4:00 AM came earlier than expected. We were 2500 miles away from home, en route to the Daytona International Speedway for the grand unveiling of the all new BMW Z4 GTE, long before the sun had even considered making an appearance. The track sat silent and empty, and BMW’s crew had yet to arrive. Tucked away in the paddock bays sat BMW’s lineage of race cars, ranging from the Donohue E34 M5 to last year’s ALMS E92 twins. In the furthest bay sat the BMW Z4 GTE, tucked under an opaque black cover, waiting to see the light of day. 2013 has marked the end of the E92 M3 GT’s ALMS campaign; with the E92 M3 at the end of its production cycle, and its race car counterpart burdened by restrictions that have killed its competitive edge, BMW has been hard at work on its replacement for the upcoming season. Despite its great victories, every hero’s tale must come to and end, and with every end marks a new beginning.
For those keen to BMW’s current racing lineup, it will come as no surprise that BMW is replacing the M3s with it’s more recent racing platform, the E89 Z4 Coupe. The Z4 GT3 chassis has held its own on more than just a few laps on countless foreign circuits, including a win at the 24 Hours of Dubai in 2011. However, America’s BMW Z4 GTE is a ground-up redesign of its GT3 counterpart. Little remains the same, as regulations and standards set by IMSA, ACO, and others require more than just a set of intake restriction plates. Extensive windtunnel testing has brought about an entirely new body, molded from carbon fiber and glossed with bright white and the renowned Motorsport stripes.The wide arches, front and rear, hang over the faintly visible factory lines in a display of immense width and true racing pedigree.
The front is reminiscent of the outgoing M3 GT; the arches roll off the front bumper and then angle in to meet the body after the arch closes, butting up against the ALMS position lights that reside on each fender. The true departure is at the tail of the car: the capacious flares widen the car almost a full eight inches. Following the redesign from the GT3, the lines are all-new, and more radical than ever, with the shape of the tail lamps being held out to the edge of the car, and a tail width that makes the GT3 seem rather scrawny. Tucked under the tail end is a massive diffuser, spanning the full width of the car, paired with a massive spoiler up top to create as much downforce as possible. In a sport as fast as this, aerodynamics play a crucial role in shaving those vital seconds off of the total race time.
Under the carbon fiber heavily-ducted bonnet rests a newly-designed 4.4-liter variant of its GT3 counterpart. The 32-valve aluminum V8 pushes out a restricted yet visceral 473 horsepower and 354lb-ft of torque, thanks to a pair of 29.4mm restrictors tucked behind the kidneys. The power is delivered to the rear wheels through a six-speed sequential manual gearbox, and delivered to the tarmac through a pair of 18×13 forged BBS monolug wheels. Up front, 18x11s hug the ground, shod in 300-680-18s. 310-710-18s wrap the rears, proudly displaying the new tire sponsor for team RLL. Dunlop has pulled from ALMS to focus on its European racing, and in its place, Michelin has moved in. However, the new tires come with a warm welcome.
To keep the tires planted, the Z4 GTE’s suspension is once again all-new. McPherson struts up front and wishbones front and rear provide the handling BMW is known for. AP Racing provides the stopping power once again, utilizing monobloc multi-piston light alloy brake calipers, inner-vented steel brake discs, and brake-balance adjustment available to the driver at any time, front and rear. Unlike the GT3, however, the GTE is not allowed any electronic driving aids, such as antilock brakes, stability, or traction control – a pivotal reason for much of the redesign. So how does the GTE stack up to the production model? At 4 inches lower, 6 inches longer, and as mentioned before, 8 inches wider thanks to the gargantuan fenders, the GTE fits more into the category of “muscular cousin” instead of “sister” to the road-going Z4 3.5iS. It’s also, staggeringly, 700lbs lighter, totaling 2744lbs, thanks to ACO stipulations.
To pilot the cars to victory, much of last year’s team is back. Bill Auberlen heads the list, embarking on his 17th year with BMW. Having driven BMWs in more races than any other driver in the world, Auberlen is as synonymous with BMW’s racing success as history’s greatest – Paired with Auberlen is newcomer Maxime Martin from Belgium. While young, Maxime’s success is nothing to balk at – and the pairing of the two is sure to bring trouble to BMW’s competitors. For the sister car, Dirk Müller is back, along with America’s own Joey Hand and the new team youngster, John Edwards. At just 21 years old, John already has several championship wins under his belt and is sure to be a solid addition to Team RLL. It will be interesting to watch as the newcomers and team veterans work together in their pairings to navigate the Z4 GTE duo around the ALMS courses.
With their new car in front of them, the drivers took some time to familiarize themselves with the cockpit where they’ll be spending countless hours in the coming months. Stories of lessons learned in the M3s were traded as they all looked over the Z4 in anticipation. Over the course of our trip, it was clear that an enthusiastic energy existed throughout the BMW Motorsport and Team RLL camps. It’s nearly time for them to get behind the wheel for another season of racing and they all hold high hopes for the races that lie ahead. In a team meeting, Auberlen expressed his enthusiasm for the coming season, “Every time a new car comes out, it renews hope. I didn’t need much more hope after the M3 because it seemed like it was ready to win everything, but whenever it comes to BMW and a new car, I think you’re going to see it on the victory podium and I’m very excited.”
After unveiling the car, Joey Hand took to the track for a quick, albeit short pair of laps for a brief demonstration, as the team was imited to just two laps at a time to avoid any penalties for “testing” the car. Dirk Müller is the only driver with serious seat time thus far – the Z4 GTE began as a mere blueprint only seven months ago. Developed in just six short weeks, the car was disassembled and shipped to Ohio where the Team RLL Headquarters resides. While car #55 was unveiled to the press, #56 is busy with testing in Spain. To add to the stress of preparing, the cars premiere at their first race in just a month.
The race? The 12 Hours of Sebring; one of racing’s most prestigious races and one of the three legs of the “Triple Crown of Endurance Racing” alongside the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona. The Z4 GTE will go head-to-head with last year’s champions, Corvette, as well as the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, and SRT’s Viper, and the grueling race will truly push the newborn GTE to its limit. With just one month to prepare, there’s no telling how the pint-sized BMW may fare. Rahal considers this season a “developmental” one, as it’s unlikely that the car won’t have some kinks to work out. However, after BMW’s 20-year hiatus from DTM, Bruno Spengler won the 2012 DTM Driver’s championship, allowing BMW to take home the Driver’s, Team, and Manufacturers Championship titles in the inaugural year of the M3 DTM. Perhaps similar early success isn’t too unrealistic; after all, while the GTE is all-new, the BMW has extensive practice and research under their belt regarding the Z4 has a whole.
With the M3 GTs sent off to to be little more than museum pieces, brought out for track days on rare occasions, it’s now time for the Z4 GTE to shine. It’s a mere 30 days until the pair of GTEs take on the 61st 12 Hours of Sebring, and with a bit of luck, perhaps we’ll see BMW take home yet another victory. Until then, we wish Team RLL the best in preparation and testing for the big day, and we hope to see some StanceWorks fans there as well.