BMW Along 4 ‘Z’ Ride
Distinctive and bold, BMW’s new Z4 GTE has high standards to match given the manufacturer’s recent history in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.
The car publicly premiered last week at Daytona International Speedway, making it the first ALMS GT car to lap Daytona’s high banks in advance of the 2014 combined championship of the ALMS and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series. It races for the first time in less than a month at the 61st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.
Based off the GT3-spec Z4, the Z4 GTE has changes including the removal of electronic aids such as ABS and DSC, to go along with wider wheel arches at both the front and rear of the car. It’s also considerably smaller than the departing M3, particularly in the driver’s greenhouse area, to fall in line with the production Z4.
Inevitably, some growing pains will follow throughout the learning and development process. Still, there’s no reason to think the Z4 can’t star in its debut season.
For BMW’s most recent set of “firsts,” BMW Team RLL premiered the M3 in 2009 and scored its first win in dominant fashion at Road America, a 1-2 finish led by longtime factory drivers Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand.
Massive gains followed in 2010. The team repeated its Road America win but BMW scored 10 podiums (of a possible 27 positions) and secured the GT manufacturer and team titles. Considering that year was the first with Corvette in the class full-time – along with added depth from Ferrari, Porsche, Ford and Jaguar – it was no small accomplishment.
The package was near perfect in 2011. Wins in the first three races, 11 podiums and seven poles meant this was pretty much the fastest car, and it culminated in a sweep of the GT driver, manufacturer and team championships.
There were only two wins last year in the M3’s fourth and final season, as the car struggled for outright pace, and the competition made package improvements. Still, the tenacity and determination was there, as evidenced by Hand’s winning efforts in the closing stages at Sebring to hold off the AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Olivier Beretta. And – surprise, surprise – BMW also won its third race at Road America in four years.
Entering the Z4, the first GT3-derived car adapted into the ALMS GT class, showcases BMW’s commitment for a several-year period. If it follows the same trajectory, expect the Z4 to secure its first win this year and appear on the podium at a regular clip. A championship challenge isn’t out of the question.
Driver-wise, three of the four primary drivers from 2012 are retained in Auberlen, Hand and Dirk Mueller. Fellow American John Edwards steps into Hand’s seat during the Californian’s DTM weekend clashes, while Belgian youngster Maxime Martin has the potential to surprise this year. Martin finished second in the 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series, where he won twice and scored three podiums in the GT3-spec Z4.
Where BMW has always succeeded in its ALMS tenure has been from a strategy standpoint, team principal Bobby Rahal is among the best at calling things on the fly and adjusting mid-race to put his cars in contention if they aren’t the fastest out there. That alone is an indispensable resource that carries over year-to-year.
The other change, beyond the car, is a switch to Michelin as its new tire technical partner. After years of working to beat Michelin in the highly competitive class, BMW now links up with them in what should be a very potent combination.
Despite the substantial changes, the BMW Team RLL program is still of a high enough quality to contend on a regular basis with its new Z4 bullet.
Tony DiZinno is a motorsports journalist who has worked with RACER, Michelin Alley, Motorsport.com and other publications. He is a recent graduate of Marquette University and a regular contributor to ALMS.com. His blog will appear every other Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter - @tonydizinno.