2016 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion: BMW Brings Its "A" Game
As we've opined numerous times, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is the one event we have on our calendar every year (and it should be on yours too!). The racing and paddock at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, coupled with the other events that have come to be called "Car Week" are quite simply one of the most spectacular automotive happenings in the world. Now we don't claim to have attended Goodwood or Hershey, Geneva or Paris or even Amelia Island, but we're pretty sure we're on sound footing, calling this event...actually events....one of the best on the planet.
This year, the event's featured manufacturer, BMW, brought it's "A" game, and the hardware necessary to maintain the standing of this event in the automotive universe. The BMW owning public and related car clubs supplemented the assemblage of cars that BMW provided, to show off hundreds and hundreds of examples of BMW's best from throughout the company's 100 years of existence. Over 70,000 gearheads attended the event over the weekend...a record for the track and an 8% increase over last year's spectacular event featuring the Shelby GT350.
BMW has reputation not just for building great road cars but for also producing dominant racing cars throughout their history, and the Reunion was an homage to that history. Take for example, the BMW M3 GTR that was so good that it was eventually banned from the American Le Mans Series. Back in 2001 the GTR would win 7 out of 10 races in its class, so dominant that Porsche would claim that the car violated the spirit of the rules because BMW didn't actually produce a road version of the M3 GTR. Fast forward to 2010 and BMW produced a road going V8 M3 so they came back to ALMs to win the 2010 and 2011 ALMS championships in their class.
In the 1990's McLaren produced, what many still consider the greatest road car of all time and the predecessor of the modern day hyper-car; the McLaren F1 powered by a 6.1L BMW V12. It was not built for the track, nor did its designer ever intend for it to go racing, yet several chassis' were converted to race specification. Ironically, the race version had less power than the customer version, due to rules requiring air restrictors. The F1 engaged in mega battles with factory efforts from Porsche and Mercedes in the '97 FIA GT season. The F1 GTR would take the win in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. The BMW powered GTR would claim four of the top five spots in that race.
The F1 GTR would fade away from competition, but BMW was not done at the track. BMW moved forward to Le Mans prototypes with the BMW V12 LMR. In 1999 the car would win the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was a partnership between BMW and Williams F1 that would eventually lead to a full factory F1 effort.
BMW entered Formula 1 racing in partnership with Williams-F1 for the 2000-2005 season. The team would never win a championship, but saw their most successful season in F1 in 2003 with the team claiming four wins. Overall, the Williams-BMW combo was unreliable, but was often entertaining. The car showed tremendous speed at times and was often assumed to have more power than any other engine on the grid. The Williams-BMW would leave one clear mark on the history books, yet to be broken. In 2004 during pre-qualifying for the 2004 Italian Grand Prix, Juan Pablo Montoya set the fastest lap in F1 history with an average speed of 162.9MPH.
The BMW contingent at the Reunion could have been its own standalone event, but what makes the Reunion the event it is, are the multitude of other marquees and eras represented on the track. A total of 550 authentic and race ready cars were represented in the bustling paddock, not simply to be looked at, but prepped to compete on track. From pre-war grand prix cars to 1960's sports cars, Trans-Am, up to Can-am and 1980's F1, a little something for everyone was available. Watching a priceless pre-war Alfa grand prix car driven in anger will raise the hairs on your neck and the smell....oh the smell of historic race cars burning fuel is pure gear head cologne.
The Reunion wasn't just a weekend to celebrate heritage of one marquee, but a celebration of the purpose built automobile. Each design representing a different approach to achieving maximum speed and performance. Our roads today are packed with soulless boxes designed to do no more than get people from one chore to the other. The Reunion serves as a reminder that the automobile doesn't have to be boring, but can serve as a gateway to self-expression and freedom.
A 60 minute show of the event is scheduled for September 22nd on the CBS Sports Network.