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BMW Junior Team “Settling Nicely” into SRO Environment

After two years on the Nordschleife, BMW’s Junior Team is moving to a new style of racing…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

The BMW Junior Team is “settling in nicely” to the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup, according to Dan Harper who forms one-third of the driving crew.

Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen are all making their series debuts at Imola this weekend, having raced almost exclusively at the Nürburgring Nordschleife the last two years.

They are sharing the No. 50 ROWE Racing BMW M4 GT3 in the five-round Endurance Cup season, which includes the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. That will be their second major GT3 race together, adding to a pair of Nürburgring 24 outings in GT4 and GT3 cars.

According to Harper, moving into a new championship is the next stage of the Junior Team’s learning process and is important for keeping the drivers sharp by introducing them to a new team, new regulations and new circuits.

Jochen Neerpasch assembled the initial BMW Junior Team in 1977 before reviving the concept in 2020 as a platform for training and establishing three young drivers.

Harper, Hesse and Verhagen are continuing to drive a Michelin-shod M4 GT3 in the NLS and N24 alongside their GTWC Europe program on Pirellis.

“The majority of drivers say the Nordschleife is their favorite track in the world, and it is my favorite too,” Harper told Sportscar365.

“But it’s a completely different driving style to a GP circuit. It’s a completely different style of racing. It’s more aggressive here on a GP circuit.

“Now that we’ve been missing that experience, it was very important for us to go back to the GP circuits and get more GT3 racing there.

“Jochen’s thoughts were right and we were obviously pushing him: we wanted to do more and more racing. Thankfully it worked out that we were able to get the second car.

“We were very lucky to have that spot. There were a lot of factory drivers who were looking to be there also, and we were lucky enough to be given it.”

Harper feels that having a factory-driven ROWE BMW on the other side of the garage will help the Junior Team to settle into its new program.

The No. 98 ROWE M4 GT3 is being driven by factory drivers Nick Yelloly, Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus, who formed part of the Junior Team lineup at last year’s Nürburgring 24.

Team RMG still runs the Junior Team BMW at the Nordschleife, but no members from that program have accompanied Harper, Hesse and Verhagen into GTWC Europe.

“We’re settling in nicely,” Harper said. “We have a good team behind us in ROWE, which will definitely help us, I think.

“We have Augusto on the sister car, so it’s a really strong lineup. It’s good for us and a big challenge if we can match them or get close to them. Or even better, beat them, and that’s our target.

“But it’s just good to have their experience and knowledge to go off, and we can learn a lot from them.

“We’re not always fighting against each other. It’s one team and one goal. It’s nice to work closely with them, sharing data and videos, and talking with each other about how we’re all feeling.”

Harper added that there are a “lot of things to learn” this season but he is confident that the Junior Team can become a challenger at the sharp end of the Pro field.

The organization earned an early bonus on Saturday when Verhagen won the opening round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series to put ROWE Racing at the top of the GTWC Europe overall teams’ standings.

“Every racing driver including us wants to be at the top,” said Harper. “But I think there are so many things to learn.

“I think already, in the practice sessions, we surprised ourselves a bit with how far up we were.

“There are a lot of things to improve. I think over the race distance is where we will learn the most, when we’re fighting the other cars.

“For the season we just want to have clean races, no drama and get as much mileage as possible. For the 24 Hours of Spa, we want to be in contention to win the race.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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