There were no BMWs racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. That will change in 2024, when BMW Team WRT will compete for top honors in the Hypercar class with the M Hybrid V8, as well as in the GT categories with the M4 GT3. To help prepare for 2024, the team entered a pair of M4 GT3s in the pair of Michelin Le Mans Cup races that preceded the 24 Hour, and they came away with victories in both races.
The Michelin Le Mans Cup races at five different venues in Europe and features two 55-minute sprint races per race weekend, with classes for LMP3 and GT3-spec cars. BMW Team WRT is not a regular in the series but entered a pair of M4 GT3s this year to help prepare for 2024, when the current GTE-spec cars will be replaced by GT3-spec at Le Mans. Team WRT had works driver Max Hesse paired up with Tim Whale (who drives for WRT in GT World Challenge Europe) in the #31 car and works driver Valentino Rossi paired up with Jérôme Policand in the #46 car. Rossi had raced many times on the shorter Le Mans Bugatti circuit in MotoGP but had never raced on the full circuit. GMB Motorsport also had an M4 GT3 entered (#95) driven by Roland and Kristian Poulsen.
BMW Team WRT set the pace in the GT3 class in qualifying for both races. Max Hesse put the #31 on pole for the first race, just ahead of Valentino Rossi in the #46. For race two, Jérôme Policand put the #46 on the pole. Interestingly, Policand is Team Principal for the Akkodis ASP Mercedes team that competes against WRT in GT World Challenge Europe. Policand is an experienced racer who still likes to compete occasionally, and as a Bronze-rated driver was a good fit to drive with Rossi.
At the start of race one, Valentino Rossi got around Tim Whale to take the lead, but was then caught up in an accident that happened ahead of him with some LMP3 class cars, which forced both him and Whale off the track. Once the race was restarted after a caution, Rossi got back up into third, but Policand was hit and spun by an Audi later in the race. Meanwhile, Hesse took over the #31 car from Whale and moved up the order to make a great pass on the leading Porsche with just over seven minutes left. It was good timing, as another wreck brought out a safety car shortly after and the race finished under caution. “WRT did a perfect job at the pit stop,” said Hesse. “We chose the right strategy. It was a great honor to be able to drive here. Being here for the first time was very, very cool for me and it was nice to learn, because there was not so much pressure, and you could drive many laps.” The #95 M4 GT3 finished in seventh, while the #95 finished in thirteenth.
Jérôme Policand started the second race in the #46 car and got up into fifth by the time the first safety car came out. Once Rossi took over, he moved his way up into third and made a bold pass for second place on the same Porsche that Hesse passed for the win in race one. A Ferrari finished the race ahead of Rossi but was given a penalty that cost them the win and gave the victory to Rossi and Policand. It was Rossi’s first GT win. “We are very happy because we won,” said Rossi. “It was the first victory together with BMW, and it was also a great experience to come here to prepare for next year’s 24-hour race.” Hesse finished the race in second in the #31 M4 GT3 to make it a BMW one-two, and the #95 M4 GT3 finished in fifteenth.
[Photos courtesy Michelin Le Mans Cup]