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Motor Sports


by Larry Roberts

October 17, 1997

Competition improves the breed and this adage is no place more evident than in motor racing. Ford and Chevrolet fight it out in Winston Cup races around the country and Dodge trucks are in the fray in the Craftsman NASCAR truck series. Competition not only improves the breed but it helps establish a performance image for those companies that are willing to go at it toe-to-toe. Wins mean sales.

This image is also a major factor in open-wheel racing. In this country, Oldsmobile and Nissan are the key players in the Indy Racing League (IRL) while Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Toyota are the only powerplants currently challenging the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) World Series events.

In the stratified world of international Formula One (F1) Grand Prix racing, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Renault, Ford, Ferrari, Honda and Yamaha are all putting corporate money (and their respective logos) into power plants to try for the F1 Grand Prix crown. The Grand Prix is without argument the most prestigious racing venue in the world today with many millions of fans around the globe fastened to their TV sets watching the races every week.

And now it appears that another international auto maker is throwing its promotional money into the Grand Pix ring, hoping for the accolades (and possible sales) that comes with Formula One victories. BMW recently announced that it is putting its vast pool of engineering talent into the production of an engine suitable for Formula One.

Perhaps here I should add the word "again" since BMW is no newcomer to Formula One racing. In '83 it powered the winning Brabham of Nelson Piquet who won the World Championship that year and it was the first championship for any make under the then-new turbocharged formula.

At this point it may be safe to ad that national corporate rivalry might have more than a little to do with the BMW decision to get into big-time racing again. Its Teutonic arch-rival, the mighty Mercedes-Benz juggernaut, has recently been dong very nicely in auto racing around the world. An M-B-powered McLaren recently won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in the hands of Scotland's David Coultard and a few weeks later Mark Blundell took his M-B-powered Reynard into the winner's circle in the CART race at Roger Penske's new California Speedway in Fontana.

The M-B factory is also a power to be reckoned with in international sports car racing and its CLK-GTR took both first and second places at the latest 4-hour endurance race at Donington Park in England. Needless to say, M-B sales increased that following Monday.

It isn't as if BMW has been totally inactive in racing since those halcyon days of 15 years ago. It is currently throwing support money into a couple of private teams engaged in trying to win the Touring Car Championship of Germany but this is very small potatoes compared to Formula One.

But rest assured that the BMW reentry into Grand Prix racing won't be followed by a learning curve. The team that will debut the BMW V-10 racing powerplant will be the mighty Williams organization which is currently in the lead for the constructor's world championship. The Number One driver for Williams is Canadian Jaques Villeneuve who is also in a position to win the driver's championship for Williams and a former Indy 500 winner. Williams would not take on a loser.

The powerplant that current resides in the engine bay of the Williams cars is the omnipotent Peugeot V-10 that is scheduled for retirement after next year. Peugeot has elected to withdraw from Formula One in order to concentrate on the production of consumer-based cars.

So BMW is back in the game and judging by it's past performances and its projected might, it will be a power to be reckoned with.

Now the question to be posed is whether or not the company will be jealous enough of the Mercedes-Benz successes in CART racing to power racers on American tracks.