** Update - Friday June 11th **
This year, BMW faces the challenge of Le Mans (FR) for the first time since its victory there in 1999. For Mario Theissen, the 24-hour race eleven years ago was the first major assignment as BMW Motorsport Director. For that reason, the triumph with the BMW V12 LMR remains very important for him, as Theissen reveals in this interview.
Mr Theissen, how has Le Mans changed since 1999?
Mario Theissen: "It goes without saying that the Le Mans 24 Hours has developed significantly in the past few years. The ACO has managed to implement new ideas, while still preserving the unique atmosphere at this event. When you see how many fans are here at the circuit on Friday, although no driving actually takes place, it just shows the appeal of the Le Mans 24 Hours. That was the case when we won with the BMW V12 LMR in 1999, and it remains so today."
How has the race weekend gone so far for BMW?
Theissen: "First we need to consider that we are not running the same car here that won at the Nürburgring. Due to the regulations we had to do several modifications to the BMW M3 GT2. Therefore we are still lacking experience with the car in this specification and had to use the practice and qualifying sessions as tests. On Wednesday we were significantly behind the leaders in the LM GT2 class. After this, our team worked intensively on the set-up of the two BMW M3 GT2 cars and made a lot of changes, which have paid off. Furthermore, our drivers are feeling more and more at home. Three of them have never raced in Le Mans before. Our learning curve is a steep one. We are confident that we will be competitive in the race."
Who is the toughest rival in the LM GT2 category?
Theissen: "This class is extraordinarily strong. Whether Porsche, Ferrari or Corvette: there are many candidates who have the potential to win this race. The priority for all the cars is first and foremost to last the full 24 hours. There are bound to be incidents - and it is important not to be involved when they occur. For us, a podium position would definitely be a great success. After all, this is our first appearance in Le Mans for a long time."
Are you pleased that the BMW Art Car is so well received by the fans?
Theissen: "Yes, but I am not surprised. BMW Art Cars have a long tradition in Le Mans. The motorsport-mad spectators remember this well. Furthermore, Jeff Koons' design has been sensationally successful and is very well suited to the dynamic image of the BMW M3 GT2. Everyone finds this combination of racing and art fascinating."