In a storyline that few could have predicted, BMW held on to defend its Total 24 Hours of Spa victory last month, winning the 2016 edition of the race in the new BMW M6 GT3.
Alexander Sims was one of the drivers in the race-winning No. 99 BMW, entered by German outfit ROWE Racing. Impressively, Sims became the first British victor of the Ardennes endurance classic in more than 20 years.
“The last British winner was Steve Soper, in 1995, in a BMW as well,” Sims told Sportscar365. “I look up to Steve quite a lot, and with what he achieved with BMW over the years.
“It’s quite cool to be on the list of winners from the British side. There are so many good British drivers, I would have assumed the likes of [Richard] Westbrook, Olly Gavin, you name it, [would have] done it.
“There have certainly been enough good British drivers over the years.”
The 28-year-old teamed up with Maxime Martin and Philipp Eng for Spa, in search of defending BMW’s 2015 win.
Last year’s success was had by BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS, with a BMW Z4 GT3 driven by Markus Palttala, Nicky Catsburg and Lucas Luhr.
However, with the new M6 GT3 for this year, Sims was one of many who didn’t expect the back-to-back win.
“Going into the weekend, quite honestly we were probably not the favorites to go and win the race,” he admitted. “We’ve had a sensible season so far, but with it being the first year of the M6, we’ve had some development to do, as there is with any new car.
“We’ve had some good results but we’ve also had some more challenging weekends. The test at Spa went fairly well, but I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination were we going there, confident of challenging for the win.
“Once the race started, it became fairly clear early on that our race pace was good, and probably better than qualifying. The pace difference wasn’t the same as in qualifying.
“We kept our noses clean and bit by bit we jumped up the order. By four or five hours into the race, and we were leading at six hours, we were in the mix from then on.”
Comparing the Z4 with the M6, the cars are obviously very different in many aspects, but Sims believes the transition between the two hasn’t been as difficult as perhaps was expected.
“The cars are quite different, in their make-up, and the way they drive, but we’ve done a lot of testing with the M6 to get our heads around that,” he said.
“The fact that it’s a turbo car brings in differences between that and the Z4 engine. The BMW guys have worked well to overcome those challenges.
“In terms of the general characteristics of the car, I think it is quite similar to the Z4. The Z4 was really strong again in the high-speed corners, and the philosophy of it was quite similar.”
Spa marked the M6 GT3’s first major race victory, although it had already won in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and VLN Series, at the hands of Turner Motorsport and Schubert Motorsport, respectively.
For ROWE Racing, though, it was a slightly less lucrative start to the season.
“At the Nürburgring , we were very strong and it was just due to a glitch during the massive downpour of hail of rain, and being sat on the grid for two hours, that we had a bit of a setback at the restart,” Sims said.
“Other than that, I think we would have been fighting for the podium, but we finished fifth. We should have been looking at a podium. We knew there was potential for a good result there.
“In some of the Blancpain races, there have been some more challenging results. We’ve maybe highlighted some areas of the car that probably need a bit more work, but I think that’s normal with any new car.
“When you get into the race environment, you realize even more of its strengths and weaknesses.
“The car is really strong in the high-speed stuff with its downforce, so at places like Silverstone we were pretty competitive.”
Now he’s won one of the most prestigious sports car races on the calendar, Sims has his sights set on the remaining endurance classics.
“I would love to go back to Le Mans,” he confirmed. “I did Le Mans in LMP2 a few years ago, and it was terrible in terms of the result, but it was a fantastic race. I’d love to get back there.
“Daytona, Sebring, Petit Le Mans, Bathurst… the list is fairly long in terms of great races that I haven’t done and that I would like to do.
“I would love to stay in sports cars, with BMW ideally. I’m very happy with them and hopefully they’re happy with me.
“[I’d like to] try and do those races if BMW goes. If not, maybe see if there are other drives available.”