It may seem hard to believe, but it’s been eleven years since BMW Team RLL won a full-season championship. That happened back in 2011, when they won team, manufacturer, and driver championships in the GT class of the American Le Mans Series, before that series merged with Grand Am to form what is now the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
Back in 2011, BMW Team RLL was still racing the E92 M3 GT and had two full season entries, with Joey Hand and Dirk Müller in the #56 car, and Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner in #55. Hand and Müller started the year by winning three straight races (at Sebring, Long Beach, and Lime Rock Park) and at least one of those cars was on the GT podium in every single race. Hand and Müller won the driver’s championship in the penultimate round at Laguna Seca, and BMW Team RLL wrapped up the other titles with a third-place finish for the #55 car at the Petit Le Mans finale. It was the first time BMW had won all three titles since 2001 with the dominant E46 M3 GTR.
What’s especially impressive about the championship in 2011 was that competition in the GT class was fierce. There were typically fifteen cars in the class, with entries from Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, and Ford. Several of those teams were getting assistance from the manufacturers with technical support and drivers. Corvette Racing drivers Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen finished just behind Hand and Müller in the drivers’ championship, BMW Team RLL beat out Corvette Racing to the team championship, and BMW beat Porsche for the manufacturers title. “It is a great feeling racing here as the 2011 driver’s champion,” said Joey Hand at the Petit Le Mans finale. “This championship was not just won by me and Dirk. It was won by the entire program over the course of three years. This BMW is the coolest and most comfortable racing car I have ever driven. I simply had the greatest year of my career.”
It’s not lost on some BMW fans that BMW Team RLL hasn’t won a full season championship since BMW moved away from racing the M3. After the last season with the E92 M3 in 2012, they raced the Z4 GTE from 2013–2015, the M6 GTLM from 2016–2017, and the M8 GTE from 2018–2021. The team won some big races with those cars—most recently the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2020 with the M8 GTE—and they won the Michelin Endurance Cup championship in 2020 (which only counts points for Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, and Petit Le Mans), but full season championships have been scarce. The last time any BMW won a full season championship in IMSA was when Dane Cameron won the GTD driver’s championship for Turner Motorsport in 2014, driving the Z4 GT3.
Will a move back to the M3 or M4 as the race car with the new M4 GT3 bring BMW another championship? Let us know what you think.—David Haueter
[Photos by David Haueter.]