BMW V12 LMR - The Only Bavarian Car Which Won Le Mans
The BMW V12 LMR was the only car produced by the Bavarian manufacturer that won the most prestigious race in the world – Le Mans 24 Hours. After both BMW V12 LM’s failed to finish 1998 Le Mans 24h, the Bavarian manufacturer was resolute to design more reliable and faster car for the following year.
Aerodynamics was the main issue with previous BMW
The basic structure of the previous BMW model was kept, but the entire bodywork was completely new. The aerodynamics was the main problem at V12 LM, so designers John Russell, Jason Sommerville, Graham Humphrys, and Peter Stevens started to work from the scratch.
The BMW V12 LMR was taking the cooling air from the top surfaces instead of from underneath. The controversial feature was the incorporation of a single rollover hoop situated just behind the driver’s seat which was done by using a loophole in the Le Mans’ prototype regulations. That solution provided a much cleaner airflow to the rear wing and more downforce. The chassis and suspension for V12 LMR were made by Williams, the old powerplant was still good enough, but when it comes to mechanics things weren’t changed that much.
Successful 1999 debut at Sebring
The responsibility for running the cars was handed to Schnitzer Motorsport, probably the best BMW backed team in the world. Le Mans 24 Hours wasn’t a single duty since Schnitzer also had to prepare the cars for the American Le Mans Series and the new BMW car was prepared for a debut early in 1999 at 12 Hours of Sebring.
The BMW V12 LMR driven by JJ Lehto, Tom Kristensen and Jorg Muller won the race starting from pole position, while the second car of Pierluigi Martini, Yannick Dalmas and Joachim Winkelhock retired. The first ALMS season was pretty good after another three wins were scored at Sonoma, Laguna Seca, and Las Vegas. The BMW Schnitzer Motorsport finished the season as a runner-up, losing to Panoz Motor Sports by only two points.
Preparations for the triumph at 1999 Le Mans 24h
However, the priority of the season was a triumph at Le Mans 24h. In the first test session, the BMW V12 LMR was 4th, slower than prototypes with a closed cockpit, but with better fuel efficiency. In the qualifying, BMW V12 LMR’s were 3rd and 6th respectively and only the Toyota GT-Ones were faster. At the (in)famous Mulsanne Straight of Circuit de la Sarthe, the BMW cars were able to hit 342 km/h.
Both BMW V12 LMR cars were among the leading cars throughout the race, going really well against the closed cockpit cars like Mercedes, Toyota, Audi, and Nissan. In the final hours of the race, one of the BMWs was eliminated after JJ Lehto had a bad crash due to a stuck throttle. Nevertheless, the other car, with Winkelhock, Martini, and Dalmas, was in the lead and battled against one of the Toyotas. At the end, the BMW V12 LMR car #15 won the race, a single lap ahead of Toyota GT-One.
That was the first and still the only victory for BMW in the world’s most famous race. However, that wasn’t the end of the life for the BMW V12 LMR since the cars raced again in the American Le Mans Series in 2000.
Another year in the American Le Mans Series and another 2nd place for BMW
The second year in the ALMS wasn’t as good as the first one. The BMW entered Formula 1 as the engine supplier for Williams team and that became a priority. With little development and an even stronger Audi presence, the BMW class of 1999 struggled in 2000 ALMS but still finished as a runner-up with two wins scored by Lehto and Muller at Charlotte Motor Speedway and at Silverstone. It was clear that BMW lost interest when it didn’t send a single car to defend the title at Le Mans.
At the end of the year, BMW V12 LMR cars were retired from racing after fulfilling the expectations. The BMW V12 LMR had an impact on prototype design because almost all LMP cars in the future had a single rollover hoop until 2006.
BMW V12 LMR technical specifications
Length: 4650 mm
Width: 2000 mm
Height: 1020 mm
Weight: 914.5 kg
Chassis: Carbon fiber with aluminum monocoque
Front and rear suspension: Double wishbones, push-rod actuated coil springs over dampers, anti-roll bar
Gearbox: X-Trac 6-speed sequential
Steering: rack and pinion, power assisted
Brakes: Hitco carbon-ceramic discs, all-round
Drive: Rear wheel drive
Engine: 5900 cc, V12, normally aspirated, 4 valves per cylinder, longitudinally mounted, 580 bhp / 433 KW at 6500 rpm
Top speed: 350 km/h
Fuel tank: 90 l
Tires: Michelin Radial