Also confirms partnership with Andretti for Formula E entry

BMW has just revealed plans to expand its presence in the global motorsport scene by joining a new racing series by the end of the decade. The German automaker also confirmed its partnership with Andretti Autosport for Formula E, but more importantly, it said it will built a GT-spec car for the FIA World Endurance and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championships, which means a return to the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

The decision comes seven years after BMW’s withdrawal from Formula One and four years afters its successful return to the DTM. By joining the new series, the German automaker will basically race in every important competition running in Europe and the United States, except Formula One. Munich also stated that it plans to further build on its presence in DTM and Dakar Rally, as well as continue to run its customer racing program in the GT3 and GT4 categories.

As for the new GT car that will mark the company’s first return at Le Mans since 2011, when BMW Motorsport raced the M3 GT2 in the LM-GTE Pro class, the German carmaker said it will arrive just in time for the 2018 season. Details are scant, but chances are BMW isn’t planning to develop a hybrid prototype, but a LM GTE racer that would go against the Ford GT, Ferrari 488 GTE, and Chevrolet Corvette C7.R.

"Starting with the 2018 season, we want to further expand our activities in GT racing and compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This obviously also includes our return to Le Mans, which we are particularly looking forward to. The way the WEC has developed so well makes us confident that there is a big future for GT racing," said BMW Motorsport Director, Jens Marquardt.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

BMW’s return to GT-spec racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans is arguably the biggest motorsport-related news of the 2016 and the biggest since Porsche came back to Circuit de la Sarthe with the 919 Hybrid. BMW is arguably one of the most legendary names of motorsport, and even though it has just one overall win at Le Mans — achieved in 1999 with the V12 LMR — its return to endurance racing with a specifically-developed GT car will definitely make the series more interesting. As for the actual reason why BMW wants to race GT cars again, the German brand aims to "become even more visible for urban and young customers," as well as emphasize on the fact that BMW and motorsport "belong together." With the Munich-based brand involved in motorsport since the 1920s, there’s no need for a GT car to prove it, but the company’s involvement in endurance racing is exciting news to say the least.

Press Release

The Board of Management of BMW AG has decided to strategically realign its automobile racing activities. In doing so, the company is setting course for a future BMW Group motorsport programme that is as extensive as it is diversified. The commitments contribute to BMW M, BMW i and MINI. The threads for the development of the cars and their race outings will henceforth come together in BMW Group Motorsport.

This realignment, which comes seven years after the withdrawal from Formula One and four years after returning to the DTM, once again ensures that the BMW Group addresses important topics in the ever-changing world of motorsport, is even more broadly positioned, and can thus address different target groups around the world. Classic motor racing and sustainability both play key roles, in order to inspire fans of sporty driving at racetracks all over the planet. The strong pillars of the programme for the coming years will be the DTM, the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC), the cooperation with Andretti Formula E in the FIA Formula E Championship, the customer racing programme in the GT3 and GT4 categories, the promotion of talented young drivers, and the extremely challenging Dakar Rally.

The focus on production-based motor racing, which was decided upon in 2009, will be further intensified. The commitments in the DTM and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship continue, and it is also planned to race in the WEC with a new GT car. The BMW M4 GT4 will join the range of models in the customer racing portfolio. BMW will also work closely with US racing legend Michael Andretti’s (US) team in the FIA Formula E Championship – the world’s leading racing series for electric cars. As cooperation partner of Andretti Formula E, BMW Motorsport will cooperate closely with the team, in order to familiarise itself with processes in this innovative series, and to check the possibility of a works involvement in the future. At the same time, BMW i remains the “Official Vehicle Partner” of Formula E. Ever since the inaugural season of the series in 2014/15, the BMW i8 Safety Car has taken to the track in Formula E as a high-performance and efficient lead car. Furthermore, MINI’s successful cooperation with Sven Quandt’s X-raid team at the Dakar Rally will also continue.

Klaus Fröhlich, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Development, said: “The strategic realignment of the motorsport activities is a strong commitment to motorsport on the part of our company. It will remain a cornerstone within the BMW Group in the future. Everyone knows that BMW and motorsport are intrinsically linked. The commitments allow us to demonstrate our expertise in the areas of technology and integration on international platforms, including the world’s leading racing series for electric mobility and classic motorsport. Electric mobility will continue to grow in importance. In the last ten years, we have established a leading position in the automobile industry in this field with BMW i. Through our partnership with Andretti Formula E in the Formula E Championship, we will now additionally see a close interaction between motor racing and production development in our company, from which both departments will benefit. On the production-based racing scene, we will be represented with BMW M in the global WEC series in the future, as well as the DTM and the IWSC. Our commitments complement each other perfectly: we are going head to head with our most important global competitors, whether through our works commitments or customer racing. In short: The future strategy is excellently suited to the BMW Group. Bring on the future.”

BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt also sees the bundling of all automobile racing activities as an extremely positive development, and said: “It is fantastic that the BMW Group will be even more broadly positioned and represented in all relevant areas in the future. We will continue to focus on Europe in the DTM, and are looking forward to continuing the extremely close competition with the other premium manufacturers over the coming years. Other relevant international platforms will also be incorporated in the new strategy: the commitment in Formula E sees us forge new paths and demonstrate our expertise in the field of electric mobility. Over the coming years, the cooperation with Andretti Formula E will primarily focus on familiarising ourselves with the procedures and processes, and on intensifying our knowledge. Our works driver António Félix da Costa will be in action behind the wheel. A works involvement is then conceivable as of the series’ fifth season. The premise for all these steps is the further positive development of the series, which includes increasing the capacity of the batteries, for example.”

Marquardt continued: “Starting with the 2018 season, we want to further expand our activities in GT racing and compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This obviously also includes our return to Le Mans, which we are particularly looking forward to. The way the WEC has developed so well makes us confident that there is a big future for GT racing. This is also the motivation behind our further expansion in the customer racing sector. Our range is already spearheaded by a successful representative, in the form of the BMW M6 GT3. As of 2018, we will also be excellently represented by the BMW M4 GT4 in the GT4 class, which is currently experiencing something of a boom. It goes without saying that we will also continue our successful junior programme, in which we prepare talented youngsters in GT and touring car racing for the bigger challenges ahead. At the same time, we will also be ramping up our support of MINI’s Dakar Rally project in the future. All in all, the BMW Group’s motorsport programme is virtually unique in terms of its scope and diversity.”

Hildegard Wortmann, Senior Vice President Brand BMW, said: “The new motor racing strategy is particularly characterised by a strong ‘brand fit’. The different commitments ideally contribute to the attributes that fans and customers connect with the respective brand. We will extend the existing target groups and will – for instance – become even more visible for urban and young customers, as with our Formula E commitment. Overall we are very well positioned with this strategy in motorsport and are represented on the most important markets worldwide. BMW and motorsport – they belong together. This combination has always shaped the brand.”

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