The Intercontinental GT Challenge series (IGTC) wrapped up its 2023 season in the Gulf 12 Hour finale at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi. BMW M Team WRT finished second in the race, but BMW missed out on the season-long championships that they were in contention for.
Coming into the finale in Abu Dhabi, BMW held a nine-point lead in the manufacturers championship over Mercedes and BMW works driver Philipp Eng was just eight points behind Mercedes driver Jules Gounon in the driver’s championship. Mercedes had an advantage before the race even started, as they had four cars on the entry list while BMW only had two. Both M4 GT3s were entered by BMW M Team WRT, with Eng in the #32 car along with Sheldon van der Linde and Charles Weerts, and Nick Yelloly, Dries Vanthoor, and Valentino Rossi teamed up in the #46 car. Vanthoor also had a shot at the driver’s title, as he was just fourteen points behind Gounon.
The IGTC series has each driver qualify, with the average taken of all drivers in a car to set the grid. The #46 was the best of the two BMWs in qualifying with an average time of 1:51.756, which put them fourth on the overall grid and third in the Pro class. The #32 BMW started the race in eighth overall and fifth in the Pro class with an average time of 1:52.025. Mercedes, meanwhile, did everything right in qualifying, putting the #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3 from Team Gruppe M Racing on the pole with an average time of 1:51.272 and the #14 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Team 2 Seas Motorsport in second. Driver points leader Gounon was one of the drivers in the #14 car.
Philipp Eng’s chance at the driver’s title ended after around four hours of racing, when the #32 M4 GT3 had an exhaust issue that cost them seven laps to repair and took them out of contention. The #46 was battling with the leaders for most of the race and took the lead after around seven-and-a-half hours, but a problem with the pedal box during a pit stop cost them the lead and dropped them back to second, where they ultimately finished around twelve seconds behind the #99 Mercedes that took the win from pole. The #14 Mercedes finished in third, which gave Gounon the drivers title and gave the manufacturers championship to Mercedes. BMW finished second in the manufacturers championship and Dries Vanthoor, Philipp Eng, and Sheldon van der Linde finished third, fourth and fifth in the driver’s championship.
BMW works driver Valentino Rossi was satisfied with the second-place finish in the finale, but knew the chance was there to get a win. “At the end, it was a great weekend for us,” he said after the race. “The target was to make it to the podium, and we were very strong, very fast. We could have also won and have been in P1. So in the end we are a little bit upset because we felt the taste of the victory but we had an issue with the pedal box and lost crucial seconds at the pit stop. This is a great shame because in the end we missed it by 12 seconds so it could have been a fantastic battle to the last lap. But anyway, it’s great, the car was very strong, the teamwork was as always very good and I enjoyed it a lot racing with Dries and Nick. It is great to finish the season with a podium.”
Overall, BMW had a great season in IGTC, with five podium finishes and overall wins at Kyalami, the Spa 24 Hour and the Indianapolis eight-hour. BMW has not decided yet if they will return to the series next year, as BMW M Team WRT will be busier in 2024 running the BMW Hypercar and LMGT3 programs in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 2024 IGTC season opens on February 16th-18th with a twelve-hour race at Bathurst in Australia.
[Photos courtesy SRO]