Remembering the V12 LMR, BMW’s first Le Mans winner

13th June 2024
Ethan Jupp

This weekend, BMW Motorsport returns to fight for the outright win of the Le Mans 24 Hours, with its M Hybrid V8 LMDh car, 25 years on from when the legendary BMW V12 LMR took the win.


There are a few lessons from that race and from that car that BMW will have done well to remember for this year. A couple of years ago, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, we were reacquainted with the winning car which was in attendance, as part of BMW M’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

The final Le Mans 24 Hours of the 20th century is remembered more for things other than the BMW V12 LMR that actually won it. It is of course the event where the Mercedes-Benz CLRs went airborne, leading to the marque’s total withdrawal from the race and top-level sportscar racing in general. 

It’s also a race remembered as one that got away for Toyota. The revised GT Ones were blisteringly fast but were evidently spikier to drive, harsh on their tyres, and thirsty on fuel. A severe crash put the #2 Toyota out, and inquired Thierry Boutsen to the point of spurning his retirement from contemporary racing. While the #3 Toyota soldiered on, demonstrating superior pace, it suffered a late-race tyre blowout that effectively took Toyota out of the fight for the win.

In reality, though, it’s the purest, plainest demonstration we can think of, of exactly what Le Mans demands of its winners. Yes, outright pace helps, but it is the Grand Prix d’Endurance, which means both car and driver have to endure. And endure the BMW of Yannick Dalmas, Pierluigi Martini, and Joachim Winkelhock did. 


By contrast to the thirsty Toyota, the BMW’s S70/3 V12 – a development of the unit first seen in the McLaren F1 – was weirdly frugal, in part perhaps to the LMR’s slippery shape. It was also reportedly relatively easy to drive, suiting a broad range of driving styles. In short, the LMR was a car designed to go the distance; to finish first, first you have to finish.

“The main story from 1999 Le Mans was that the car seriously was almost unbeatable in terms of consistency,” the car’s mechanic told us at the Festival of Speed in 2022.

“The consistency of the car and the reliability of the car was that high, you could do a 48-hour race. The pace of the Toyota was very good but they lost so much time on the pit stops. The BMW Schnitzer pit stops were designed and choreographed by Charly Lamm and that was part of it.”

Indeed, the legendary Karl ‘Charly’ Lamm, who sadly passed away in 2019, counted the Le Mans win as Schnitzer’s greatest achievement, among the many successes it enjoyed with BMW. 

“There were three components,” our man continued. “Definitely a powerful and good engine from BMW, a really good chassis from Williams and an unbelievable knowledge and team effort of Schnitzer and Charly Lamm. The way he [thought] about racing and cars – the most brilliant guy I ever met in my life. It was that combination. Charly always said that the win at Le Mans was ‘the race of our lives’ – the biggest Schnitzer success.”


A well-oiled machine the team may well have been, but the machine itself had to be a willing steed. And willing it was, with all drivers taking to it well.

“Everybody who drove it says that the handling was easy. It was just simple, fast, easy. And Jorg Müller told me once, that it was a car that every driver was able to handle. Sometimes you have drivers that are fast and drivers that are fighting with the car, with different driving styles. But everyone was good with the LMR.”

BMW, happily, hasn’t been shy about letting its star car off the chain over the years. The car’s been regularly seen at Goodwood as well as at Le Mans classic, where it first returned in 2012 with winning driver Pierluigi Martini at the wheel.

It’s been great to see it out and about over the years and indeed, it’ll be great to see BMW return to Le Mans with its successor. We hope in the conception of the M Hybrid V8, BMW’s bods looked back at exactly what made the V12 LMR a car worthy of a Le Mans win.


Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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