The Road to Le Mans

Le Mans, France 1998. The pair of Williams designed BMW V12 Le Mans sports prototype racers take the start of the 66th running of the classic endurance race. Their time in the race was to be short-lived but a year before the car was just an idea in a designers mind.

This is the diary of the LM V12’s road to Le Mans.

10th July 1997

1st May 1997
Rumours suggest that possible engine supplier BMW are looking to Williams to run their GT team. A move that has been denied by both Williams and BMW.
17th June 1997
Williams are looking to expand their Grove headquarters creating 100 new jobs in the process. The reason given is a new joint venture between Williams and an international motor manufacturer, although Williams have declined to name the manufacturer. An application is currently with the local council who say they have received no letters of objection to the proposals. Williams stated the extension was for “developing their racing programme”. Speculation is that BMW are the partner and together they will develop a car for the GT championship.
Rumours that Williams will run a BMW GT team have been strengthened by the news that Williams have requested a copy of the new International Sports Racing Series for prototypes rule from the FIA.
12th September 1997
Details have emerged about the long rumoured Williams/BMW GT project. Williams will design and develop an open-top car to run in next year’s Le Mans. Williams will not, however, run a team, nor will they have their name on the car. Work is under way and the project is to be run from the old F1 factory in Didcot.
September 1997
Work on the LM V12 has begun under the direction of John Russell. Russell was previously the designer of Williams’ British Touring Car Championship winning Renault Lagunas and before that
Damon Hill’s race engineer.
10th January 1998
Work has begun behind the Williams F1 factory on the building that BMW Motorsport will occupy for their attack on this year’s Le Mans. Work is currently progressing at the old factory in Didcot
29th January 1998
BMW have finally announced their intention to attack this years Le Mans at an Official launch for Williams-BMW project. Something that for so long has been rumoured is now finally out in the open and could this be what it looks like?
2nd April 1998
The Williams designed and built Le Mans challenger has tested for the first time in secret at Abingdon airfield just up the road from Grove. The car should get its first circuit test next week.
9th April 1998
The LM V12, with which BMW will contest this year’s Le Mans, finally got a circuit test today. The second car won’t hit the tracks until just two weeks before pre-qualifying.
5th May 1998
Both of the Williams designed BMW LM V12 cars have come through pre-qualifying for this year’s Le Mans race. Entered in the prototypes (LMP1) section both cars came second to a Ferrari 333SP, hopefully not a taste of what’s to come in the race!
27th May 1998
The Le Mans car designed and developed by Williams for new Motorsport partner BMW has continued to test in the run up to the race. After two 1000km+ runs Steve Soper commented: “We put a lot of miles on the car without encountering any major problems. If you look at the times, we are now on the pace with the GT1 cars (Porsche was at Ricard with BMW), but we won’t know for certain where we are until we get to Le Mans next month. “Everyone is a little more relaxed we’re going to Le Mans with a little more confidence than we did last time (for pre-qualifying) when the cars were so new.”
6th June 1998
After performing well at the start of the race and leading their class, both the Williams designed BMW LMV12 cars are out of the race on safety grounds.

Postscript

This is not the end of the road for the LM V12. BMW have vowed to return to Le Mans next year to finish what they have started. To achieve this the cars have been out testing in July 1998. Watch this space…