BMW back on track in Sebring

March 21, 2018

BMW back on track in Sebring

March 21, 2018

BMW Team RLL took major steps forward in only its second race with its new BMW M8 GTE race car, at the treacherous Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

The race is notoriously brutal for cars because of the changing weather conditions and balance required over the bumps that make up the Sebring International Raceway’s 3.74-mile circuit, comprised of a mix of both asphalt and concrete.

But the new BMW, which first tested at Sebring last fall, handled this race week exceptionally well.

On IMSA’s pre-race Balance of Performance tables, the BMW received a 20kg minimum weight reduction and adjusted boost ratios from the 5,000 to 7,500 rpm range. The team said pre-race it hoped these adjustments would bring the new car closer to the rest of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans class field.

“We are certainly more hopeful for a better race than Daytona was for us. There have been some BoP adjustments that will at least get us closer to our competition. And if we do get closer, we stand a good chance,” said BMW Team RLL principal Bobby Rahal.

The BMW showed good pace in Thursday’s practice sessions but improved even more so on Friday. BMW led the morning’s one-hour practice session, held in cool conditions. But it followed it up later in the afternoon with an impressive pole lap from new American factory driver Connor De Phillippi in the No. 25 BMW, which was a new chassis.

“We’ve been on it since Daytona. The guys have poured their hearts into this project. Obviously at the Sebring test we had a slight hiccup, and the team had to build a new car. I think this performance today really goes to them. It shows what they’ve done since then over the last couple weeks. All the long hours,” he said.

In the race, the BMW showed its speed out of the gate when Jesse Krohn set a new fastest GTLM race lap at 1:57.622 in his No. 24 BMW on Lap 21, in the opening hour of the race. This showed the grip level was there in the early stages of the race, before temperatures increased as the race went on.

While the No. 24 car fell further back after contact with the No. 66 Ford GT, the No. 25 BMW remained in a tight scrap for the win all day with De Phillippi, British rising star Alexander Sims and BMW veteran Bill Auberlen, making his 25th Sebring start in the same number car and looking for a storybook ending to the race.

Both BMWs led during the race, with the No. 24 car out front for 51 laps in the opening hours of the race and the No. 25 car out front for 35 laps during the afternoon.

Sims was in the car for the No. 25 car’s final stint, and looked to chase down Nick Tandy in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. Sims did a good job of it as from Laps 310 to 316, he carved the gap for the lead from 4.5 seconds down to just 2.4 seconds. But he could get no closer, as he fell back to 6.23 seconds by the end of the race.

While BMW would have loved to win in its second race with the new car – and had it done so, it would have extended Auberlen’s run of winning the first race for each of BMW’s new GTE-specification cars (M3, Z4, M6) – it was still a significant result for the new full-season pairing of Sims and De Phillippi and for their veteran teammate alongside.

“On the second to last stint, we were right on him, ducking and diving, seeing if there was an opportunity in traffic or anything. But after the last pit stop he had a six or seven second lead. He was gone,” Sims said of his battle with Tandy. “At that point it was traffic dependent. To be fair at the end he had really strong pace. We were as fast but no faster.

“I’m pleased, and it’s a nice way to get back into the season. It feels like we’re in the mix. We’re working very well with the M8. The team has worked incredibly hard and we’re looking forward to the rest of the year.”

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