BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt has reiterated that customer racing remains an important part of BMW’s motorsport activities, although he adds that the shift in global touring car regulations has prompted BMW to focus it’s activities in more sportscar racing.
“A look back into the history of BMW shows that the brand has always been involved in customer racing, ever since the realignment at the start of the 1960s,” said Marquardt. “This tradition is one of a kind. On the one hand we feel obliged to continue this tradition. On the other hand, customer racing has lost none of its importance on the international motorsport scene in the second decade of the new millennium. All around the globe, BMW racing cars are lining up in countless racing series, in which privateers are advertising our brand by means of their sporting success. That will remain very important to us in the future.”
In the World Touring Car Championship BMW are set to be represented by ROAL Motorsport with a brace of 320 TC’s and Proteam Racing, who have yet to confirm their entry for the 2012 season. It is expected that there will be several other entries from Zengo-Dension team and Wiechers-Sport to boot.
BMW’s activities in the top echelon of touring car racing have, however, been waning since 2009. The last time the German automaker was represented with an official team was in 2010 – although even this was as a scaled-down campaign compared to previous years. At the height of its activites in the WTCC, BMW ran a five-car works effort with three teams. For the formative years of the World Championship almost half of the grid comprised BMW cars – with more than half on some occasions.
2011 was the first season since the WTCC’s inception without an official BMW team but the series still featured healthy numbers of 320’s – no fewer than eleven were entered for the season finale at Macau. BMW developed it’s own 1.6 litre turbo for customer teams to run and in the process these machines were dubbed ‘320 TC’ in deference to the turbo charged powerplant. However only two wins followed, with Franz Engstler in Germany and Tom Coronel in Japan – the previous lowest had been six in 2008.
Marquardt reflects on the 320’s tenure in the WTCC and admits that it has until recently offered an attractive arena in which to showcase it’s best-selling model.
“The BMW 320 TC is indeed a very important car for us,” added Marquardt. “The concept of the S2000 regulation made it possible to use the BMW 3 Series in countless racing series, including the FIA World Touring Car Championship. This made it particularly attractive to both our customers and us. Within ten years we were able to sell almost 200 models of the BMW 320 TC, including its predecessors, the 320si and 320i – this figure speaks for itself.”
However the future of BMW in touring car racing is less certain. The manufacturer is unhappy with the way various different national championships are changing their regulations, and with the future direction of the WTCC. Indeed common consensus is that BMW sees there is greater value to be had competing against more prestigious brands in GT and sportscar racing than against the ‘supermarket shuttles’ that are increasingly being seen in the WTCC. This is seen to be the motive behind the firm’s recent return to the DTM where it can compete against prestigious, long-time German rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
“At the moment, however, we are noticing a change,” added Marquardt. “A number of central series, such as those in the UK and Scandinavia, are moving away from the S2000 regulations. At the same time, GT3 championships are growing in popularity. We are providing for this development by means of our intensified commitment with the BMW Z4 GT3.”
BMW have indeed had an on-off affair with the BTCC. Following a period of huge success in the late eighties and early nineties, in which the Munich manufacturer won four titles in the space of six years, it disappeared from the British series at the end of the 1996 season. After an independent entry by Colin Gallie during the 1997 season it would be seven more years until a BMW returned to the top class of the series, with an independent entry by Edenbridge Racing for part of 2004. The small Geoff Steel Racing outfit campaigned a single car in 2006 and 2007. However it took until 2007 for BMW to take another win in the BTCC when top team WSR entered a pair of ex-WTCC cars. 27 wins have followed in the BTCC since, although as the cars get longer in the tooth it looks more and more unlikely that number will be added to any time soon.
Thus the future of BMW in touring car racing looks to continue – albeit with a diminished presence in the World Championship and uncertainty over its involvement in national racing series. BMW continue to pour resources and investment into its customer GT racing programmes, with an increasing presence in the FIA GT1 World Championship, the FIA GT3 European Championship and the German ADAC GT Masters. With a full assault on the DTM it seems that there will be fewer BMWs on the grid of the major worldwide touring car series, but those that are there will receive the same, strong level of customer support as BMW has always given.
BMW in the WTCC:
54 wins since 2005
3 world titles
19 pole positions
60 fastest laps