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BMW’s SIX SHOOTER

First published in Auto Action #1689 July 21 2016

With its 2016 M6 GT3 racer BMW is back in the business of making fast factory Coupes. Auto Action lifts the covers on Steven Richards’s latest beast

There are, surely, few things in motor racing more evocative than the sight of a BMW coupe at full speed on any of the world’s great racetracks.

In the long line of Bavarian thoroughbreds there have been some stunning racers. What is more impressive than the sight of Hans Stuck with plenty of air between his 3.0 CSL and the Nurburgring in 1974? A 635CSI in ‘Motorsport’ colours – or JPS gold-on-black? Jo Winkelhock flat-out in an M3?

The latest incarnation of Munich’s racing finest is the M6 GTR. The car, which made its first public appearance at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September, marks the return of the 6-Series to racing after an absence of 24 years.

Fittingly, three decades after Jim Richards put the BMW on the top step of the 1985 Australian Touring Car Championship, Steven Richards has brought the brand back to the forefront of local racing in the Australian GT Championship. Together with co-driver Max Twigg, and along with the second MARC entry of Morgan Haber and Jake

Camilleri, the four-time Bathurst winner is getting up to speed with the car, which is already making its presence felt in GT racing right around the world.

Of course, in between the have been a litany of other BMWs, like various incarnations of the M3 and the Z4, which for five years carried BMW’s brand in international racing – not to mention victories in Formula 1 and at Le Mans. And now, after something on a toe-in-der-wasser exercise racing a GT3 version of the Z4, BMW is back, properly, in GT racing with the M6.

In some ways, the M6 GT3 and Z4 GT3 are opposites. The older car, which made its track debut in mid-2010, was based on the E89 coupe, which was never really designed with a racing version in mind, so much so that the track version had a V8 (borrowed from the M3 GTR) in place of the production version’s straight six. The M6 (BMW’s designation for the coupe version is F13; the convertible version is F12) also gives the company a better opportunity to draw a direct link between its racing and production cars; there is, for example, no ‘M’ version of the Z4.

Even so, the Z4 racer was competitive, up to a point. It was no horsepower monster but at 1190kg, it was relatively light, and best suited to races tighter and twisty circuits. One international team owner looked at bringing his Z4s to Bathurst for the 12 Hour but was not confident that the car would have the torque to be competitive on the Mountain. It was somewhat ironic then that prior to being pensioned off, the Z4’s last big international win came with Marc VDS Racing in last year’s Spa 24 Hour race…
Not so the M6.

 

“The Z4 has a lot more road car-based components on it than the M6,” says Richards, “but you have to remember that GT3 is a parity based category and in a technical sense the Z4 should be competitive against the M6. But the reality is, with aerodynamic evolution and tyre wear and tyre management and electronics getting better each time, it might not be any faster for a pro driver to drive – but definitely, for an amateur guy, the M6 is a little easier to drive.

“I have driven in the GT Championship in the past couple of years, sharing in a Lamborghini with M Motorsport and 12Hour and stuff like that. This car is like all of the 2015/16 cars, they are all ‘next generation cars’ so they’re the next level. The M6 is in that category, so it’s more a purpose-built, bespoke racecar rather than a road car made to go racing. The evolution of this car will be around for five years so there’s plenty of scope to manage and change and evolve the car.

As you would expect from a factory-built racer the specs are mouth-watering, but even if the M6 costs more than its Z4 predecessor (379,000 euros, compared to 298,000 for the Z4) it has been designed to be run much more economically. BMW Motorsport deliberately built long-life components to keep running costs at a minimum, even in teams running in ‘sprint’ races.

BMW Motorsport built 20 of the cars prior to the start of the season (which means that Australia has 10 percent of the fleet). More will be built in coming seasons if the demand is there.

Regulations dictate the GT3 makes ‘only’ 577bhp in its most powerful state. So it’s slightly down on power when compared to a road-going ‘Competition’ packaged M6.
Richards says that the running costs are quite low.

“As an example, the engine is straight out of the BMW family, in terms of being in the M6 or the M5, or the X5M or the X6M engine. It’s essentially the M spec road car engine, detuned back in a tune that enables it to do 24 Hour races. In terms of costs, you’re talking an engine change after the 10,000 kilometres. You could do an Australian GT Championship and two-to-three 12 Hour events on one engine.

“You send the engine back to Germany and they run an exchange program and it essentially costs you $33,000 Australian dollars for a new engine.

“The V8 Supercar scenario, the way it currently runs, you cannot run your car with one engine because the turnaround times between race meetings and the fact that you need a spare engine in your stock means that it is a $110,000 investment, it’s a $220,000 investment. So it’s chalk and cheese.

“Literally, so far, touch wood, we haven’t had any dramas with the engine. We basically change the oil after every round and that’s it. That’s as far as our engine maintenance goes.

“The brakes, the driveline components, gearbox and the way they’ve designed it, we won’t see any 80,000 euro upgrades to widen the track or widen the body or improve aerodynamics. That’s not an issue. So BMW have made this car to technically be what it is for a five-year period. Of course there might be some small updates over time but nothing like we have seen before.

“We have done two test days at the start of the year which were really shakedown days, a test day at Phillip Island, we have done the first of the endurance events at Phillip Island, Melbourne Grand Prix, Clipsal 500, Barbagallo sprint round and we’re onto our third set of brake rotors this weekend and our second set of brake pads. But a front brake is 450 euros – $900 – a disc rotor and you get value out of the mileage of them. A clutch is $2500.

“Sure, like a front splitter is very expensive. That’s $8500 but you’ve got to have a big crash to wreck that front splitter. You’ve got steel skid plates on it so; in terms of wear… it doesn’t wear. The front bonnet, it’s all carbon, that’s upwards of $8500.

“Some bits more expensive, some are cheaper. If you don’t crash the car, then you’ll get really good mileage out of everything but if you crash it will cost you…

“Let’s be mindful that V8s do a lot more testing, they do a lot more, probably a lot more mileage over a weekend than what we do if you count all of their mileage, but that’s the way it’s designed to be. [So] sure, the [GT3] cars cost a reasonable amount to start with. Then after that, you run it at a similar cost to a Carrera Cup car, which is great.”
Of course, three decades ago Steve was watching his father Jim take BMW to an Australian Touring Car title. The ‘Circle of Life’ metaphor is not lost on Richo Jr.

“It’s a nice synergy to have. When we approached BMW on this, it was definitely part of the process was re-engaging the family heritage with BMW and the success that it’s had.

“At the moment BMW in Australia, their M supported brand’s share of the market is second only to the US, in terms of numbers per capita. It’s a very important part of the culture of BMW in Australia and they want to be able to use the M6 as the platform to generate more passion for that brand that sits within the realms of the car, so it’s great for everyone.”
And, we could not end the conversation without asking, has Jim asked for a drive of the M6?
“He hasn’t yet!,” Richards smiles.

“But we’ll definitely get him in the car at some point. I’ve discussed that with him because I think he would really enjoy it. He hasn’t a paddle-shift car before…”