While the GT Le Mans class contenders from SRT Viper, Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin all have 24-hour races under their belts, BMW’s Z4 GTE is set to embark on its first around-the-clock endurance classic in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
It’s not a complete step into the unknown for BMW Team RLL and BMW Motorsport, however, as the German manufacturer’s Z4 GT3, which the ACO GTE-spec car is based from, has competed in various 24-hour races around the world, including Dubai, which it won in 2011.
“Having run Sebring last year, we always say Sebring is a tough race,” BMW Team RLL technical director Jay O’Connell told Sportscar365. “That’s almost like running a 24-hour race for the amount of impacts and energy going on in the car.
“I’m not too worried about that. The car’s pretty tough. And the issues we had at Sebring last year, we’ve made the car tougher. I think we’ll be OK.”
Finishing fourth in class in its debut race at Sebring last year, the Z4 GTE made strides throughout the 2013 ALMS season, highlighted by class wins at Long Beach and Lime Rock and a runner-up finish in the GT drivers’ championship for Dirk Mueller.
Mueller will again make a bid for the championship but alongside 22-year-old John Edwards for the entire 11-round season. Both Edwards and Joey Hand split the season as co-drivers of the No. 56 car last year.
Heading into this weekend’s season-opener, Edwards realizes the challenge at hand.
With the Z4 GTE not ideally suited to the high-speed 3.56-mile oval/road course, the factory squad will have to rely on reliability and a clean race in order to have a chance of class victory come Sunday afternoon.
“We knew the strengths and weaknesses from the BMW from last year and we knew this was going to be a difficult event for us speed-wise,” Edwards said. “I think our strength will come from preparation and lasting the 24 hours.
“The goal is just to remain on the lead lap until the end, because especially in a class with 10 or 11 cars, there’s bound to be some attrition. Staying on track is what’s going to net us some good points and a shot at the win.”
Despite the ACO’s freeze on GTE developments, the engineering staff hasn’t been standing still, as IMSA has given the Z4 a slightly larger air restrictor and reduced minimum weight for Daytona. That’s given BMW some renewed hope.
“We’re a lot closer than we were in November but it’s all going to be about staying out of incidents and surviving it,” O’Connell said. “Traffic for sure is going to be an issue in the first 12 hours.
“It will thin out some as things happen. You won’t have 60 cars running at the end. It may be 40 or 45 cars. I think it’s a little bit easier because there’s more space and more of a gap between the cars.”
The team is further strengthened this weekend by additional support staff from BMW Motorsport in Germany, in what’s no doubt a key race for any manufacturer to win.