"Today we welcome The Ultimate Driving Machine back to the ultimate professional sports car racing series - and we could not be more pleased," said Scott Atherton, president and CEO of the American Le Mans Series. "This announcement fulfills one of the 'predictions' that was referenced during my State of the Series address in September. This continues the string of positive announcements and builds upon the momentum that has been growing within the American Le Mans Series over the past year."
BMW represents a piece of the foundation on which the American Le Mans Series was built in 1999. An active member of the series both on and off the track, the marque has a rich history of GT racing with its M3 and M3 GTR, and also in prototype racing.
BMW will go down in series history as the winner of the first race in the history of the American Le Mans Series. JJ Lehto, Tom Kristensen and Jorg Muller piloted a BMW V12 LMR to victory in the 1999 Twelve Hours of Sebring. That same year, BMW became the first team from the American Le Mans Series to win the overall championship at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In all, BMW teams have won 15 times in the series - nine in GT2 and six in LMP1.
Some of the most recognizable names in sports car racing have driven for BMW: Lehto, Kristensen, Hans Stuck, Boris Said and Bill Auberlen, to name a few. Now five years after it last won in the American Le Mans Series, BMW is back.
"The American Le Mans Series represents authentic, world-class sports car racing that is a perfect fit for BMW's authentic, world-class road cars," Atherton said. "It has been a mutually frustrating separation, but with today's announcement we are all back together in the right place."
By returning to GT, BMW will renew its battle with fellow German manufacturer, Porsche, along with competing against the factory-supported Panoz Esperante effort of Multimatic Motorsports Team Panoz and other teams to come. For the first three years of the American Le Mans Series, Porsche and BMW went head-to-head for class honors. BMW won the 2001 GT manufacturers' championship, and BMW teams captured two of the first three team championships in class.
Team PTG will field two factory-backed BMW M3s in the 2006 American Le Mans Series' new GT2S class for sedan-style cars.
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For its return, Team PTG (Prototype Technology Group) will carry the BMW banner. Team PTG has a place in American Le Mans Series lore, having won the series' first GT team championship behind a stable of drivers including Stuck, Said, Johannes van Overbeek, Brian and Peter Cunningham, and Brian Simo.
"BMW of North America's racing operations, run by Tom Milner's Prototype Technology Group, is a textbook example of the type of program the American Le Mans Series is all about," Atherton said. "They represent the addition of another very professional team with manufacturer support behind them and top level drivers."
"In 2006, BMW fans will see more M3s racing in professional sports car championships than ever before," said Larry Koch, M Brand Manager for BMW of North America, LLC. "With BMW Team PTG ensuring that 'the car is the star' in the American Le Mans Series . we are anticipating another stellar racing season."
Team PTG, BMW's primary U.S. motorsports research and development team for the manufacturer's M3 model, will go down in history again in 2006. The two-car effort will be the first of what is expected to be many entrants in the new GT2S class, a subcategory of GT2. Created by IMSA to encourage passenger car participation for sedan-style cars, all GT2S teams will compete for GT2 points and podium positions in the American Le Mans Series, but they will not be eligible for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
BMW and Team PTG will receive tire support from long-time partner Yokohama for the 2006 American Le Mans Series season.
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"This is a historic occasion for everyone at the American Le Mans Series and IMSA," said Tim Mayer, IMSA's COO. "Expanding our grid and increasing the level of competition in our fields is one of our primary goals. It doesn't get much better than bringing back BMW and Team PTG to our series in this capacity."
As was the case in the early days of the series, Yokohama will be the tire supplier for BMW and Team PTG. It was a partnership that worked extremely well in the past.
"We are very excited to renew our motorsports relationship with BMW in the American Le Mans Series," said Robert Dole, Yokohama Product Promotions Manager. "Using the ADVAN race tire, we look forward to building on our past successes with BMW/Team PTG and once again giving the loyal BMW fans something to cheer about in ALMS competition."
All three will return as a team at the American Le Mans Series' Wheels Down Winter Test Days at Sebring International Raceway on Jan. 23-25.
"Along with their long-time partner, Yokohama, we are confident BMW will pick up where they left off with their cars challenging for the GT2 podium at all our events," Atherton said.
For the past two seasons, Team PTG has competed in the Rolex Series' GT class, reeling off 17 victories in 26 events and winning the 2004 manufacturer's championship. That series' decision to allow tube-framed GT chassis with a bolt-on body didn't meet the mindset of BMW to directly market its wares.
Instead, the marque opted for the American Le Mans Series, the only form of motorsport in the world that promotes diversity and imagination among its entries.
"Over the past few months we have announced new teams, new manufacturers, new sponsors, new events in important markets and the best overall television package in American Le Mans Series history," Atherton said. "BMW has recognized all of this and has again embraced the American Le Mans Series as the best fit for its business plan. BMW rejoins the host of other premium brands that have been actively benefiting from the unmatched ROI and genuine sports car competition the American Le Mans Series provides."
BMW's reach is a global one. Because it sells cars all over the world, it has developed one of the largest followings in the world from car owners. BMW will be one of many manufacturers to hold car corrals at American Le Mans Series events in 2006. Owners and fans were the most active group the series saw when BMW competed in the American Le Mans Series, and its return to the series will only strengthen that following.
"The biggest winners today are BMW fans. They have missed the American Le Mans Series and we have missed them," Atherton said. "We received more emails and letters from frustrated BMW fans than all other owners groups combined. But today we put everyone back where they have always wanted to be. We couldn't be happier about this news and I know BMW fans feel the same way."
- From ALMS