The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the biggest and most historic sportscar race in the world and was held this past weekend in France. The Le Mans race was also round four of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). It was a very difficult race weekend for BMW M Team WRT who represents BMW M Motorsport in the WEC, but they did come away with an unlikely podium finish in the LMGT3 class.

This years 24 Hours of Le Mans was the first time in 25 years that BMW has raced in the top prototype class at Le Mans, the last time happening in 1999 when Jo Winkelhock, Pierluigi Martini and Yannick Dalmas won with the V12 LMR. The other big news for BMW at this year’s event was the introduction of a new Art Car, the #20 M Hybrid V8 designed by Julie Mehretu. Unfortunately, it was a dreadful race for both cars in a contest that was impacted by heavy rain and had around a quarter of the race run under caution.

The #15 M Hybrid V8 driven by Dries Vanthoor, Marco Wittmann, and Rafaelle Marciello proved itself to be very quick in qualifying. Vanthoor was on the initial pole in the qualifying session that determines the top ten cars that go into the final Hyperpole session, with a 3:24.465 lap. The #20 Art Car driven by Sheldon van der Linde, Robin Frijns, and René Rast was down in sixteenth, around 1.8 seconds off the pace of the #15 car. In the final Hyperpole session, Vanthoor went off the track when pushing hard and had his times deleted, but his time in the initial session was faster than the pole time of 3:24.634 set by Kévin Estre in the #6 Porsche.

Dries Vanthoor gets ready to race.

BMW M Team WRT also had two M4 GT3 entries in the LMGT3 class. Both of those cars were quick in practice but didn’t perform all that well in qualifying, with neither car making it into the Hyperpole session. The #46 M4 GT3 of Maxime Martin, Valentino Rossi, and Ahmad Al Harthy was just outside the top ten in twelfth, with the #31 car of Augusto Farfus, Sean Gelael, and Darren Leung in fifteenth. The pole in LMGT3 went to the #70 Inception Racing McLaren.

Things started to go wrong for the pair of M Hybrid V8 cars early in the race. Marco Wittmann spun the #15 car in the first hour of racing and hit the tire barrier. The accident didn’t do any real damage to the car, but it set them back right away. Within the first three hours, Robin Frijns had an off-track excursion in the #20 Art Car that damaged the right rear and required 24 minutes in the garage for repairs. The #20 never recovered from that accident and had more issues later in the race. They got the car back out for more laps but were classified with a 21st place finish.

The #15 M Hybrid V8 had a DNF after an accident caused by the #83 Ferrari.

The #15 M Hybrid V8 ran into more trouble in the night, when Dries Vanthoor was sideswiped by Robert Kubica in the leading #83 Ferrari and sent into the barriers at 186mph. Thankfully, Vanthoor wasn’t harmed, but the car was heavily damaged and was forced to retire. The #83 Ferrari was given a 30-second stop-and-hold penalty for causing the accident. “Being taken out of the race by such an accident is very disappointing,” said Marco Wittmann. “At that point in the race, after my mistake in the opening phase, we had already fought our way back into the top-ten and were doing well. Then, after many weeks of intensive preparation, to be essentially out before midnight with both Hypercars is, of course, extremely frustrating for the entire team.” The race was won by the #50 Ferrari 499P, which was the second straight year that Ferrari has won Le Mans overall.

The #20 Art Car had an accident early in the race and never recovered.

In the LMGT3 class, the BMW that seemed most likely to have a good result ended up retiring, while the car that didn’t look to be in contention at all made it onto the podium. The #46 M4 GT3 made it into the lead and held it for a few hours but was retired after Ahmad Al Harthy had an accident when driving on slick tires on a wet track. The #31 M4 GT3 held in there and worked through some engine setting issues early in the race to work their way up into second by the end and get on the podium behind the winning #91 Porsche. The Proton Competition Ford Mustang GT3 followed the BMW on the podium in third.

The #31 M4 GT3 finished second in the LMGT3 class.

The second-place finish by Augusto Farfus, Sean Gelael, and Darren Leung in the #31 car was the first podium for a BMW at Le Mans since 2011, when Joey Hand, Andy Priaulx, and Dirk Muller drove an E92 M3 GT to a third-place finish in the GTE Pro class. “I think if we look at how our performance was at the start of the race and where we finished, we have a lot of reasons to celebrate,” said Farfus. “It shows how important it is to have an incredible team, and that good processes within a team lead to good results. We were the last BMW in the field, and we brought home the podium. That is the deserved reward for everyone at Team WRT and BMW. We are very close to the lead in the championship, so we remain focused and set our sights on winning the title.”

The #46 M4 GT3 was in the lead for a few hours but an accident in the rain led to a DNF.

The next round of the FIA WEC is the 6 Hours of São Paulo in Brazil on July 14th. —David Haueter

[Photos by BMW]




©2024 BimmerLife™

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?