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BMW withdraws from Le Mans: IMSA instead of sports car world championship

The reasons for BMW's withdrawal from Le Mans
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T he makers of the Sports Car World Championship (WEC) may have presented new regulations for the top class from September 2020 at Le Mans. And found a new opponent for Toyota in Aston Martin. The problems that the World Championship carries around with it and endanger its future, however, are far from being solved.

One could say that the host ACO and the World Motorsport Federation FIA have urgently repaired a hole, but there is a threat elsewhere to tear open one. The sports car world championship will have to bridge another boring year before Aston Martin comes with the Valkyrie. Toyota will also drive the LMP1 private teams to the wall in the 2019/2020 season. To make matters worse, the field of the previously flourishing LMGTE Pro class is thinning out. Some even claim that it is slowly falling apart.

BMW and Ford get out. Six cars will be lost at Le Mans. Chevrolet has not yet given a commitment for next year's Le Mans. But it is considered likely that the new mid-engine Corvette, which will be presented later this year, will come to the Sarthe in 2020. Then four manufacturers would be represented in the LMGTE Pro.

BMW sports director Jens Marquardt and his team are withdrawing from the sports car world championship.

ACO steps up against BMW and Ford

The ACO tries to sell the end of BMW and Ford positively - and overshoots the mark. 'With Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin, the three largest sports car manufacturers in the world will remain,' says President Pierre Fillon. Those in charge at Ford and BMW had to bite their teeth. There are quite a few in the Le Mans paddock who shook their heads after the testimony. BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt did without a public return carriage 'I can understandthat the ACO reacts emotionally. ”

Ford pulls the plug after four appearances at Le Mans. The American program was originally designed for two years. It was extended for another three years after the first season. BMW, on the other hand, leaves the Sports Car World Championship after just one season. No motorsport program is usually designed for such a short period of time. “Actually it would have been two years. But because the WEC has had a great season, we are only racing for one year, ”says Marquardt. After all, BMW made two appearances at Le Mans during the so-called Super Season.

According to Marquardt, there are various reasons why the Munich team is leaving the Sports Car World Championship so quickly, as he explained at Le Mans. The world is different than it was four years ago, when the decision was made to join. The automotive industry is going through a crisis. “We started the program at the end of 2015. At that time there was no diesel scandal and no impending customs barriers that burden us. We drive through stony waters. ”

World Cup not relevant for marketing

The burden on automobile manufacturers has grown. New challenges such as electromobility force them to rethink, to shift resources, to concentrate programs, to save. BMW wants to save billions in the next few years. And motorsport can and must play its part. Especially since the World Cup program does not bring the desired 'return on investment'.

A GTE program in the Sports Car World Cup costs between 15 and 30 million euros. In return, the visibility in the public is low. To put it bluntly: people are actually only interested in the 24h race at Le Mans. For marketing reasons, it made no sense for BMW to continue its involvement.

The World Cup program was put to the test and was killed by the Board of Management. Instead, BMW only uses the M8 GTE in the USA in the IMSA racing series. “We have two programs and we have to choose one,” explains Marquardt. “The USA is the most important market for BMW M in general and the road M8. With our IMSA racing program, we can tell the story of the M8 at nine events across the country. This is more efficient from a marketing perspective than when we travel to China and Japan. Motorsport is a marketing tool. With the sports car world championship we come to a race in the USA. This is too little. Our analyzes show that France is still doing quite well. The other countries in which the World Cup takes place are not relevant for our marketing department. ”

Objection: Shouldn't BMW have known before entering the World Cup that marketing would be difficult? And not better to shift all resources to the IMSA right away? Marquardt: “At that time the conditions were different. There were other participants at the table. If we could have made the decision back then with what we know today, we would have made ourselvesmaybe decided differently. “

Can the M8 take the podium in its last Le Mans race?

Relationship with ACO 'okay'

BMW's program in the sports car world championship was not a good star right from the start. Time and again, stones were thrown in the way of the manufacturer. For example in the development of the M8 GTE. The car was already well developed when the rulers decided that BMW should not deepen the racing car by ten centimeters in the entire central area. That set the development department back by four months - and cost money.

Then the quarrels about the vehicle classification - in the technical jargon Balance of Performance. BMW felt disadvantaged at Le Mans 2018. And this year too. That doesn't encourage you to continue. According to Marquardt, the end of the sports car world championship has no sporting reasons. “Our performance was not a factor. With a new car, it usually takes a while to get the balance of performance issue right. We had good races and less good ones. ”The relationship with the ACO is okay. Okay doesn't mean bad, but not good either. Insiders report that there is at least a disturbed relationship between BMW and the WEC management.

In theory, BMW could skip the World Sports Car Championship, but still appear in Le Mans in 2020. The option is on the table. However, between the lines you can read that the probability is low. “We'll concentrate on the race first, then on the IMSA and then at the end of the year we will evaluate what makes sense for 2020,” says Marquardt. And so BMW will concentrate its sports program on the DTM, Formula E, GT3 and IMSA.


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