The wraps won’t officially come off until the new livery is revealed on Wednesday evening, but the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans class’ newest entry, the BMW M8 GTE, has already been racking up the miles in preparation for its official debut at this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
For BMW Team RLL, the hope is that the hard-won momentum built during the 2017 season carries over to the start of the year and the new car.
Behind the Scenes
After going winless with the BMW M6 GTLM in 2016, BMW struggled through the first three races of the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season, before both cars delivered a double podium finish at Circuit of The Americas in second and third place.
Beginning last year, WeatherTech Championship GTLM teams were required to lock in their cool and medium compound Michelin front and rear tire selections for the full season.
“Where in the past, you may have thrown several different combinations at a car or even develop a new tire to optimize the performance, that is no longer an option,” said Ken Payne, technical director, motorsport, Michelin North America. “Now, it is more a matter of tuning the car to the tires that the team has selected.”
While its rivals were off to France for the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, BMW Team RLL and Michelin engineers worked hard to unlock M6 GTLM’s performance in testing at Watkins Glen.
On a Roll
When the WeatherTech Championship resumed after Le Mans, the BMW Team RLL’s cars were frontrunners.
Newcomer Alexander Sims was a revelation, and paired with the ever youthful Bill Auberlen, they took wins at Watkins Glen and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, to leap into the championship battles.
And they weren’t alone. Teammates John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk finished runners-up at CTMP, and scored the GTLM victory in Monterey.
At Road Atlanta for Auberlen’s milestone 400th BMW start, he and Sims teamed with Kuno Wittmer to win at Motul Petit Le Mans and close out the 2017 season and the M6 GTLM era on top.
That gave BMW Team RLL four victories in the final seven races, including the last pair. The late season roll propelled the team to second place in the GTLM driver, team and manufacturer championships to wrap the 2017 season and the BMW M6 GTLM’s racing chapter.
Team, Driver Evolutions
While set to embark on its 10th season with the Bobby Rahal-led team, changes have been made to the driver lineup, with young American hot shoe Connor De Phillippi joining Sims and GT Daytona class race-winner Jesse Krohn stepping up into a full-time seat alongside John Edwards.
Auberlen, who sits second in all-time IMSA wins, scales back to an endurance-only race role while taking on responsibilities as a BMW North America ambassador.
There’s also been an evolution within the crew, with former Muscle Milk Pickett Racing engineer Brandon Fry joining the team as its new technical director, as well as further additions to the well-oiled team.
“Team-wise, we’ve really put a lot of effort in with Bobby (Rahal) and everybody since last year and I think we’ll definitely benefit from that,” said Jens Marquardt, BMW Motorsport Director.
In addition to the IMSA WeatherTech Championship campaign, BMW will also field the new M8 GTE for its return to Le Mans in June, as part of an a new two-car BMW Team MTEK program in the full FIA World Endurance Championship “Super Season.”
With more than 10,000 miles of testing under its belt since its initial rollout in July, Marquardt feels the new M8 GTE is ready for its highly anticipated race debut this weekend.
The car, which is 1.5 inches longer longer than the M6 GTLM, has taken advantage of many of the lessons learned from its race-winning predecessor, including an evolution of its largely production-based twin-turbo V8 engine.
“Reliability is always something that you can never predict. The Sebring test went OK and we didn’t find anything big there. But you never know,” said Marquardt.
Starting the season with the Rolex 24 and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will provide a rugged test for the new car and that should serve BMW well as it fights for the WeatherTech GTLM championships and return to Le Mans.