BMW pick GT racing and WTCC over F1

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

BMW will do a lot of its racing at American venues - like Laguna Seca - next year
BMW will do a lot of its racing at American venues - like Laguna Seca - next year

BMW have announced details of the categories they will be racing in during 2010 having pulled out of F1.

Far from pulling out of motor racing entirely the company is expanding its GT racing programme, leaving you to wonder what these other categories offer which F1 does not.

GT racing

BMW M3 GTRs racing in the ALMS at for F1 venue Long Beach
BMW M3 GTRs racing in the ALMS at for F1 venue Long Beach

BMW will have a works team competing in 24-hour races for the first time since 2005 – before it became a full Grand Prix team.

The BMW M3 GT2 will race in the 24-hour races at Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring. BMW will also have two M3 GT2s in the American Le Mans Series run by Rahal Letterman Racing.

Customer teams will be able to run a GT3-specification BMW Z4.

What does GT racing offer BMW that F1 does not? Certainly the cost of competition will be lower, though the amount of exposure offered by these championships will also be less.

It’s also significant BMW is racing in the major American sports car championship when F1 has not had a race there since 2007. The 2010 ALMS calendar has eight rounds in the USA and one in Canada – which F1 is returning to next year.

BMW may also be attracted by the potential to promote particular models – the M3 and Z4 – which people can buy road-going versions of.

World Touring Car Championship

Multiple WTCC champion Andy Priaux in action at Macau this year
Multiple WTCC champion Andy Priaux in action at Macau this year

BMW’s scaled-down WTCC programme for 2010 shows the team is looking for a more cost-effective motor sport programme. It’s five-man team of 2009 has been trimmed down to two – Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus.

What has always been curious about BMW’s choice of the WTCC to compete in is that its manufacturer rivals in the series – Seat and Chevrolet – are not significant competitors for road car sales. If that’s what it wanted, BMW would surely race in the DTM against Audi and Mercedes instead.

Rather like F1, the WTCC is an international series with a European bias. Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, Japan and Macau are the only races outside Europe in 2010, with the other rounds taking place in Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain.

Andy Priaulx won the world title in a BMW 3 Series from 2005 to 2007 (and in 2004 when it was the European championship). Since then the team have struggled to beat the diesel-powered Seat Leons and there have been several rows about how the FIA has gone about equalising the performance of the cars.

Formula BMW

F1-supporting Formula BMW Europe remains in 2010
F1-supporting Formula BMW Europe remains in 2010

The Formula BMW junior single-seater championship started as a category in Germany in 2002 and spawned several international offshoots including an F1-supporting European category in 2008. There has been some scaling back of the programme in recent years and in 2010 only the Pacific and European categories will continue.

Mario Theissen is keen to stress the success of the programme:

Five former BMW drivers lined up in [F1 this year] ?ǣ and with great success. Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil and Sebastien Buemi all scored World Championship points. Sebastian Vettel even celebrated four Grand Prix victories and finished the season as runner-up in the drivers? championship, behind Jenson Button.

Nico H???lkenberg and Bruno Senna will join the quintet in 2010 as regular F1 drivers. A number of other Formula BMW graduates can also hope to get a taste of Formula One as test and reserve drivers.
Mario Theissen

However BMW never got any of its graduates into its F1 team for the long term: Sebastian Vettel made his F1 debut for them in 2007 but was already on a long-term contract with Red Bull. BMW also tried and failed to keep test driver Timo Glock from joining Toyota in 2008.

Without a single-seater team to promote its drivers to, you have to wonder what the value of the championship is to BMW, and whether it might wind down in the future. There is certainly no shortage of junior categories for young drivers and there’s about to be one more with the arrival of GP3 next year.

What do you think has attracted BMW to these other racing series as it turns its back on F1? What role, if any, might the Max Mosley sex scandal and Bernie Ecclestone’s notorious Hitler comments have played? Have your say in the comments.

Read more: BMW: Ten years in F1 in 100 pictures