The new M4 GT3 race car made its U.S. racing debut this past weekend in a 24-hour race at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. It was the last race of the 24H racing series and the only race in the series that was in the U.S. It was also the first 24-hour pro race at Sebring, which is most well-known for the IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring race in mid-March.
The 24H race at Sebring was meant as a final acid test for the M4 GT3, which has been undergoing evaluation, including under race conditions, over the last several months. Sebring is known to be one of the most grueling tracks in the world and has a way of bringing out any issues in a car, especially over the course of 24 hours.
The Sebring race was also a way for some of the American drivers to get acquainted with the new car. James Clay of BimmerWorld Racing, as well as Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley from Turner Motorsport were three of the drivers, along with BMW Junior drivers Neil Verhagen and Max Hesse. BimmerWorld Racing will enter the M4 GT3 in the SRO World Challenge series next year, while Turner Motorsport will be racing the car in both IMSA and SRO.
BMW Team RMG (with support from BMW Team RLL) had a few days before the race to test the car during practice sessions, and Bill Auberlen had high praise for the M4 GT3 after his initial outings. “After the first day I’m leaving with nothing but smiles on my face,” he said. “It does everything you want it to do and when it was missing something, the BMW engineers made a few adjustments and it was astonishing how it responded and solved every complaint in one shot.”
James Clay qualified the M4 GT3 in seventh overall for the race (though the car was running as an unclassified entry), which was impressive considering that Clay was new to the car, and this was his first time in a GT3-spec car. The race went as most 24-hour races do, with a couple of issues relating to damage from incidents with other cars and some other gremlins that came up, but BMW accomplished what they were setting out to do and finished the race. They finished sixteenth overall and completed 457 laps under wet weather conditions that led to a red flag stop of the race at one point.
“A fantastic car,” said Robby Foley after the race. “You can immediately feel the two years of development that have been invested in the BMW M4 GT3. The systems in the interior, with which the driver works, are a big step forward compared to the BMW M6 GT3. The car is very user-friendly.”
Another BMW entry at Sebring were series regulars ST Racing with their M4 GT4, driven by Samantha Tan, Jon Miller, Chandler Hull, Nick Wittmer, and Bryson Morris. Wittmer put ST Racing on the GT4 class pole, and they finished second in the race, which was enough to secure the 2021 GT4 class championship as well as the overall GT championship. The team had a fantastic year, with class wins in Dubai, Barcelona, and Hungary.
ST Racing will move up from the M4 GT4 to the M4 GT3 in the 24H series next year and will be competing with the car in its first competitive race (where they’re trying to win instead of conducting testing) at the 24H race in Dubai during mid-January. The first competitive outing for the M4 GT3 in the U.S. will be at the IMSA Rolex 24 at Daytona on the last weekend of January.—David Haueter
[Photos courtesy Jon van Woerden.]