From its very inception, motorsport has existed as a means for manufacturers to 'improve the breed.' Competition inspires innovation, and certainly the racetrack has served as a testing bed—almost as old as the car itself—for new technology. From exotics like Porsche and Ferrari down to the more humble brands like Honda and Toyota, racing has promoted advances in safety, improvements in efficiency, increased reliability, and crisper driving dynamics.
With all of the benefits associated with auto racing, it comes as no surprise that makers of fine competition cars happen to produce some of the best road cars available. For well over a century, manufacturers have tested their designs against the rigors of the racetrack and walked away with the experience and wisdom necessary to create superior vehicles for everyday use. But while many exotic carmakers have had luck applying their experience with successful race cars to the production of capable road cars, BMW seemed to have the recipe backwards when the company debuted its prototype racing sports car for 1999, the V12 LMR.
BMW has built plenty of important racing cars in the past, but the company's real success has long lay in its versatile lineup of excellent road cars. For small producers of sporting automobiles, racing can be a convenient research and development tool. But with some of the world's best engineers already on its payroll, BMW hardly needed additional R&D for its street cars when the V12 LMR first appeared. So BMW, instead of using the racetrack to develop a road warrior based on racing technology, essentially just transferred a healthy chunk of its road car-making profits into developing a racing machine that was quick, competent, and competitive from its first outing.
And competent might be an understatement in this case: the V12 LMR, in its starting season, earned BMW its first (and so far last) outright victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Powered by a production-derived S70 V12 displacing just south of six liters, the racer proved instantly effective. It was short-lived, lasting only for the 1999 and 2000 seasons (and only finding success in 1999). The V12 LMR, though, which was co-developed with British racing specialist Williams, showed how successfully BMW could campaign a prototype sports car before the German marque and its British racing partner focused their attention on F1 starting in 2000.
Already a well-respected carmaker, BMW didn't have much to prove by focusing so much attention on a Le Mans victory. The company did face an unsuccessful season in 1998, though, and the brand understandably felt compelled to save its racing reputation for the 1999 season.
The problems in 1998 stemmed from the underdevelopment of the V12 LMR's predecessor, the V12 LM. This car, produced under the aforementioned BMW-Williams partnership, could have been a fairly competitive design had it not run into reliability issues early on. BMW subsequently withdrew the V12 LM from racing in order to hunker down and focus time on redeveloping the car for the 1999 season.
When the V12 LMR showed up in 1999, BMW had gotten it right. With the kinks of the original LM design ironed out, the LMR was a fine and fast machine. From its V12 engine to its six-speed sequential gearbox to its carbon fiber body, the LMR was largely ordinary for its class but nevertheless very well done. And it did incorporate one influential new feature: a single roll-over hoop. This tidy solution to the problem of bulky roll-over protection allowed the LMR's rear aerodynamic aids to function more effectively. This new design quickly became the norm on prototype Le Mans racers, until FIA regulations banned it in 2006.
By 2000, the V12 LMR was already outclassed (thanks largely to Audi). BMW decided to focus its attention elsewhere instead of trying to make a habit of conquering Le Mans. The V12 LMR, though, was far from a dead end. Instead, it simply added another impressive accolade to BMW's endless trophy shelf. BMW may always be best known to the public for road cars like the M3 and M5, but few companies have achieved victory in such multifaceted racing endeavors as BMW. It takes a very special carmaker to win the Mille Miglia in 1940 and then, almost sixty years later, prove its worth yet again with a victory at Le Mans.
Fuller, Michael J. '1999-2000 BMW LMR.' Mulsanne's Corner. 2000: n. page. Print.
Melissen, Wouter. '1999 BMW V12 LMR.'Ultimatecarpage.com. 19 Oct 2009: n. page. Print.
MONTEREY, Calif., July 19, 2016 —This years Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion celebrates the distinguished racing history and centennial of BMW with a full array of racing machines and personalities...