Last year saw BMW Motorrad Motorsport’s return to World Championship motorcycle racing at the classic ‘24 Heures Moto of Le Mans’, where they won their class and finished a superb 16th overall. Despite their HP2 1200S Boxer being down on horsepower, compared to their 1000 cc multi-cylinder rivals, Thomas Hinterreiter, Rico Penzkofer and Markus Barth were able to hustle the twin-engined bike round the 4.18 kilometre Bugatti circuit for 776 trouble-free laps. It was a tremendous achievement, considering that it was the team’s first event and that the bike had only completed one shakedown test beforehand.
After a successful season in 2007, BMW Motorrad Motorsport return to Le Mans to see if they can improve on last year’s impressive performance This year though, BMW Motorrad Motorsport will field two HP2s. Bike number 17 will be ridden by experienced campaigner Stéphane Mertens, together with fellow Belgian Sébastien Le Grelle and German Rico Penzkofer and bike number 71 will be ridden by Briton Richard Cooper, Spaniard Jose-Luis Nion and American Brian Parriott.
For Stéphane, it will be an emotional return as it will be his first race since his bad crash in preseason testing last year. He brings a wealth of experience to the team, only slightly more so then his fellow countryman Sébastien - a BMW Boxer Cup veteran. Rico Penzkofer is one of the toughest racers around. In the Bol d’Or 24 hour race last year, he suffered a broken collarbone in a crash, but picked up his HP2 and grittily pushed it back to the pits so that the team could repair the damage and finish the race.
Briton Richard Cooper is the smallest member of the squad, but what he lacks in size is more then made up for in his determination. He was a member of the BMW Motorrad Motorsport team who took part in the prestigious Formula Xtreme Daytona 200 race recently, where he finished a superb fifth, just ahead of his team mate Brian Parriott. Brian was a faller early on in the race, but remounted and then embarrassed most of his rivals on the way to sixth. Jose-Luis is no stranger to BMW boxer bikes and having tested at the Bugatti circuit recently is fired up and ready to add Spanish passion to the Anglo-American mix.
Stéphane Mertens: "Le Mans is a famous race and a famous track and it’s always exciting to be there. It’s not too physical, but it’s a track where you have to be good on the brakes and be good on acceleration - and that suits me well. There are no problems in the night - because the lighting is quite good - unless somebody crashes in front of you and spills oil! It’s not the most exciting track in the world, but I normally do well there, so I am looking forward to racing there again."
Richard Cooper: "Le Mans and I have never quite clicked yet. I enjoy racing there but I’ve never got much out of it so far, though I’d like to think that this year could be different. The BMW goes well there and, as it is not such a physical track for me, I think we can look forward to a good result there this year. We all have a lot more experience then last year’s race and I hope we put it to good advantage."
Berti Hauser (Director of BMW Motorrad Motorsport): "The Le Mans race last year was the start of our big adventure and I remember how pleased and happy I was with the result and the performance of our whole team. We were pleasantly surprised about the warmth and affection we received from everybody about our return to world championship motorcycle road racing and throughout the year, we worked hard and learned a lot. Make no mistake, the world endurance championship is not an easy class, but I think we showed what we are capable of and maybe surprised a few people along the way.
Although we now have one year’s experience under our belts, it doesn’t mean that this year will be any easier. There are many tough teams out there with much more experience then us and the challenge is as hard as ever. We are showing our seriousness by fielding two bikes this year, with riders who have a mixture of experience and youth. I am sorry that Thomas Hinterreiter cannot take part, because of an injury, but I think he will be at Le Mans anyway to support the team. And that typifies the wonderful spirit there is in our whole team."
Free practice starts at 11.00 on Thursday 17 April, followed by the first qualifying session in the afternoon and a night session in the evening. The second qualifying starts on Friday at 11.00, with the traditional open pit-lane from 17.00 to 20.00. The race starts at 15.00 on Saturday and finishes 24 hours later on Sunday.