After having won the 24 Hours of Daytona two years in a row, and taking the 2020 IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup championship, the BMW Rahal Letterman Lanigan team will focus its Big M8 racing efforts solely on endurance events for the 2021 season. This means BMW will be skipping eight races in 2021. With the factory Porsche team suspending its IMSA efforts, that leaves just three full-season cars to race in the GTLM class—two Corvettes and a single privateer Porsche from WeatherTech Racing. We’ve pretty much known this would be the case since rumors cropped up last fall, but today BMW made it official.
As costs spiral out of control in the GTLM/GTE classes worldwide, BMW’s announcement is hardly a surprise. As car sales are down across the board, and the 8 Series has been a sales catastrophe for the Bavarian brand, it is cutting costs where it can. The Big M8 has really only shown its potential in endurance events where power is an advantage, like the high speeds of Daytona and Road Atlanta. It is a large heavy car with a big turbocharged V8, after all.
RLL has been running BMW’s North American racing operations since 2009, and has been a mainstay of the class all these years. Having run M3s, Z4s, M6s, and now M8s in the GT2/GTLM class in IMSA competition, the BMW RLL team has won Daytona twice, Sebring twice, and further wins at Petit Le Mans and the 6 Hours of the Glen. Consider that those are the four rounds of the endurance championship, and the only four rounds BMW will contest this year, and it starts to make sense.
The #24 car will attempt to repeat its 2020 Daytona 24 victory with John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Augusto Farfus. Interestingly, the team have decided to add a fourth driver in the form of Marco Wittmann to the team. The sister #25 car will be piloted by Bruno Spengler, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, and former BMW DTM ace Timo Glock.
The IMSA season begins this weekend with a qualifying race taking place ahead of the 24 Hour on January 23rd. The 59th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona is moving forward to run across January 30th and 31st.
As recently as 2017, the Daytona 24 played host to no fewer than 11 GTLM-classed entries. This year, there will be two BMWs, two Corvettes, the aforementioned WeatherTech Porsche, and a single-effort Risi Competizione Ferrari which may not return at all in 2021.
With this news, as well as Aston Martin’s announcement last month that it would suspend its GTE Pro program in FIA WEC, it seems the GTE/GTLM classes are slowly falling apart. This class, at its peak, was home to a 17-car entry at Le Mans just two years ago, has run out of steam. I guess an international pandemic-induced recession can do that.