BMW will enter next year’s LeMans 24 Hours with an all new sports racing car designed by Williams as part of a wider deal that will see the Munich marque align its BMW Motorsport arm closely with the F1 and Touring Car outfit.

The German manufacturer refused to give any further details about the sportscar programme, but Williams will not be involved when the car races, and will not have its name on the car. A commission has been given to the team to design and develop an open-top car, believed to be powered by a twin-turbo four-litre V8, that is likely to be run by BMW’s traditional motorsport partners, such as Schnitzer its representative in this year’s FIA GT Championship.

A spokeswoman said: ‘The car will definitely be a BMW, and it will be built by BMW Motorsport UK, which will be built up near the Williams factory.’

Next year. BMW will concentrate solely on Le Mans and perhaps some International Sports Racing Series races later in the year. But it appears that the company will not commit to a full programme in sportscar racing until it is sure about the long-term future of the category in terms of technical regulations and television coverage. BMW is known to want to stay in GT racing, where it is bankrolling the Schnitzer team’s assault on this year’s FIA GT series, and it is understood that Williams is designing the car so that it can be changed into a road-based GT1 contender for 1999.

There are understood to still be question marks over, whether the car will be ready to race at Le Mans next year. The design project is said by Williams to be only about six weeks old, although a wind tunnel model is nearing completion.

In November, Williams and BMW will assess the progress the car is making, before making a decision whether to push ahead for entry in 1998.

Links between BMW and McLaren, which uses works BMW engines in the FIA GT Championship and is also in charge of BMW’s motorsport development programme, will be severed at the end of this year. The Woking marque, however, claims it has made a proposal to update the McLaren-BMW Fl GTR for next year sources in the Schnitzer camp suggest an arm’s length campaign in next year’s FIA GT series with McLaren is on the cards.

Autosport – 13/9/97.