The first major international endurance sportscar race of the year took place this past weekend, with the Hankook 24 Hour Dubai race, which was the opening round of the CREVENTIC 24H Series. It was a fantastic race for BMW M Team WRT, who took the victory with their #7 M4 GT3 and put their #46 M4 GT3 on the podium in third. It was the first 24-hour race win for the M4 GT3 and the first win for BMW M Team WRT with BMW. BMWs also performed well in the GT4 class, with two new M4 GT4 cars finishing on the class podium.
The Belgian BMW M Team WRT was signed on as a works team last year, after spending several years with Audi. They’ll be campaigning the M V8 Hybrid prototype in the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship, but are racing the M4 GT3s in 2023. The team had strong driver lineups for Dubai, with works drivers Jens Klingmann and Max Hesse in the #7 car along with Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer, Diego Menchaca, and Mohammed Saud Fahad Al Saud. Works drivers Maxime Martin, Valentino Rossi, and Max Hesse were in the #46 car along with Timothy Whale and Sean Gelael. It was Rossi’s first race in a BMW as a works driver.
The WRT team was a late entry to the Dubai race and was really considering it a test session to get more familiar with the car under race conditions, but it became clear early on that the two WRT BMWs would be contenders. After only qualifying in sixth and eighth overall (with qualifying determined by averaging the best times over four qualifying sessions with the various drivers), the WRT BMWs moved up to the front of the field early in the race, with Dries Vanthoor taking the #7 car to the lead within the first hour. The #46 car also made it into the top three early in the race but had a minor setback when it spun on oil on the track and went into the barrier, but there was no damage to the car, and it worked its way back to the front.
The #7 M4 GT3 was in the lead for much of the race but was trading the lead with the #91 Herberth Motorsport Porsche as the two cars cycled through pit stops. The Porsche was actually in the lead with around an hour to go, but had to relinquish the lead to the BMW when it went into the pits for fuel in the closing hour. Dries Vanthoor put in a strong closing stint to take the #7 car to the checkered flag in first, followed by the #91 Porsche in second, and the #46 BMW in third. A third M4 GT3 entered by Poulsen Motorsport had a DNF in the closing stages of the race. For WRT, it was the second win in a row in this race, as they won it last year with Audi.
The win was especially satisfying for Jens Klingmann, as this was his first 24-hour race win. “What a way to start!” he said after the race. “BMW M Team WRT did a super job, right from the first practice session. We improved a lot and focused purely on race pace and ensuring that the balance of the car was right for all five drivers, and we did so successfully. This victory means an awful lot to me personally. I was involved in the development of the M4 GT3 from the word go, so to come here with the team and win the 24-hour race was very emotional. I think everyone can be proud–those in BMW M Team WRT and those at home with BMW M Motorsport in Munich. We have a good reason to celebrate this evening.”
The Dubai race also marked the debut of the new G82-generation M4 GT4 in an international endurance race. There were two on the entry in the GT4 class, with one car each from Century Motorsport and Simpson Motorsport, along with a previous generation M4 GT4 that was entered with the RHC Jorgensen-Strom by Century team, which had American drivers Darrell Jorgensen and Brett Strom on the roster. Both of the new M4 GT4s performed well, with the #438 Simpson Motorsport car finishing in second behind the winning Mercedes and the #429 Century car in third. The #450 RHC-Jorgensen-Strom entry had a mechanical issue after 114 laps and had to retire.
The next race for BMW M Team WRT will be the Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia on the weekend of February 3rd-5th, which is the opening round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge series.—David Haueter
[Photos by 24H Series, BMW]