BMW Motorsport Boss Dr. Theissen interviewed by BMW Blog

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BMW Blog got the chance to have an exclusive 10 minute interview with BMW Motorsport Boss Dr. Mario Theissen on the 2010 Petit Le Mans race day. In this interview, Dr. Theissen talks about the American Le Mans Series, customer cars for endurance races in Europe, the World Touring Car Championship and now DTM and the MINI-Prodrive WRC effort.

Andrew Murphy(AM): You are, in a sense, the CEO of BMW Motorsport, and have a lot of important decisions coming up with BMW moving toward production series racing after leaving Formula One. Obviously, the M3 GT programs and the WTCC have been successful – from your perspective, how are things progressing?

Mario Theissen(MT): Well, when the decision came to pull out of F1, we first had to look what was immediately available to us.  Luckily, we had just started the ALMS involvement and the board decision to pull out of F1 included the focus on production car racing and focusing on the M3 as the M3 it is the icon of the M brand.  So that is what we wanted to do and we had the right car with the M3 GT2, so it was an easy decision to expand on this program and continue here in the U.S., and run a parallel program in Europe, including the big 24 hour races.

So, that was an easy decision, but then we had to think about the immediate future and long-term future, and based on the M3, the discussion of DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) came up. So far, we’ve also rejected the idea of re-entering DTM for mainly one reason: it is mainly a German or European series with cars that cannot run anywhere else. Our production car philosophy has always been to design develop a car that can be raced by a works team or customer teams in series’ worldwide.

Our request to DTM was that if you can achieve (with the regulations) that these cars are eligible in other series, then we are onboard. So that’s what is currently happening. DTM is in talks with Japanese Super GT and American racing organizers as well, and it looks quite promising that the future DTM cars of 2012 can be raced in Asia and America as well.  This is the basis for us to decide on such a program. The final decision hasn’t be made yet, but I expect it soon and for it to be positive. If that goes on, we have a very strong program for the future and we will have to design and develop the car – which we have already started and this would be the core pillar of our racing in the future covering many markets and positioning the M3 for what it is – the ultimate sports car from BMW.

Apart from that, we have always supported touring car racing and the original form was tin-top cars and we are going to continue to do this. No decision has been made on the future works entry for WTCC, but we have decided to make cars and powertrains available for the European regulations next year and we have offered very attractive packages to our customer teams already to re-fit the original 320Si with the future powertrain.

AM: And that’s the 4 cylinder, turbocharged 1.6 liter  engine?

MT: Yes, the 4 cylinder DI (direct injection) turbo and it will be available for our current teams early next year so that they’ll be available to enter the first round of the WTCC next season. And then step-by-step we will be able to supply other customers as well.

So this takes us to the MINI program because the MINI WRC will use the same power plant.  This makes it very efficient for us and makes a lot of sense to develop such an engine.

The MINI program itself is run by Prodrive, a turnkey operation. We just supply the engine, the rest is done by Prodrive. Design and development and race operations are carried out by Prodrive.

AM: So will we see much factory support for WRC besides just the engine?

MT: Well, the program is fully factory-funded. It’s just that rallying will always be something special and not part of the core racing program of BMW Motorsport, so it doesn’t make sense to build up all of the experience it takes (to compete) in-house, so Prodrive is a contractor who runs the program on behalf of MINI, but it’s a works program.

AM: Well, one thing you hit upon was with regard to engine develop and trying to build a pillar or anchor around motorsport. With the worldwide credit crunch being felt by everyone, I’m sure even BMW Motorsport have felt the impact of decreased value of the Euro and Dollar. Have you retooled your approach to engine development? Are you possibly only using two or three engine platforms you’re working with to homologate across a number of different series?

MT: No, basically, there is no shift in mindset – we’ve always taken this approach but just in different levels.  For example, in Formula One, the engine development piece was very expensive and technology-oriented. You had to come up with something new at every other race. But even in F1, things have slowed down and they’ve frozen the engines – which must be used at four races. So, even their costs have come down.

It’s always been our idea to have engines that can be used in various racing programs and that hasn’t changed. It is certainly due to the economic pressures on everyone. Also, everyone in racing is looking after their costs more than they used to, and many series are struggling and drivers find themselves without rides. However, I hope this will all be over quite soon. I think the toughest year has been last year. This year we’ve seen a slight recovery and we will see a more healthy environment.

AM: How do you feel BMW RLR have done this year? It seems that last year was a teething season, but this year they’ve rocketed forward and shown extreme progress.

MT: Bobby (Rahal) and I talked about it yesterday and if you compare the 2009 12 Hours of Sebring to where we are here (Road Atlanta), it’s a huge difference. I’m really proud of the team and what they’ve done! We also have a very good cooperation with RLR on this side of the ocean and BMW in Munich and the Schnitzer team, and we are pushing each other; the car has gotten better and better and more reliable and I’m really confident about the future.

AM: With BMW and Motorsport, they’ve always gone hand-in-hand and it’s been a piece of the brand image of BMW for the last 30 to 40 years. With that, BMW M division has always held ties to the Motorsport division, especially with the E30 M3 being so successful in touring car series’. What sort of cooperation has there been between BMW Motorsport and BMW M Division?

MT: Well, it’s always been a good cooperation but not always a close cooperation.  When we were in F1 apparently there was not much to take over! (Laughs)

But with production car racing and the M3 as a core product we apparently have tied together again much more closely and there will be a closer link to Motorsport and BMW M in the future.

Source: BMW Blog