BMW’s disastrous Le Mans | Thank Frankel it’s Friday

21st June 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

It really wasn’t meant to be like this. If races were won on looks alone, the BMW M Hybrid V8 would surely have taken the top two places at Le Mans this year. The Dallara-built hypercar looked pretty incredible even in standard livery, let alone in Julie Mehretu’s stunning Art Car paintwork, the 20th such car and most recent in a line including works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Hockney. I’d rank it up there with Jeff Koon’s 2010 M3 GT2 among the very best of them.

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But they looked quick, too, in all the practice sessions and then in qualifying. Bloody quick in fact. In qualifying, the number 15 car driven by Dries Vanthoor was the quickest of the whole damn field – quicker than Porsche, Ferrari, Toyota, Cadillac, Alpine, and Peugeot. And in any normal race that would have been that: pole position nailed on. But at Le Mans, all qualifying does is let the eight fastest in each category progress to the ‘Hyperpole’ session, during which the BMW looked like it might still threaten the establishment order, until Vanthoor lost control and spun out of the competition. Even so, the time he had already done in qualifying was quicker than that achieved by Kevin Estre to put his Porsche on pole position, and over 24 hours starting first or seventh really makes very little difference. It was game on for the race. Or so it seemed.

It started ok, and then, quite quickly, it wasn’t. First Marco Wittmann crashed the leading BMW, then Robin Frijns binned its artistically enhanced stablemate. And though both would rejoin after limping back to the pits for repair after three hours of a 24-hour race (less than one eighth of the distance covered), both of BMW’s hypercars were out of contention.

What made it far worse, at least for BMW management, was that a race strategy had been worked out on the basis that the weather was going to make this one of the most unpredictable Le Mans in recent years, and that it would be won not necessarily by the quickest car, but the team that had the most luck – which could not be controlled, and the one which made the fewest mistakes, which absolutely could be.


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So, the drivers had been told to go steady for fully the first 20 hours and only push for position in the last four, when so many others would have inevitably fallen by the wayside. Team bosses were livid that all chance of a decent result were already gone, in what they regarded as entirely needless accidents.

Then, to add injury to insult, Vanthoor was simply taken out at something like 180mph by Robert Kubica’s Ferrari, slamming him into the barriers in the kind of accident that would have had catastrophic consequences for its driver not that many years ago. Happily, Dallara build ‘em strong and Dries was able to exit shaken, stirred, but thankfully not broken. Following that, just to complete the misery, Frijns had another accident which effectively ended the Art Car’s race too, though it was patched up sufficiently to complete the final lap and least get over the line, albeit so far behind as to be unclassified.

A disaster then, for a team that had already done the two things usually required to win any long-distance race: build a car that is both quick and reliable.

But BMW is only looking forward, will complete the rest of the WEC season and is committed, at the very least, to the whole of 2025, too. So, the BMW hypercars will be back in France next summer hoping for a very different outcome, one more deserving of the talent, effort, and time that has gone into creating the V8 Hybrid. Whether the same drivers will be invited back to take their seats again is something we will have to wait to find out.


Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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