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BMW Will Return to Prototype Racing, Let’s Remember the Le Mans-Winning V12 LMR
Recently, the Bavarian manufacturer announced that it would return to prototype endurance racing for the 2023 season by joining the new hybrid hypercar class, LMDh. That means it will compete at Le Mans, the famous race they won back in 1999 with the V12 LMR race car.

BMW Will Return to Prototype Racing, Let’s Remember the Le Mans-Winning V12 LMR

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Since the announcement of the new LMDh class, established carmakers like Ferrari or Peugeot have confirmed that they intend to come back to the world prototype endurance racing where Porsche, Audi, and Toyota have dominated over the last 20 years.

Markus Flasch, CEO of BMW M, made the announcement on Instagram by posting a picture of the 1999-2000 V12 LMR prototype with the caption: "We’re back! Daytona 2023."

This alludes to the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, where LMDh prototypes will be eligible to compete. These cars will also be eligible for the FIA World Endurance Championship, which means that BMW will surely return to Le Mans 24 years after winning the race with the V12 LMR.

In 1998, both BMW V12 LMs failed to finish the 24-hour race because of mechanical issues. Still, even before that, they were outpaced in the qualifying sessions.

This led BMW Motorsport engineers and their partners at Williams F1 to completely redesign the car for the next season. It only retained basic components of the carbon and aluminum honeycomb monocoque, while the aerodynamically inefficient bodywork was scrapped and rebuilt from scratch.

One of the biggest problems of the 1998 car was the low placement of the cooling ducts. Being close to the ground where temperatures were high, they failed to deliver fresh air to the engine, leading to many overheating issues. On the new racer, they were moved to the top, a revision that would prove extremely important.

Another ingenious modification, employed by exploiting a loophole in Le Mans prototype regulations of the time, was using a small roll hoop located only behind the driver's seat, instead of a wider one that covered the entire cockpit. This reduced weight but, more importantly, led to better airflow to the rear wing.

The naturally aspirated S70/3 V12 was also fine-tuned to increase its reliability. It produced 573 hp (427 kW) and 494 lb-ft (670 Nm) of torque. For those who don't already know, it was the racing version of the S70/2 used in the epic McLaren F1.

BMW and Williams built four chassis, all of which were handed over to Schnitzer Motorsport which would battle for supremacy at the infamous 24-hour race and the American Le Mans series.

Two of the cars debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1999. One had a major accident and would not return, while the other managed to finish first overall.

After the successful race on American soil, the team came back to Europe, where they began to prepare for Le Mans. Unlike the competition they faced at Sebring, in France, the BMWs were about to compete against closed-cockpit prototypes, which were theoretically faster.

However, one of the V12 LMRs would set the fourth fastest lap in the practice session. During qualifiers, both cars would perform flawlessly, finishing 3rd and 6th overall.

During the main event, they proved extremely competitive, climbing to the top of the rankings in the first 12 hours and outperforming closed-cockpit rivals such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan, or Toyota.

In the closing hours of the race, the number 17 BMW driven by JJ Lehto encountered throttle issues and crashed in the Porsche Curves. Meanwhile, the number 15 V12 LMR shared by Joachim Winkelhock, Pierluigi Martini, and Yannick Dalmas was leading with Toyota hot on its heels. The Japanese race car was closing in with one hour left on the clock, but it suffered a tire puncture, so the Bavarians would cruise to the finish line and gain their first and only Le Mans win.

Following the successful partnership with Williams, BMW decided to enter Formula One and did not return to France to defend their title. The V12 LMR continued to compete in the American Le Mans Series but facing sturdier competition from the likes of Audi, they never managed to win a race. Once the season ended, the carmaker retired from prototype endurance racing.

With the recent announcement, it will be interesting to see what BMW has up their sleeves and how it will perform in 2023. The season is shaping up to be one for the history books since apart from the manufacturers I mentioned at the beginning of this article, other big names such as Lamborghini are also rumored to join the LMDh class.

 
 
 
 
 

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