BMW M3 GTR debuts at Sebring

SEBRING, Fla. (March 14, 2001) -- BMW comes to the 2001 Exxon Superflo 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17 -- the second race of the 2001 American Le Mans Series -- ready to continue its historic winning tradition at Sebring International Raceway by...

SEBRING, Fla. (March 14, 2001) -- BMW comes to the 2001 Exxon Superflo 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17 -- the second race of the 2001 American Le Mans Series -- ready to continue its historic winning tradition at Sebring International Raceway by introducing the BMW M3 GTR, the latest evolution of the 2001 M3 CSL race car that made its debut here a year ago.

BMW Motorsport, which unveiled the V12 LMR here in 1999 with a win, enters one M3 GTR for drivers JJ Lehto, of Finland, and Jorg Muller, of Germany, as well as a sister car -- one of Prototype Technology Group's M3 CSLs -- for Fredrik Ekblom, of Sweden, and last year's ALMS driver's champion Dirk Muller, of Germany.

The M3 GTR, developed by BMW Motorsport, will be campaigned in the ALMS races by both teams, with PTG introducing its M3 GTRs in Sonoma, Calif., in July. It features a compact, short-stroke 4.0-liter V8 engine in place of the traditional in-line six-cylinder engine that has been developed to its maximum. The 3.2-liter 6-cylinder continues to power the 2001 M3 production models with 333 horsepower. Building a strong foundation for future competition and renewing its commitment to the M Brand, the GTR comes at a time when more V8-powered cars are entering the GT class.

"Early last year, as we began development of the new M3 for the 2000 season, we recognized the need for increased displacement and torque to be competitive," says Tom Salkowsky, motorsport manager for BMW of North America, LLC. "Team PTG fully developed the 3.2-liter 6-cylinder, but we realized this wouldn't be enough for the long-term competitiveness of the M3. Our focus is to gain more of a competitive position with the 4.0-liter V8."

Bringing two Yokohama-sponsored M3s, BMW Team PTG -- GT class winner here in 1997 and 1998 -- returns to the 17-turn, 3.7-mile circuit after a development year that saw the M3 CSL capture one victory, two second places and four thirds in 2000.

The 2001 season began with a strong third-place finish by Team PTG at the Leather Center Grand Prix of Texas on March 4 with the No. 6 BMW M3 driven by Hans Stuck and Boris Said.

The significance of the 49th running of this historic 12-hour race to BMW of North America, LLC, began in 1975 when, only days after its incorporation, Hans Stuck, Brian Redman, Sam Posey and Allan Moffat drove a 3.0 CSL to overall victory, and BMW of North America, Inc., began an integrated racing and marketing program that continues today with a renewed M3 effort strengthened by both BMW Team PTG and BMW Motorsport.

"We have a better chance of winning at Sebring than we did at Texas," says PTG owner Tom Milner. "The longer the race, the less the advantage a car with a little more power has. Handling and braking is the key to Sebring and those are exactly the M3's strengths."

Joining Stuck, of Austria, and Said, of Carlsbad, Calif., at Sebring in the No. 6 PTG M3, is Peter Cunningham, of West Bend, Wis., a PTG driver since 1998. The first American winner of the BMW Sports Trophy last year, Cunningham is a veteran who is the only North American driver to win championships in Solo II, Pro Rally, ice racing and sprint and endurance races -- the latter totaling eight victories in 25 24-hour races.

"I've won seven endurance races at Sebring, but never the 12 Hours," Cunningham says. "Boris, Hans and I have been teammates before and I think we complement each other."

Stuck, the only active three-time overall Sebring winner (1975, 1986 and 1988), praises his M3 race car. "The overall balance of the M3 is well-suited for Sebring," he says. "It is good with the bumps -- easy on the tires and the drivers. I could not think of a better car to be in than the BMW. As we saw in Texas, you have to be able to get to the finish -- not just be the quickest on one set of tires or one tank of fuel."

Bill Auberlen, of Redondo Beach, Calif., and Niclas Jonsson, of Aliso Viejo, Calif., will drive the No. 10 PTG M3 along with Formula Atlantic driver Joey Hand, of Sacramento, Calif.

Twenty-year-old Hand, a seven-time Karting National Champion and 1999 Formula Mazda Pro Series champion, won a try-out with Team PTG and so impressed the team in two tests that he received an invitation to race the M3 at Sebring.

"Sebring will be my very first endurance race," says Hand. "I've only raced formula cars, but my testing with PTG has shown me that the M3 has surprisingly similar characteristics to open-wheel racers. While the feel is different, I hardly have to change my driving technique because the M3 handles and brakes so well. My last test was with Bill and Nic - I'm looking forward to racing with them."

Also Jonsson's first 12 Hours of Sebring, he says of Auberlen, "Bill is a thinking driver. He's not just trying to set the fast lap, but he's thinking long-term, thinking championship, thinking about the checkered flag. I have a lot of confidence in him as a test driver, as a qualifier and as a racer. I think we'll be very, very strong together."

"We are happy to start the season with a podium finish at Texas," continues Salkowsky. "Team PTG and its drivers worked diligently in the off season and their hard work paid off. This week Sebring offers different challenges. It is a grueling race track that punishes the race car, the driver and the team. However, despite its difficulty, BMW has proven to be successful here. We are excited about the prospects for the new M3 GTR, and appreciate all the hard work Albert Biermann (BMW Motorsport M3 GTR program manager) and his team at BMW Motorsport have put into getting the car here for its first race. With the strong performance of the existing car at the Texas race, and the introduction of the new car, our focus is on developing the M3 GTR and seeing a BMW M3 cross the finish line first."

The 12 Hours of Sebring is scheduled to start at 10:40 a.m. EST. The race will be televised live on the Speedvision Network with coverage beginning at 9:30 a.m. EST and can be heard online through the American Le Mans Radio Web at www.americanlemans.com

-BMW

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Series ALMS
Drivers Dirk Müller , Boris Said , Jorg Muller , Bill Auberlen , Joey Hand , Peter Cunningham , Brian Redman , Sam Posey , Allan Moffat , Aliso Viejo , JJ Lehto