SEBRING, Fla., (March 17, 2001) -- The largest crowd ever assembled (170,000 estimated) to watch a Superflo 12 Hours at Sebring witnessed another BMW motorsports achievement as the newly introduced No. 42 BMW Motorsport M3 GTR of JJ Lehto and...
SEBRING, Fla., (March 17, 2001) -- The largest crowd ever assembled (170,000 estimated) to watch a Superflo 12 Hours at Sebring witnessed another BMW motorsports achievement as the newly introduced No. 42 BMW Motorsport M3 GTR of JJ Lehto and Jorg Muller finished third in the GT class. The GTR covered 323 laps around the 3.7-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway.
The No. 6 PTG BMW M3 was fourth. The No. 43 BMW Motorsport M3 of Fredrik Ekblom and Dirk Muller, as well as the No. 10 BMW Team PTG M3 of Bill Auberlen, Niclas Jonsson and Joey Hand fell victim to engine problems and retired before half distance. A Porsche 911 won the class.
Lehto powered into the lead from his third starting spot just 11 minutes into the race before handing off to Muller, who set a track record on lap 32 with a time of 2:06.682. The duo led nearly half the race and was never out of the top three. Even a long pit stop for brakes in the 11th hour didn't keep them off the podium.
The M3 GTR is the foundation of a renewed M3 racing effort for BMW as both BMW Motorsport and BMW Team PTG will run for the American and European Le Mans Series championships in 2001.
The No. 6 M3 of Hans Stuck, Boris Said and Peter Cunningham covered 318 laps, providing an elegant final bow for the six-cylinder M3 CSL that has become an icon in North American sports car competition through six years of championship-winning performances by Tom Milner's Team PTG.
"I'm very happy about fourth position because we did what we wanted," said Stuck. "We got points to stay in the hunt for the championship. I enjoyed every single lap, and for us it was like a victory."
"We knew we would not be competitive with the factory Porsches and the M3 GTR," said Said, echoing his co-driver's sentiments. "To start the year with a third in Texas and a fourth here is the best we could expect. We've collected good points and will look for some more when we get our GTRs in July."
"The crew and the drivers did an outstanding job -- really fantastic," said Milner. "BMW can be happy with a third and a fourth."
"The PTG M3s have won this race twice before and normally the M3 is the most reliable race car you can drive," said Auberlen. "But we did not have the luck today. These cars have won championship after championship and now they will be retired to make way for the GTR. When I was together with it on the track today it looked like one fine machine - one that I can't wait to be in."
"I'm sorry for the PTG crew. We had two great pit stops, but we couldn't finish. I'm looking forward to the GTR and winning a race with Bill very soon," said Jonsson.
Tom Salkowsky, Motorsport Manager of BMW of North America, LLC, summed up the accomplishment: "A third and a fourth. Another podium finish for BMW this year is a great way to start the season. Our competition ran a terrific race and we are thrilled at how the M3 GTR ran for 12 hours. It is a testament to BMW Motorsport. Another great race by BMW Team PTG -- well-prepared M3s -- an excellent performance."
BMW Motorsport travels to the first round of the European Le Mans Series at Donington Park, England on April 14 where it will introduce a second M3 GTR. BMW Team PTG begins a four-month testing program in anticipation of the debut of its two M3 GTRs at the third round of the American Le Mans Series on July 22 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.