This weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona marks a number of firsts for manufacturers including BMW, which makes its Daytona debut with its Z4 GTE and GT3 cars.
The German automaker is among the factories fighting for top honors in the GT Le Mans class in the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship round with BMW Team RLL, while also supporting Turner Motorsport’s efforts in the GT Daytona category.
Sportscar365 caught up with BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt for insight on a variety of topics ahead of the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic.
What are your expectations for the Rolex 24?
“Cleary, for us to do well is our number one target. We were here in November at the test and have made some good steps forward. But we saw [on Thursday] in qualifying that the competition still has a bit of an advantage over us.
“But as we all know, 24 hour racing is not always the fastest car that wins, it’s the overall package. I think that’s where we have to really rely on our strengths.
“Twenty-four hour races mean that you have to get through the first 23 to race the last hour and that’s the target for us.”
How has your partnership with Team RLL grown over the years?
“We’ve worked a lot and have established Bobby and his guys a very strong relationship from the technical side over the course of the last years. We’ve really worked closely between the end of last year and the start of this season. I think we have a really good foundation we’ll rely on and keep pushing on the championship.
“We only introduced the Z4 last year and finished second in all of the championships. There’s only one more step to go. It’s even more challenging this year. Corvette and Porsche have come with new cars. Our [competition] is even strong but that’s what we’re out here for.”
Do you see the Z4 as BMW’s GT car for the foreseeable future?
“I think for this year and 2015, the Z4 is the car that is set. We introduced the package last year and we know there are some difficulties in the boundaries of the Z4 and we’re trying to overcome that.
“We’re working hard and focusing on that. That’s what our focus needs to be on. The characteristics of tracks and races have changed a lot from last year to this year. That’s a challenge for us that we need to master again.
“Definitely now with the new M3 and M4, there are new models that are out on the production car side. But I think the Z4 base is strong and we’ve worked hard on that.
“We can’t move from one to the other because you’d also open new sets of challenges. We are now in a position where we can hopefully benefit from the hard work that was put into this program and that’s what we want to focus on.”
What was the reason for Joey Hand scaling back his U.S. program?
“We realized altogether last year, looking outside of BMW with Mike Rockenfeller. It was the first year he concentrated on DTM and didn’t do the sports car program. He won the championship.It shows how important DTM is to be the focus program.
“That’s what we’ve worked with Joey on. We said once the DTM season starts, that should be his focus. There are obviously a few races in the States that are out of the schedule [Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans] so there are a few races he can definitely do.”
Are you open to selling customer versions of the Z4 GTE for ELMS or FIA WEC?
“I would say at this point in time, we would really like to focus here on the American side of things.
“I was speaking to Gerard Neveu from the WEC on Thursday. He was asking if there’s any chance for us to come back to Le Mans. I said that with the Z4, we’d not really be competitive there at the moment.
“The amount of work that would need to go into that car, and I’m not even sure if we would be able to bring it to a level that it’s competitive, is really the limiting factor.”