andy Warhol. Manfred Winkelhock took sixth place despite technical problems and slower team-mates (Poulain and Mignot).
A Sauber C7 BMW, driven by Garcia, Naon and Montoya, took ninth place in 1983 amongst an armada of dominating Porsches - it was the best result for a car with a normally aspirated engine. A BMW M1 took the Group B victory in 1984 and 1985.
The traditional and the contemporary: Jenny Holzer fashions the 15th BMW Art Car
Along with the overall victory, Le Mans 1999 saw the return of the BMW Art Car concept to its place of origin - Le Mans. The American concept artist Jenny Holzer fashioned a BMW V12 LMR into the 15th work of art in the BMW Art Car Collection. The car was driven by Joachim Winkelhock during prequalifying in May and ran a lap of honor in front of 200,000 spectators before the start of the race. The BMW V12 LMR was then exhibited in the famous village next to the paddock where it was signed by Jenny Holzer.
The BMW V12 LMR with Jenny Holzer's provocative statements - amongst which was her most famous declaration - "PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT" - is the fifth Le Mans-Art Car, following the works of Alexander Calder (1975), Frank Stella (1976), Roy Lichtenstein (1977) and Andy Warhol (1979).
You can find photographs pertaining to the BMW engagement in Le Mans at: www.imagepark.de/Start/index.html Login: bmwak2, Password: ojange, then click 'Start' followed by 'Suchen'.