Bobby Rahal says it’s “very satisfying” for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to make the step into top-class prototype racing after more than a decade spearheading BMW’s GT racing programs in IMSA competition.
The open-wheel and sports car racing operation was confirmed earlier this month as BMW’s LMDh team partner beginning with the 2023 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season that will include a single-season run in the new GTD Pro class with two BMW M4 GT3s.
“This is a very, very big day for RLL,” Rahal told Sportscar365 at Motul Petit Le Mans. “My interest has been to race for overall wins.
“When I say that I don’t mean to diminish [the GT classes]. It’s been a tough battle in the GT Le Mans category since 2008 when we started. Great racing against Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, you name it.
“I don’t want to diminish that, and of course next year in GTD Pro. That’s going to be a great challenge. We’ve had some success [in GTLM]; two Sebrings, two Daytonas and other race [wins].
“They’re different challenges but clearly LMDh for us, now we’re racing against Penske, Ganassi, Wayne Taylor, some pretty good teams. That’s going to be a big challenge. The bigger the challenge, the more interesting.”
Rahal added: “This relationship really started in 2007 when I flew to Munich and sat down with the people at [BMW] Motorsport and introduced ourselves and said, ‘If there’s an opportunity we’d love to [represent BMW].’
“That wasn’t the first time I’d done that. I’d been to [BMW of] North America, ‘Hey we’d like to run your race program for you and nothing really happened for a number of years then the opportunity came.
“We’ve been together now since ’08/’09 and now we’ve getting closer to  years together. That’s a pretty good run. I think much of that has been to the relationship that’s been created over the years and respect and admiration for each other.
“For me personally being a BMW guy, from my 2002 to today, it’s very satisfying.”
Head of BMW M Motorsport Mike Krack explained that Team RLL has already been integrated into the development of the BMW M LMDh even prior to the official announcement.
“We’ve been working together for a while,” Krack told Sportscar365. “It’s not something we need to start now. The engineering team have been working a bit longer than before the date that we could make all of this official.
“Obviously the car is being built in Italy so in the beginning we will run it in Europe to have the first running but very quickly we will run the car [in the U.S.].
“Bobby’s team will also be involved in the car build in Italy and also in the European testing. It makes no sense to bring all the equipment over.
“RMG is going to start [development] with support from Rahal. When we bring the car over here we’ll run it with Rahal, initially with support from RMG because they will know the car a bit better.
“The whole development, Rahal is involved.”
BMW “Discussing” With FIA, ACO, IMSA on Car’s Design Language
Krack said that a final design for the car has not yet been determined, with BMW engineers working with the FIA, IMSA and the ACO on elements of the LMDh, including the possibility of having a functional kidney grill.
Initial renders of the car released earlier this month showed an elongated grill — a signature trademark to the German manufacturer — although Krack said it’s still a work in progress.
“We are discussing with the governance,” he said. “Every manufacturer has to have its design language. This is something where the styling, you can define styling in very different ways.
“We are constantly in discussion with them and in this case we will present them what we want to do. Then we will need to see if this is fine for them or not.
“The more extreme you go in styling, the more impact it has on the aero side. It will also impact the BoP. That is also why you need to do this closely with them. Then they can say, ‘This is too extreme.’
“If you see Peugeot for example, this is extreme or this is acceptable. We are in touch with them. You have seen a first visual.”