Race to road: The BMW 8 Series has a direct connect to motorsport
It isn’t often that the launch of a racecar precedes the one for its road-going equivalent, after all it's the latter that is going to generate profits. With companies like Ferrari, you do expect this. After all, it is their motorsport heritage that is helping them sell cars, but if you think about it BMW’s motorsport history is no less illustrious. BMW won the 1983 Formula 1 world championship, with none other than Nelson Piquet at the wheel! They’ve also won the Paris-Dakar rally on two-wheels multiple times and took an iconic victory at the 1999 24 hours of Le Mans with the V12 LMR. They have found success in the prestigious DTM series too, clinching a historic top-seven lockout at Zandvoort in 2015. Small wonder then that the ‘M’ stands for Motorsport, in their line of fast vehicles. However, the M8 GTE was the first race car in the company’s history to hit the track before its production counterpart, the 8 Series, and you can certainly spot the racecar DNA lurking.
“We normally develop cars for the road and then get these ready for the racetrack. The BMW 8 Series represents the first time that we have approached this in a different way: We developed the car and competed successfully in races with it,” said Klaus Fröhlich, ex-head of research & development, BMW. “We have used this experience for the road version. From the racetrack to the road – you feel that every second.”
The M8 GTE was an important car for BMW. At the time, their premier race car was loosely based on the 6 Series, but was not raced in Le Mans and wasn’t particularly successful in other competitions either. With the M8 GTE, BMW Motorsport’s engineers had the unique opportunity to build a racecar from the ground up and then translate that onto the road, not the other way around.
The M8 GTE is powered by the “most efficient BMW Motorsport racing engine ever”. It uses a V8 with BMW’s TwinPower Turbo technology and is loosely based on the engine from the current generation M5. The M8 GTE’s engine produced between 500 and 600 horses depending on the competition it is entered into. The capacity has been reduced from 4.4-litres to 4-litres to meet GTE regulations. While power is one thing, it is also important to have an engine that is reliable and the M8 GTE’s success in the endurance races has shown that it is.
Naturally, this being a racecar there is a pretty aggressive aero package all around and utmost priority is given to maximising performance, which means absolutely no luxuries and no wastage of any space on the car. The headlight on the M8 GTE have been designed specifically for the racecar and it was the first time the company had made bespoke headlights for a racecar, instead of strengthening and lightening ones from series production cars.
The M8 GTE was quick to show its pace when it was launched, getting a podium at the 12 hours of Sebring, qualifying in the top 5 on their WEC debut and finished at the same spot and also got another podium shortly after in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Mid-Ohio. Since then, the M8 has been a very competitive car overall. BMW also made their return to Le Mans in 2018 with M8 GTE, finishing 12th in their category and 33rd overall, not a great result but they still managed to finish ahead of some top-flight LMGTE Pro teams. That race is where the production ready BMW 8 Series Coupe was shown to the public for the first time!
“The BMW M8 and the BMW M8 GTE were developed in parallel, and these racing genes distinguish the BMW M8 models in all areas,” said Markus Flasch, President of BMW M GmbH. The aerodynamics, chassis and powertrain, and their interaction, have all been honed from experience gained on the racetrack. The M8 uses a 4.4-litre V8 twin-turbocharged petrol engine, producing 616bhp and 750Nm of torque. This is mated to 8-speed M Steptronic transmission. While the powertrain isn’t nearly as complex as the one in the GTE, it definitely packs a punch.
Since the production 8 Series’ true purpose is to be a comfortable grand tourer and not an endurance race winning thoroughbred, it gets a (much) more luxurious interior. There’s exquisite materials everywhere, the dash is covered in leather and the switchgear gets a lovely metallic finish. You can even get a glass gear lever!
Same, same but different?
Endurance racing teaches one a lot of things. Engineering, handling, weight distribution and of course, reliability. The learnings from the M8 GTE play a big role in shaping the 8 Series lineup. Sure, the 8 Series doesn’t get the massive wing that sits on the back of the GTE racer but you don’t need that kind of downforce on the road, it’s actually detrimental to acceleration, top speed, efficiency and it just looks vulgar on a road car as elegant as the 8 Series. However, all cast parts in the M8’s engine block and cylinder head are directly used in the race car. While the headlights are bespoke units, the taillights on the M8 GTE are taken straight out of the series production model. But the 8 Series lineup doesn’t need to make the compromises the M8 GTE does, it doesn’t need to extract maximum power from every drop of fuel that goes into the engine, or shave every kilo of weight.
So, while the DNA of the 8 Series and the M8 certainly come from the racetrack, that’s not to say these are out and out track focused supercars. The 8 Series especially has been designed to be a long distance cruiser and will not have the edginess of the M8 GTE racecar, which is a good thing. Instead of being a racecar for the road, the 8 Series uses its motorsport heritage for breakthrough technologies in terms of the powertrain, nifty aerodynamics and reliability. If it can take the intense stress of a 24 hour race, it can definitely handle a spirited drive up a mountain road.