The FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) held its second race of 2024 in Italy with a six-hour race on the Imola circuit. It was a fantastic day for the BMW M Team WRT entries in the LMGT3 class, while the team also showed they can be competitive with the M Hybrid V8 prototype in the Hypercar class.

BMW M Team WRT had two M4 GT3 entries in the LMGT3 class, with Augusto Farfus, Darren Leung and Sean Gelael in the #31 car and Valentino Rossi, Ahmad Al Harthy and Maxime Martin in the #46. It was a home race for Rossi, who was born less than two hours away from the track. The two cars showed their speed in qualifying, with Al Harthy putting the #46 car into third and Leung qualifying fourth in the #31.

The race was very challenging with changing conditions including rain, and a strategy call by BMW M Team WRT to keep the M4 GT3 pair out on slick tires while other cars pitted for rain tires won them the race, with the #31 (shown above) taking the victory and the #46 car finishing second. The #46 could have challenged more for the victory against the #31 but had to serve a drive-though penalty for not respecting the virtual safety car procedures. Even with the penalty, the #46 finished a lap ahead of the third place Porsche, thanks to the call to stay on slick tires.

The win in LMGT3 for the #31 car was the first for BMW in any class in the FIA WEC series, and it was the first victory in the series for drivers Farfus and Leung. “I am incredibly happy and proud,” said Farfus. “We showed today that it’s about having the best team in this championship, not just the best car or the best individual driver. In my stint, the track was always differently wet, and it was a constant question of which tires were better. We stayed on slicks the whole time, and I felt very comfortable in the BMW M4 GT3 under those conditions. The team always stayed calm and did everything right in the end. It’s my son’s birthday today – I couldn’t have given him a better gift.”

BMW M Team WRT drivers celebrate their 1-2 finish on the podium.

The pair of M Hybrid V8s also showed their competitiveness in the Hypercar class. René Rast made it into the Hyperpole qualifying round (which is held for the top ten cars in prior qualifying rounds) in the #20 car that he shared with Robin Frijns and Sheldon van der Linde, and qualified in seventh. He was around a second off the pole time of the #50 Ferrari. Dries Vanthoor qualified the #15 car that he shared with Raffaele Marciello and Marco Wittmann in thirteenth, around a second behind the qualifying time of Rast.

Things went all wrong for the #15 right at the start, when Wittmann was involved in a multi-car collision that resulted in damage to the car that took an hour to repair. They rejoined the race but were then disqualified after the race for not rejoining parc fermé under the cars own power (parc fermé is a French phrase that means ‘closed park,’ which refers to a secure area where cars are inspected).

The #20 car had a better race, as they were setting competitive lap times with van der Linde challenging for a podium finish in the closing stages. They had some issues during a late pit stop that resulted in a drive-through penalty, but ultimately finished in sixth place out of nineteen cars in the Hypercar class. “In Hypercar, we made great progress after the challenging start in Qatar,” said Head of BMW Motorsport Andreas Roos. “We had the pace to achieve a top result on our own. I am pleased that car #20 was able to hold its own in the leading group throughout the race, even under difficult conditions.” The Hypercar class was won by the #7 Toyota, with Porsches finishing in second and third.

The next round of the FIA WEC is the 6 Hours of Spa Franchorchamps in Belgium on May 11th. —David Haueter

[Photos courtesy BMW]




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