Connor De Phillippi believes BMW Motorsport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing “made the most” of the BMW M8 GTE, which is set for its final professional outing in this weekend’s Motul Petit Le Mans.
The American BMW factory driver will team up with Philipp Eng and Bruno Spengler in the RLL-run No. 25 entry, which along with the sister No. 26 BMW of John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Augusto Farfus is part of the final GT Le Mans race for GTE-spec machinery in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Having served as the successor to the IMSA-homologated BMW M6 GTLM, the M8 GTE made its debut in 2018 with parallel factory programs in the WeatherTech Championship with RLL and FIA World Endurance Championship with Team MTEK.
While having recently been focused on IMSA-only, and this year a reduced four-race program around the Michelin Endurance Cup races, De Phillippi said it will be sad to see the car’s career come to an end at the conclusion of Saturday’s ten-hour enduro at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“It’s a bit bittersweet because that car has come a long way,” De Phillippi told Sportscar365.
“My very first test I ever did before I even had a contract with BMW was in Barcelona. It was very far away from what I felt was to be a [race] ready race car.
“The process to develop it was so rapid with everything that went on leading up to its homologation.
“We had our teething problems early on but I’d say the middle of last year we really made some big strides with setup work.
“We brought on a lot of great engineering staff and we really made the most of that car. It’s actually a pretty enjoyable car to drive now.”
De Phillippi said BMW is aiming to go out on a “high note” with taking the win this weekend.
The car has claimed five GTLM class victories over its four-year run in the WeatherTech Championship, including back-to-back wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2019 and 2020.
“We’ve had some great battles with Corvette and Porsche over the years,” De Phillippi said. “For sure we want to end on a high note and try to get a win.
“We’ve been quick this year in the 25 car. We didn’t have luck at Daytona but that’s just how it kind of went.
“I just really want to send that car off with a win.
“It’s been a special part in my career because it was the first car I drove with BMW. To end it on a win would be ideal.”
After watching the sprint race portion of the GTLM season unfold, De Phillippi admitted it’s not going to be an easy task this weekend.
“Everyone knows it’s the end of an era and they all want to go out with some history and a win,” he said. “We’re going to want to do the same.
“Corvette is going to be very strong. They’ve had a lot of races on us this year as far as between Watkins and now.
“Petit will be a very fast-paced race, I would say, because everyone will go just flat out from the beginning and set the world on fire.
“We all know this is the last race for the car. For sure it’s still a long race and you’ve got to take care of your equipment but I think it’s going to be a vert fast-paced race; we’ve already seen it this year.”
De Phillippi added: “I know the guys will be ready. There’s obviously a lot of things going on within the team and with the shop being built in Indy.
“Not only from BMW’s side but also RLL’s side, it’s really exciting to see them expanding their IndyCar program. The sports car side has been solid but now you see what they’re planning for the future.
“I think it shows commitment from both sides. I just hope all of that comes together and we can show what we can do the next couple of years.”
Edwards Reflects on Daytona 2020 Class Win
Fellow American BMW factory driver Edwards believes his win in the 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona was one of the most memorable with the M8 GTE.
“The M8 has given us some great performances over the years, but by far my most memorable race with the car will always be the 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona, specifically my triple stint Sunday morning,” he said.
“The Porsches had proved to be quick in the night, but as the track temp started rising with the sun shining on it, our M8 came alive.
“I had a great battle with one of the Porsches, almost touching at 180mph as we fought for the lead.
“It was the most mentally exhausting stint I’ve driven in a race and the stakes were as high as they could get.
“We pulled off the win that day to give the BMW M8 GTE its second Daytona win in a row and proved that 2019 was no fluke. We will miss the M8!”