1981 BMW M1M1 Groupe 5 Le Mans
- Prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours history
- Famous M1 in VSD colours
- Ultra-powerful and indisputable authenticity
- 16th in the 1981 Le Mans 24 Hour Race (Darniche, Cecotto, Alliot)
To drive a serious GT car during the 1980s, was a technicolour dream. Particularly a BMW M1, with its mid-engined set-up, that had taken much from the prototype. This example, prepared by Oreca for BMW France, participated twice in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race.
The M1 appeared in 1978 with a mission : versatility. And an adversary : the Porsche 911. In the road-going version, the new berlinetta had it all. Beauty (designed by Giugiaro), everyday driveability and a radical concept, with a structure that complied with the most stringent rules of racing : fibreglass shell, steel platform with integrated roll-cage, suspension with rear subframe, and double wishbones and longitudinal mid-positioned engine. The engine, quite rightly, was BMW's talisman, a straight-six that " in civilian mode " had already raised the marque's profile in the sports saloon and upper end of the market - a market where it would now stay put. A racing programme was planned from the start. In fact this was the first model designed with the direct involvement of the Motorsport department, as the name indicates. For BMW, the M1 was to be the start of something ....
The marque was unlucky with the timing for the all-important launch which took place in a difficult international context during the first oil crisis and the introduction of general speed limits. Just 455 examples of the M1 were built, road and race cars together. While this was felt to be a failure at the time, it has become a guarantee of exclusivity today - something the highly successful 911 could never promise. This was a period of great upheaval in GT racing, with the FIA wanting to remove prototypes from the grid in order to maintain control of the spiralling performances. This was done by requiring manufacturers to build competition cars that were derived directly from the production models. In 1979, an official M1 took part in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. The body, painted by Andy Warhol, was perfect publicity ! But that was not all - the car put in a first class performance that demonstrated the potential of an M1 at Le Mans : sixth overall.
The M1 n°94301059 that we are concerned with today competed in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in 1981, a joint entry by BMW France and BMW Italia. This didn't rule out the support of sponsors : the magazine VSD added its rainbow colours, along with those of Total and the jean company Lois (whose logo, a bull, hinted at Lamborghini's involvement in the M1 project, at the prototype stage).
The Group 5 version had more or less the same power as the Group 4 car (470 bhp), but with further modifications to the bodywork. Oreca extensively redesigned the aerodynamics of the car, improving the Cd and the downforce. With the gear ratios set up for Le Mans, the car was capable of 315 km/h and 1 to 100 km/h in 4 seconds. The chassis was also refined with wider settings . The driver could stiffen the anti-roll bars.
The team consisted of three talented drivers :
Bernard Darniche, who was born to race, which he did, in rear-engined cars, NSU then Alpine. He was also a rally champion in all kinds of mid-engined cars, having particular success for Lancia France with the blue Stratos, a four-time champion. He was no stranger to the Le Mans 24 Hour Race either, having competed five times in a Corvette, in the Rondeau prototype and in a Lancia Monte-Carlo. So a " luxury drive " in the " VSD " M1 couldn't be turned down.
The Venezuelien Johnny Cecotto was also a top-level driver. Motorcycling World Champion in 1975 (350 class, ahead of Giacomo Agostini) and 1978 (Formula 750, ahead of Kenny Roberts), he then switched to four wheels. Cecotto began on the same path as John Surtees and Mike Hailwood, with a flamboyant season in F2, in a BMW-engined March, and an outstanding stint in F1 that was interrupted by an accident.
For Philippe Alliot, this participation in the BMW n°51, was his baptism. It was Hughes de Chaunac, the boss of Oreca and the M1 preparer who demanded his presence. Alliot went on to become a regular competitor in the 24 Hour race, finishing third on three occasions.
After 277 laps (so many times on the Mulsanne Straight !), the M1 VSD finished 16th overall and 5th in Group 5, having not made an impact on the monstrous turbo-charged 935s.
N°94301059 took part in this great event again the following year, with a Franco-Italian team of private drivers. The M1 finished the race a second time, confirming the outstanding reliability of the car and its preparation by Oreca. Despite an off at
Ford corner a few laps before the end, it was classified 18th overall and 3rd in Group 5. A great podium finish for this trio of gentleman drivers. A performance waiting to be reproduced in historic racing, starting at Le Mans Classic.
The machine was completely restored (an impressive file comes with the car), to compete in the 2012 edition of this most famous historic race. Its war paint was reapplied, rediscovering its rainbow colours from 1981. Driven primarily by its owner, the car finished the race in 33rd position, the mid-point of 66 cars. All the car's admirers are hoping that its new owner will be there for the 2016 event, aiming even higher !