24 Hours of Le Mans – BMW's astonishing 1999 V12 LMR

24 Hours of Le Mans – BMW's astonishing 1999 V12 LMR

In 1999, BMW took on Toyota, Mercedes, Audi, Nissan and Panoz at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its V12 LMR, securing the German constructor's first overall win at the race.

In anticipation of BMW's return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2024 with the M Hybrid V8, here's a look back at the V12 LMR that claimed the top step on the podium for the manufacturer's first win in 1999. 

The Car

On the heels of a double retirement in 1998, BMW set out to adjust its strategy, naming former Formula 1 driver Gerhard Berger as the head of BMW Motorsport in charge of running two V12 LMRs entrusted to the Schnitzer team. This decision began paying off at the 12 Hours of Sebring that year with the V12 LMR driven by Tom Kristensen, JJ Lehto and Jorg Müller winning its first race. Ahead of the 24 Hours, the team conducted testing sessions at Monza and Silverstone. The tests continued the prototype's development, namely making it easier to drive. The V12 engine built in Munich developed 580 hp with a max 8,000 rpm, became more compact and 15 kg lighter, and its power and fuel consumption were improved.

The Race

The 67th 24 Hours is recognized as one of the most exciting in the history of the race thanks to a string of unexpected twists. Toyota, Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Nissan and Panoz took the start, all contenders for victory. 

Mercedes had a good early race until British driver Peter Dumbreck left the track in dramatic fashion at 20:47 in the second curve between the Mulsanne and Indianapolis corners. As the decision was made to withdraw the last CLR from the competition, the Nissan R391s, Audi R8Rs, R8Cs and Panoz LMP-1 Roadster Ss fell behind in performance, paving the way for a duel between BMW and Toyota. A flat tire for the #1 GT-One and an accident for the #2 handed the lead to the #17 V12 LMR. Then, despite an incident on Sunday morning at 11:55, the #15 shared by Yannick Dalmas, Joachim Winkelhock and Pierluigi Martini scored BMW's first win at Le Mans. Additionally, with this fourth victory for Dalmas, he matched the records of Olivier Gendebien and Henri Pescarolo.

BMW M Motorsport will finally return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the FIA WEC in 2024 with the BMW M Hybrid V8 Hypercar, one year after its first season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2023. First testing sessions have recently been carried out at the Varano de Melegari circuit in Italy.