BMW announced their 1979 racing plans at a Press Conference held amidst machinery used for past competition glory in the BMW Museum in Munich last month. Not surprisingly the major focus was on the new Procar Racing Series, that one-model Grand Prix back-up series for the new, mid-engined BMW M1 sports car, shown in Motor Sport, April 1978, which is going ahead at full steam despite the cynicism from some quarters at the time of the original announcement.
Rounds of the series have been confirmed at eight of the 16 1979 World Championship Grands Prix. The debut will be at the Belgian Grands Prix on May 13th, with further rounds in the Monaco, French, British, German, Austrian, Dutch and Italian GPs.
Twenty-six M1s will battle for 25 places on the grid except at Monaco, where competition should be fiercer for only 20 places. The first five places on each grid will be reserved for the fastest available Formula One drivers from the Grand Prix grid. Their M1s will be built and entered by BMW. The other 19 contenders will be customer cars, with Derek Bell, sponsored by Carling Black Label, heading the list of experienced drivers, which also includes Hans Stuck, Toine Hezemans, Bruno Giacomelli, Eddie Cheever, Marc Surer, Walter Brun, Herbie Muller, Dieter Quester, Markus Hottinger, Marc Sourd, Albrecht Krebs, Bertram Schafer, Wolfgang Schutz, Franz Konrad, Helmut Kelleners and Manfred Winklehock. Jean-Louis Lafosse will have two cars, with the second driver still to be named.
With 470 b.h.p. on tap from 3.5-litre, straight-six, 24-valve engines, these identical Group 4 M1s should provide fast, close racing – so close that bodywork repairs are quite seriously forecast to be the biggest expense. Apparently they are difficult bodies to repair. The stakes for personal honour and massive monetary rewards are high…
Ron Dennis will build a minimum of a dozen customer M1 is in his Woking factory (“minimum” because he expects crashes to make the build programme on-going!), while Tom Walkinshaw will build the Quester and Bell cars at Kidlington. Osella in Turin will build the rest. Around 100 engines will be built for the 26 cars by BMW Motorsport, Osella, Heidegger and Mader. The car constructors will send completed cars back to BMW for testing, setting up and presumably policing for equality.
These Procar M1s is will be eligible to compete in the Group 4 section of the German Championship from the beginning of the season.
Interesting news was that development of a space-frame Group 5 M1 is at full swing, shared between Robin Herd at March Engineering and Martin Braungart and Paul Rosche at BMW Motorsport. Rosche expects the March-built chassis to be ready before the 3.2-litre, 800 -1,006 b.h.p., turbocharged engine he is working on and a Group 4 engine might be fitted initially. BMW plan to run this Group 5 car in the last few races for the 1979 World Championship for Makes and the German Championship, with Hans Stuck as the number one driver. But Le Mans 1980 is the ultimate aim.
BMW are staying in Formula 2 with the Polifac-sponsored March team. Regular drivers will be Marc Surer, runner-up in the 1978 European Formula 2 Championship, Teo Fabi and Ricardo Zunino. Derek Daly will join the team in an ICI-sponsored March whenever Formula 1 commitments allow, a change of allegiance for the Guy Edwards-managed Irishman, who relied on Hart engines in 1978. BMW automatically lose their star 1978 F2 driver Bruno Giacomelli – as current European Champion he won’t be eligible to compete for the Championship, a rule which has left him very unhappy.
Paul Rosche, the man responsible for BMWs racing engines, confirmed that the powerful and reliable (“only a couple of failures in 1978”), four-cylinder Formula 2 engine would be retained for the foreseeable future, albeit with improved power and torque characteristics, but he didn’t preclude the use of the “small six” in the long term.
BMW plan to retain their interest in the prestigious and highly competitive German Championship in 1979. Sponsorship negotiations prevented the release of full details, but it was confirmed that the factory would support the GS-Schneider 1.4-litre, turbocharged BMW 320 of Helmut Marko’s Austrian protegé Markus Hottinger.
The factory will also have a hand in the McLaren-prepared BMW 320 Turbo to be driven in the US IMSA series by David Hobbs and Jim Busby, while Eddie Keizan will run a 530 in the South African Championship.
Guests at the typically Bavarian party and award presentation which followed the conference included Colin Chapman, Bernie Ecelestone, Peter Warr, Max Mosley and a brave-faced Barbro Peterson. – C. R.