40 Years in the Making – BMW Team RLL’s Attack on Sebring
40 Years in the Making – BMW Team RLL’s Attack on Sebring
In 1975, 40 years ago, BMW Motorsport's overall win at the 12 Hours of Sebring stood as a resounding introduction to the American market. The Motorsport colors, blue borrowed from the Bavarian flag, Texaco's red, and a purple blend between the two, had yet to fly in any official capacity in North America. Just days before Sebring, BMW of North America was born, and with it, racing efforts that have continued forth to today. The 3.0 CSL's win landed the starting blows in a fight that has continued between marques for decades. In celebration of the anniversary, BMW NA has returned to Sebring in 2015 with redress and retribution, seeking the GTLM title win in the name of their history, legacy, and future.
"For decades, BMW has made champions and record holders out of men and their machines;" powerful words clacked out on a typewriter as part 1975's press release, announcing BMW's intention of beginning a racing program in America. The CSL had seen incredible success in European racing series, prompting both sales and enthusiasm towards the marque. In an effort to spread the success worldwide, BMW brought forth a team of powerhouse drivers, and a crew of mechanics and pit hands referred to as "The Cowboys"; a rag tag group of wrenchers with imperviously high hopes. Stationed in Alabama, drivers Hans J. Stuck, Sam Posey, Brian Redman, and Ronnie Peterson, the crew, and a pair of CSLs toured the United States for 16 races of the '75 IMSA GT Championship.
The team took wins at Sebring, Laguna Seca, Riverside, Daytona, and Talladega, proving that the BMW brand was, in fact, a competitive one. At the hands of some of the era's most famous drivers, the 3.0CSL was cemented into motorsports history as an icon; the red, purple, and blue hues have since earned their keep as three of the most powerful colors in racing. The stripes that trace the bold, widened lines of the E9 are a quintessential aspect of BMW's Motorsport heritage.
Over the past 40 years, BMW NA and their motorsports efforts have been remarkable. The E36's PTG program was an all-out success, dominating IMSA's GTS-2 class for years. David Donohue also found success in the E34 M5 as part of IMSA's Supercar series. 2001's win in the E46 M3 GTR was monumental as well, just to name a few. It took little time for BMW's interest in IMSA racing to establish itself as a well-founded endeavor. Most recently, their efforts ended in GT Championship wins in 2010 and 2011 for the American Le Mans Series. 2014 saw the end of the championship-winning E92s to make room for the current Z4 GTEs, and it's been a fight for another championship win ever since.
A 40-year anniversary is one worth celebrating, and having won Sebring as their first race in '75, BMW of North America wanted to return to where it all began, hoping to re-ignite the fire that launched their racing efforts into the American limelight. In commemoration, BMW gathered the original team at the track: Hans J Stuck, Brian Redman, and the Cowboys: a reunion of legends worthy of the history books. Sebring 2015 offered the chance to win it all once more, this time in the hands of Team RLL, and most of the 'originals' were present, hoping to witness a magic moment in racing.
In tow with Team RLL was the pair of Z4s: the sisters we've come to know and love; however, they've changed. Their numbers, 54 and 55, have been replaced with the numbers of the original Sebring CSL duo: 24 and 25. More important, however, is the change to their liveries. The pair of cars, still black and white, have been re-traced in BMW's classic motorsport striping, with the lines and shapes harking to the original designs of the Z4's ancestor. Looking better than ever before, the Z4s now seem at home, side by side with the idyllic CSLs. The stripes trace up and over the tail lights, and across the fenders and rockers too. The colors bounce over the front bumper, and outline the hood, just as they did 40 years ago.
In the hours leading up to the race, there seemed an air of pressure surrounding Team RLL. With Stuck, Redman, and the Cowboys present, there was an intense desire not to disappoint. The re-liviered cars, the publicity push by BMW, and of course, the inherent desire to win all compounded the sentiment. The 2nd and 4th place finishes at Daytona were helpful, but a win at Sebring is a crucial step in securing a class victory. Struggles in qualifying meant the Z4s weren't starting at the front of the pack, adding stress to an already tense situation.
The early hours of the race proved somewhat uneventful, with much of the GTLM class running in a tight pack, fighting for positions but with few complications. The Florida heat climbed to alarming heights, with temps popping into the 90s, adding a challenge for crew, drivers, and photographers as well. It wasn't until the five-and-a-half hour mark that excitement began, but for all the wrong reasons. Dirk Werner pulled the white 25 car into the pits, suffering from a damaged front subframe, requiring a fix that cost the car more than ten laps, dropping the car to the back of the pack while the black number 24 car pressed on.
Number 24 battled its way up and down through the numbers, peaking in second place for a short time, only to fall back once more. Hopes for a win began to fade with the sun; number 25 had only climbed to 8th place as the race came to a close. A full-course yellow was called with two hours remaining in the race, bringing the lead cars, including number 24, together for the final hours. A wreck by Corvette in the final minutes gave Luhr, Edwards, and Klingmann a small window of opportunity, ultimately landing the 24 car just shy of the podium at race's end, in 4th place.
It was a crushing defeat - one of the rare occasions BMW and Team RLL missed the podium entirely. Disappointment was abound as it was tough to stomach defeat in the face of the original team that won it all; however, celebration of the 40th anniversary is far from over. While Sebring didn't offer up a win, the season itself could still lead to victory, with BMW just 10 points behind Corvette and many races to go. Better yet, 2016's M6 GT cars may bring forth all the excitement that comes with a new chassis, and may potentially bring forth an all-new legend of its own. Just as the CSL has marked its place in history thanks to the originals of 1975, today's team has their own chance to make history and leave a lasting mark on the sport of auto racing.