The new IMSA GTP era will begin at the Rolex 24 at Daytona at the end of this month, and the manufacturers that will enter that class with the LMDh prototypes have been very busy getting their cars ready. IMSA recently held a Q&A session with the GTP project leaders from Acura, Porsche, Cadillac and BMW, and all of them were very candid about the challenges involved with developing and testing these completely new and technologically advanced cars. Maurizio Leschiutta is the project leader for BMW and provided some honest and interesting comments on getting the M Hybrid V8 ready for Daytona.
IMSA: BMW has operated factory programs since you last raced a prototype with the V12 LMR, but how steep is the learning curve been for BMW as you ramp this program up, and how have the other programs that BMW has been involved with help to flatten that learning curve?
Maurizio Leschiutta: On a scale of one to ten, the steepness is about twelve or thirteen. Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus rolling a rock eternally up a hill, only to have it roll down again. We have had to face some major challenges, principally because of the timeframe. We’ll be going from a white sheet of paper to the first race (at Daytona) in eighteen months, and this has posed a lot of challenges to our teams and our partners, which made for a lot of work. We used all the competencies of BMW M Motorsport across our different departments in GT racing and Formula E, and we put everybody’s head together to contribute to this program.
IMSA: What will be the biggest challenge for the Rolex 24?
ML: For us, the biggest challenge is to finish the race. Before you can win a race, you have to reach the end, so that’s the number one objective. We’ve had a lot of trouble, which is normal. What isn’t normal is the reduced timeframe. We rolled out our car at the end of July, and we have our first race at the end of January, so that doesn’t leave much time. There are a lot of unforeseen things that come up that you have to react to, so our objective will be just to finish the race and I hope by finishing it that we do reasonably well.
IMSA: What are some of the unique challenges in getting everything to work together, with the new hybrid system and getting everything to work seamlessly?
ML: We have a lot of partners that are in this with us, and we have our guys here at BMW Motorsport that have experience with Formula E, which is useful with information that we can transfer over. For us, it’s the first time that we’ve combined electric technology with an internal combustion engine, so to make these two very different technologies work together poses its own challenges. Every day is a school day, and we’ve been learning every day.
IMSA: Your competitors have more recent experience in prototypes than BMW. Aside from the timeframe, is there something about that aspect that has created special difficulties for BMW?
ML: Yes, it’s been twenty odd years since we’ve raced in the top category of endurance racing and it’s a different kind of animal, even though a prototype is a high downforce car that is similar in some ways to a Class 1 DTM car, which was also pretty much a prototype with production looking bodywork. Racing in IMSA before in GT our drivers had to be careful about fast prototypes coming up, now we’re going to have to be careful about slower GT cars getting in the way, and also the driving lines may not be exactly the same. A GT car is more of a bulldog and the LMDh car is a ballerina, so they require different approaches, so the drivers have been learning, the engineers have been learning, and the team has been learning.
IMSA: How did you arrive at the specific engine package that you did for the M Hybrid V8?
ML: We had to combine three different things. We had to combine brand DNA with what was best suited to the regulations and what was realistic, given the time constraints. We came up with a V8 twin-turbo architecture, which is used in our M5 Competition road car. We knew we had to use a turbocharged motor because of the displacement to make sure we could easily meet the power requirements which are limited by the regulations. The V8 is derived from an existing powerplant (used in the M4 DTM in 2017-2018) so that we could cut some of the development time.
IMSA: How important was Porsche’s head start on their initial testing? Do you feel you would be ready for Daytona if you hadn’t had the lessons learned from Porsche getting on the track sooner? (all LMDh cars share the same electric motors and are sharing information learned on those components, and Porsche was testing on track before anyone else).
ML: I’m glad Porsche started sooner, because they took care of a lot of the problems that were on the steep part of the learning curve that we could just learn from and start at a higher point. It was a very sensible approach taken by governance to have a pilot program with the hybrid suppliers, and Porsche was in the best position to do it. It was a logical decision, and I don’t think any of us thought otherwise. They learned a lot from which we all learned, so in the end it helped us gain a little bit of time in our program. BMW was quite happy with the way it went.
IMSA: Has developing the LMDh car been more of a challenge than you thought it would be going in, and how does it compare to other programs you’ve worked on in your career?
ML: It’s difficult to answer that. Did we know it was going to be a challenge when we started? Yes. It was a zero error, zero-time program with no margins. In the end you never know what you’re going to be up against until you try to do it, then when you start to do it and things go wrong you have to be creative. I always encourage people to have a plan b, a plan c and a plan d in the event that plan a will undoubtedly go wrong. I remember I was involved in the creation of the Maserati MC12 GT1 car, which was a big challenge at the time, and the first rollout was done on the third of January at Fiorano [Italy] with snow everywhere and we would drive around the track with our road cars to try and melt the snow and get it off so we could roll out the car by the end of the day. Different times have different challenges. Once we reach Daytona, I told the folks on our project team that we’ll look over our shoulder and be amazed at the amount of road that we’ve covered from when we started.
IMSA: What are the chances of an LMP2 car beating the LMDh cars to the checkered flag at Daytona? (LMP2 cars are in a lower prototype class and have less power and less sophistication than the LMDh cars).
ML: I think that the separation in terms of pace will be there, so it’s a question of whether we can finish the 24 hours. Reliability will be the determining factor in the race.
[Photos by BMW, LAT Images]