BMW Eyeing Continued Progress in Second GTP Season

By John Oreovicz

IMSA Wire Service

BMW was the last of the original four manufacturers that committed to creating prototype race cars built to the LMDh platform eligible for competition in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Despite the relatively late start to the program for BMW M Team RLL compared to rival manufacturers Porsche, Cadillac and Acura, the BMW M Hybrid V8 was running at the finish of its first race (the 2023 Rolex 24 At Daytona) and soon notched a trip to the podium in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac. The highlight of BMW’s 2023 campaign came at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in June, where Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly collected the program’s first victory.

Yelloly, De Phillippi and the No. 25 team ended the year with that win, a pair of seconds and a pair of thirds to finish sixth in the remarkably close GTP standings, just 25 points out of second and 46 points from the championship-winning No. 31 Cadillac. The sister No. 24 BMW with drivers Philipp Eng and Augusto Farfus ended the year eighth in GTP.

On paper, BMW Team M RLL is having a similar season to last year, with the No. 25 sitting sixth in the standings after three races and the No. 24 immediately behind. But the team and drivers have reason to believe they are operating at a higher level than a year ago, when the focus was mainly on getting the cars to the finish line.

The 2024 season got off to a difficult start as electrical issues, a gearbox cooler leak and a late brake change resulted in a distant seventh and eighth in class at the Rolex 24. Sebring produced a very competitive run to fourth place by the No. 25, with the No. 24 close behind in sixth.

“Last year we were very lucky and finished second (at Sebring). This time our cars were much stronger, but with a bit less luck we finished fourth and sixth,” commented BMW M Team RLL team principal Bobby Rahal. “That’s OK but not yet where we want to be. The team’s pit stops were good, the cars were reliable, but of course, we can still improve a bit more with a view to the next races.”

“Our BMW M Hybrid V8 showed during the race that the pace is good,” added Andreas Roos, Head of BMW M Motorsport. “It was good to see that our hard work since Daytona paid off and we were able to significantly improve both the performance and the reliability of the cars.”

The third race of the WeatherTech Championship season, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, marked yet another step forward. Yelloly qualified the No. 25 second fastest – the first time a BMW has made it onto the front row in GTP. The car showed great race pace as well, challenging for a podium finish when De Phillippi was sandwiched between two cars in a multicar pile-up at the famous Long Beach hairpin with 20 minutes to go. Extensive damage forced the No. 25 to retire from the race.

“The race did not go well,” summarized Yelloly. “The yellow flag just before our pit stop put us on the back foot. We had a very strong car here in qualifying, and we were also among the fastest in the race when we could run freely. Especially in the corners, we were better than our competitors.”

That should bode well for the next event on the calendar – the Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which is dominated by long sweeping bends. One of the few non-curvy stretches of the famous California road course – the uphill run to the iconic Corkscrew – was named the Rahal Straight in 2003 in honor of Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins in the late 1980s.

BMW M Team RLL owns three GT-class victories at WeatherTech Raceway, so it’s a place Rahal continues to hold dear. “If we can continue to improve the BMW M Hybrid V8 the way we have been, I am feeling optimistic about our chances,” said the legendary racer.

Motul Course de Monterey action runs May 10-12. The two-hour, 40-minute race airs live on NBC, Peacock and IMSA Radio at 3 p.m. ET Sunday, May 12.