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Country of origin:Germany
Produced in:1999
Numbers built:4
Designed by:Patrick Head / Williams
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:October 19, 2009
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Click here to download printer friendly versionBMW scored a surprise victory in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans as an engine supplier to McLaren. In the following two seasons the German manufacturer's 'Motorsport' department increased their interest in sports car racing. During the 1997 season BMW even ran a works team with the latest 'Longtail' version of the McLaren. Although several victories were scored in the FIA GT Championship, the writing was on the wall for the production based road car. The likes of Porsche, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz were lining up their purpose-built GT racers and open prototypes were also making a grand return especially in the long distance events. BMW opted to continue their sports car racing involvement with a bespoke prototype in 1998. The goal was another outright win at Le Mans but time was limited as the German company had already signed a deal with Williams to enter F1 in 2000.

Instead of going at it themselves, BMW enlisted the help of their new partners Williams to help design the new racing car. The British racing team's design department, headed by Patrick Head, developed a straightforward carbon fiber sports racer around the Le Mans winning BMW V12 engine. Front and rear suspension were by double wishbones and push-rods that actuated the longitudinally mounted coil spring and damper units. Mounted amidships was the latest incarnation of the S70 V12 that had originally been designed as a road car engine. It displaced just under 6-liter and with restrictors fitted produced around 580 bhp. Power was transferred to the rear wheels through a X-Trac supplied six speed sequential gearbox. The rolling chassis was covered in a rather bland carbon fiber body. The most striking feature was the kidney-style grille reminiscent of BMW's road cars.

Dubbed the 'V12 LM,' the new BMW 'Le Mans Prototype' was entrusted to Schnitzer Motorsport for that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two-car team made its first appearance at the Le Mans Prequalifying in May of 1998. They clocked the 11th and 20th fastest times, so work was still needed for Le Mans a month later. In qualifying the V12 LM proved more competitive, clinching a 6th and 12th grid position. The race was nothing short of a disaster as both cars were forced to retire just over four hours into the race. The rear wheel bearings had failed on both cars. The V12 LM was not raced again that season as BMW and Williams were hard at work developing a more competitive replacement. At the start of 1999 the two cars were fitted with slightly restyled bodies and sold to privateers. The V12 LMs were campaigned with limited success in the following years.

New at the game, BMW and Williams had been relatively conservative with the design of the V12 LM. A year's worth of lessons and a better understanding of the regulations resulted in the much more ambitious V12 LMR. It was easily distinguishable from its predecessor by the single roll-over hoop. A very creative interpretation of the regulations, this provided a much cleaner airflow to the rear wing. The section between the front fenders was also much lower to funnel air to the radiators mounted in the side-pods. This was part of the complete rework of the car's cooling architecture, which was originally fed from underneath. Further revisions included a raised footbox and the use of a single air-intake for the V12. Mechanically very little was changed. The V12 LMR weighed in well under the 900 km minimum weight, so ballast could be used in strategic positions to improve handling.

Leaving little to chance, BMW decided to debut the new car early in 1999 at the Sebring 12 Hours race. The thorough redesign proved to be very effective as the two white machines qualified first and third for the race. At the end of the race the JJ Lehto, Jorg Muller and Tom Kristensen piloted machine scored BMW's very first outright win at Sebring. With high hopes the team traveled to Le Mans with two V12 LMRs. After qualifying third and sixth against very strong opposition, the two cars were found near the head of the field for most of the race. In the closing stages the #17 suffered a massive accident at the Porsche Curves due to a stuck throttle. By that time the surviving #15 car had fortunately taken the lead thanks to a combination of pace and relatively low fuel consumption. In a thrilling finale, it was closely chased by one of the Toyota GT-Ones until a puncture freed the way for BMW's first Le Mans win. The very tight schedule had been met with flying colors.

After Le Mans, the cars were shipped back to North America to compete in the remaining American Le Mans Series rounds. Here the V12 LMR added a further three race wins to its tally. Reluctant to retire the highly successful and competitive sports racer, BMW decided to campaign the V12 LMR in 2000 alongside the Formula 1 program. With little development and an ever stronger Audi presence, the class of 1999 struggled in 2000. Only two more victories were scored. It was clear that BMW had lost interest when no cars were entered to defend the Le Mans title. At the end of the year, the surviving cars were retired. In its short career, the V12 LMR had achieved all the objectives set, winning the two major endurance races. It also had a lasting effect on prototype design as all subsequent 'LMPs' had a single roll-over hoop until they were banned in 2006.

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  Article Image gallery (17) Chassis (1) Specifications