More than just marketing

Racing has been part of BMW’s DNA since the beginning, says Jens Marquardt. At Daytona, we talked to the BMW Motorsport Director about synergies with M, the prospect of a BMW supercar and how turning cars like the M6 into the M6 GT builds better BMWs.

More than just marketing 1
April 10, 2015

Speak with BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt for even a moment and his passion for racing will be palpable. So, too, his expertise: After earning a degree in aerospace engineering, Marquardt went to work for Ilmor Engineering in 1996, developing Formula One and CART engines. He joined Toyota’s racing engine department in 2000, then became the Japanese company’s F1 team manager in 2008. He remained with Toyota after its exit from F1 in 2009, but in 2011 moved to BMW, replacing Dr. Mario Theissen as Motorsport Director. Since then, he’s guided BMW back to DTM racing, where the marque made an astonishing sweep of all three titles—driver, team and manufacturer—in its debut season. In the two seasons hence, BMW has taken three more titles, a remarkable record.

Marquardt’s tenure has also seen BMW race with considerable success in endurance series like Europe’s VLN and the World Endurance Championship. The marque continues to compete in the U.S.’s premiere sports car series, the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, and to support privateers in Continental Challenge.

We met with Marquardt at Daytona International Speedway in January as both of those series got underway for 2015, to talk about the synergies between BMW’s production cars and its racers, including the new M6 GT3 that should hit tracks in 2016…quite possibly with a roadgoing counterpart inspired by racing, just like the E9 CSL of 40 years ago.

Bimmer: How would you explain racing’s role within the BMW organization, generally?

Jens Marquardt: Obviously, racing is historically part of our activity from day one. The first cars we produced went straight into competition. Being the most dynamic of the premium brands, racing is also something that’s in our DNA. Having a racing program really suits us well.

As a marketing platform, especially with what we’re doing now, racing with cars that are close to our product lineup shows in a competitive environment the expertise we have, the engineering craft that we put into our product on the race track as well as in the road car products. It’s a competitive environment where you really face your competition on a measurable level. I think it’s complementary, and it’s really a part of showcasing the products we have on a different platform.

Bimmer: With respect to the DTM, that would seem to be less the case given how many parts—like the monocoque—are specified. You really only have control over engines and certain setup aspects. How does that function in an engineering sense?

Marquardt: To the fan in the stands or watching on TV, the bodywork is very much something he can easily relate to as an M3 or M4. There is still a lot of BMW in those race cars, and in its engineering craft, as well.

We use the wind tunnel and the aero lab in Munich for all Motorsport development programs: DTM, GTLM, GTE, GT3, whatever. We work very closely with people from production-side development, M people as well, on all projects regarding simulations, regarding measurements, regarding stiffness targets that we set for our cars.

We’re really close to production, engine-wise. The engine block, the cylinder head, etc. come out of our foundry in Landshut, and the machining is done within BMW.

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We’re just starting to set up programs where really qualified and top-shelf people get to spend time with us in Motorsport and get an elite training program. There is a lot of interaction on all technical levels. It’s a two-way path in that respect, with regard to engineering and development.

Bimmer: Can you point to any specific detail on a production car, M or otherwise, that is specifically derived from racing?

Marquardt: If you take models like the 3 Series Efficient Dynamics or i8, one of the most obvious is the wheels. This propeller or turbine-like shape is aerodynamically efficient, and we raced that on the M3 GT2 at the Nürburgring, Le Mans and here [at Daytona]. We gained top speed, which is what it was designed for, and efficiency is top speed on one side and fuel efficiency on the other. That’s what production cars get.

Because of that turbine shape, it reduces the frontal face of the car, so it reduces drag. It really pulls the air out from what you normally have as a wake around the wheel arch. In many aspects, whatever we take for performance you can directly transfer into efficiency. If you reduced friction in an engine, we get performance out of it and the production people get efficiency out of it.

Bimmer: Can you identify anything on the race cars that’s come from the other side? That might be more challenging!

Marquardt: It’s really ideas that we take, and that we turn into something that fits us. One to one would be a bit difficult. For sure, we’re just in the process of building the M6 GT3 car back in Munich, and you would be surprised how many production pieces we manage to put into that car. Even the start button is exactly the same as in the production car.

Bimmer: What drove the decision to go racing with the M6?

Marquardt: That is basically the usual process within every race car development. We took the Z4 that is still obviously running competitively in many series, and we analyzed carefully what were the shortcomings of that car. And then we took the regulations that were currently out there and we looked at where the Z4 was placed within the performance windows, how did the shortcomings of the Z4 determine where we were placed, and what would be ideal.

For example, we found that within the performance window for power, aero and everything, the Z4’s frontal area meant you could only get a certain amount of drag and nothing lower, which we always struggled with, but at the same time you could get a lot of downforce. We were in a corner, basically, combined with the engine power that we could get. Once you’re in a corner, it’s difficult. You’re always better in free space. Then you can move wherever you need to.

We tried to figure out, with all the cars we have available to us, all the M cars, what it would take to get us more central and move wherever we need to go. We were looking at M4 vs. M6, and everything we looked at pointed toward the M6. The obstacle is the weight of the car. M looked at competition models, and we figured out that we should be able to get the weight where we need to be. Definitely on the engine side, with a V8 twin turbo that already produces between 575 and 600 horsepower, we’re already on a very reliable and durable package. So we figured out that all those aspects—wheelbase, overhang and details like, for example, the Z4’s steeper rear window, which regarding airflow to the rear wing is not ideal—if we take all of that into account, with the M6 we have exactly what we want to position ourselves within the framework of competition or performance in a way that we can move in all directions.

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Bimmer: Technically, it seems like the M6 would be at a disadvantage because it shares its essential platform with the 5 and 7 Series. How do you overcome the fact that you’re working with what is basically a luxury car?

Marquardt: That’s the challenge for our engineers! It’s the weight—and the stiffness. The base body of the car is designed to be able to run up to a 2.5-ton (5,000-lb.) car, and yeah, when you get to a car that is somewhere between 1,300 and 1,400 kilos (2,860-3,080 lbs.), there is a lot of stiffness in there that you don’t need.

Bimmer: Maybe that’s an advantage.

Marquardt: It was something we had to make smart use of: Keep the stiffness where it helps us and get rid of the stiffness where it can even be dangerous. A too-stiff front of the car when it comes to deformation…

Bimmer: Doesn’t absorb the energy.

Marquardt: That was something we worked very carefully on, together with the FIA. I think we really came up with smart solutions to get rid of the weight where we needed to and keep stiffness where it’s good while getting rid of stiffness where we need to.

Bimmer: What excites you about racing the M6? What is that car going to let you do in competition that the Z4 didn’t?

Marquardt: Well, obviously, I’m a step ahead of you! I’ve seen the car a few times, and I have to say that it’s really one of the sexiest cars I’ve seen. You will not believe what a really great car you can make out of an M6. The body and the shape and everything are really nice, but I think we managed to get, with our design people, something that I think is really breathtaking.

It’s so exciting to take new cars to race tracks and to develop and craft them and then to hand them over to customers. Even for racing, you’re really proud of delivering something that everybody back in Munich or wherever we have partners and suppliers, in the U.S. and all over the world…you really feel that everybody put so much heart and soul into it. I feel blessed, because I’ve only been in this position for five years now, and we’ve done the M3 for DTM, the M4 for DTM, the M235i and the M6 we’re working on now—four new cars in four years. It’s super-exciting, and it’s something that’s really driving us, motivating everybody to come in at 7 in the morning and leave when the job is done.

Bimmer: When you mention the M6 GT3, I’m reminded of the E9 3.0 CSL, which started as a ordinary but good-looking coupe and begat the Batmobile CSL: a lightweight, bewinged version of the road car. Is there any interest within BMW to repeat that, say, for any particular anniversary…or just because it would be cool?

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Marquardt: (Laughs) Obviously, moving to the M6 is also in the bigger picture of where we are right now. We just had the Life Cycle Impulse [facelift] for the 6 Series and the M6, and I think everybody’s excited to see the car hit a test track and get some pictures out and hopefully at some stage get the two side by side and use this, as well, to relate to everybody, ‘Hey guys, there are two brothers, and they are really quite exciting!’

I honestly believe that the M6 GT3 can boost the positioning and the sales of the M6 and 6 Series. It will definitely show what a sporty image and sporty attitude that car has. Each of our DTM drivers has had an M6 at some point, and they were all mega-excited about it. It’s a fantastic sporty car, and even pros think so.

Bimmer: About two years ago, BMW M and Motorsport announced a greater cooperation, which you mentioned earlier, but major changes in personnel have since taken place at M. Was that cooperation personnel-dependent, or is it an institutional situation that will continue?

Marquardt: It was definitely not personnel-dependent. Fritz Nitschke and I got along superbly, we shared a lot of ideas. It was actually Fritz and I who first discussed this type of thing. It’s a logical consequence of the reorientation of the Motorsport program in, let’s say, the end of 2009, to be in alignment with BMW’s Strategy Number One, the alignment that we would do production or close to production car racing,

Yeah, M and Motorsport are one. That we would work very closely together was clear from the get-go, and as Fritz and I always said and which Frank [new head of M Francisus van Meel] I fully agree. Everyone focuses on his area of expertise—we at Motorsport are not in a position to understand all of what it takes to get the proper road car together, while the M guys are experts on road cars. Our guys’ expertise is focused on the race track and performance in that respect.

There is no thinking even about who does what. The picture is a full one, and we discuss a lot. That’s always something that you need to look at for the future: Whatever project M approaches, is there anything on which we should have input? Is there anything we can maybe incorporate that would help us in the future? It’s really close, and it’s just going to grow stronger.

It’s really good to have someone like Frank come in, with his background, who clearly understands the value in that and pushes absolutely in the same direction.

Bimmer: If, as expected, hiring a guy from Audi brings more all-wheel drive elements into the lineup at M, would that have an application or advantage for racing, or would you basically ignore it?

Marquardt: The problem is that in racing there are not a lot of series that allow all-wheel drive, apart from rallying. Take DTM: Audi’s been racing there for years with a rear-wheel drive car. They have no RWD at all in the lineup. In the end, does it matter?

If you consider F1 or LMP1, through the hybrid systems…

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Bimmer: Speaking of hybrid drive, Porsche has brought hybrids to the track and so has Audi. Is BMW planning to use any of its hybrid systems on production-based racing, or will that remain limited to the prototypes?

Marquardt: You have to find a regulation that allows it. Audi and Porsche came to the Nürburgring in the Experimental class. They did it for two years, then disappeared and are now back to standard. I think the problem or the thing to watch, in that respect, is that most of those platforms for us are customer platforms. Racing hybrid systems in an affordable price range are still difficult to get at the moment.

Bimmer: Another interesting thing about having the new head of M come from Audi concerns the R8, specifically the supercar body style. You obviously have the i8 fulfilling that role, shape-wise, and you mentioned that the M6 improves upon the Z4 with respect to frontal area. Would it be helpful to Motorsport if BMW M built a car like the Audi R8?

Marquardt: Now I have to take two hats. I put my Motorsport hat on, and you get a clear and wide ‘Yes,’ obviously. A car that is built as a supersports car with all the ingredients is always an easier base, and always reduces the amount of work to make a race car out of it, in all aspects.

We talked about sharing the platform with the 5, 6 and 7 Series. The supercar is usually a solitaire, and the solitaire doesn’t share anything with anyone. It’s purpose-built, and there can be a lot of things going into that.

If I then take my corporate hat together with my Motorsport hat, as much as I think it would help us, at the same time does it fit into the overall strategy at BMW? This is an answer that other people have to give, as I am not so much and so deeply involved in the great scheme.

But as we showed with the i3, if you take a clean sheet of paper and an open mind, and you say, ‘Electric Mobility,’ what’s the best way to do an electric car? If you take, for example, megacity commuting as a target, if you really give engineers a clear indication of what you want to achieve in terms of function, design, interior, everything…the i3 is exactly what you get.

Defining what sporty driving should look like and feel like in the future, I think the i8 is the right answer. But to take the i8 and put it next to the R8 or the Ferrari 458 is just the wrong comparison.

Bimmer: At the opposite end of the spectrum, the M235i looks like it’s been an amazing success in Europe. Will we see those cars made available to customers in the U.S.?

Marquardt: That is clearly the plan. We said it from the beginning that we wanted to have that car available. Honestly, we’re working on how to get it here. Series-wise, which series do we fit in, and also process-wise, internally. We’ve produced 40 cars in the first go, and they’re all sold in Europe. It’s just really a question of time, of when we have everything sorted out so the cars can come over. Definitely the plan is to have cars come over next year at the latest, but maybe this year.

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