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BMW’s M1, The Thoroughbred Racer from the late 70’s: Group 5 & Le Mans

Submitted by on December 16, 2020

By Marcel Hundscheid / Speed-O-Graphica

In our fifth episode on the iconic BMW M1 we focus on participation in Group 5 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

1980 would be the final year of the popular Procar series, with BMW opening the season by announcing their intention to participate in Formula One. The German marque would act as an engine supplier for Brabham, so BMW Motorsport started to focus on the development of new F1 engines rather than the Procar series.

BMW had met the official requirements governed by FISA to build 400 M1s and the car was finally homologated for Group 4 on December 1st 1980. This allowed BMW to enter the Championship for Makes in 1981, but BMW’s plans to enter Group 5 had vanished as the company shifted towards F1. BMW built only two cars for the famous Group 5 category and with their attention turned firmly towards Formula 1, the Procar series were not held in 1981.

The available M1s were sold to customers for use both in the World Championship as well as the small but famous Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft. Participation in the DRM championship was only possible through special dispensation from the German national motorsport commission. It soon turned out that the M1 couldn’t compete with the much more powerful Porsche 934s and 935s.

Besides racing in the World Championship and the German DRM championship,  M1s were entered at the 24 hours of Le Mans. In 1979 Hervé Poulain, Marcel Mignot and Manfred Winkelhock finished sixth in the IMSA class in an M1 painted by artist Andy Warhol.

BMW also had plans to enter a Group 5 M1 at Le Mans through a joint project with March. BMW used a turbocharged six cylinder engine for the Turbo 3.0 CSL Coupé developed by Josef Schnitzer for use in Group 5. On paper, the Group 5 spec M1 looked very promising to compete against the mighty Porsche 935, but as it had taken the car until 1981 to be homologated to race and the Group 5 regulations were becoming obsolete, it was all to late.

The only Group 5 M1s were built by Swiss team Sauber. They were built from scratch and made with a light weight, fully adjustable tube frame chassis and aerodynamics. One of the two cars was run by GS Racing in the distinctive BASF-livery, driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck and Nelson Piquet. The second car was run by Sauber themselves painted in the blue and green Würth colours and driven by Marc Surer and Dieter Quester.

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