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New BMW aero kit for ALMS
BMW’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans delivered mixed results, but the Bavarian automaker has taken some of the lessons learned from the development of its European-spec M3 GT2s to strengthen its American Le Mans Series program.

While the revised cars, which fully conform to ACO regulations, won’t be seen in the hands of BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team this year, the Ohio-based team is evaluating the use of the M3’s new bodywork package that was seen on the Schnitzer-run cars in the early season Le Mans Series races and at Le Mans.

Since the car’s ALMS debut last year in GT2, BMW has struggled to find the perfect aero balance with its V8-powered machines. A late change from IMSA’s outgoing GT2S regulations to GT2 resulted in the loss of front and rear downforce as BMW of North America’s motorsports manager Martin Birkmann explains:

“One of the car’s weaknesses we had last year was the removal of the dive planes. It was OK on the GT2S, but not on the GT2 and the waiver was not granted to keep those,” said Birkmann. “So we struggled a little bit on getting the car aero balanced. We hope that the Le Mans aero package will improve that.”

The ‘Euro-spec’ aero package is considerably different from the original bodywork seen on the two M3s in the ALMS. It features brand-new front, rear and side sections as well as redesigned wheel arches, all aimed at increasing downforce and reducing drag.

It was tested for the first time on one of BMW RLR's ALMS-spec cars at Road Atlanta last week. The initial test showed positive results, and Birkmann said he hopes to have the new aero package to be on both cars by the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park next month.

“We needed to have [ACO] approval before we tested it,” Birkmann said. “Initially, the sanctioning for 2010 was that no changes were permitted as a means to control costs. It was aimed to help teams not develop themselves out of budget and out of reason. But since this aero kit was in development within the confines of the ACO requirements, I think it eventually swayed the approval process.”

BMW RLR has yet to visit victory lane this season, despite being in contention for the GT class win at each round. The No. 92 machine of Bill Auberlen and Tommy Milner settled for a third-place finish at Long Beach after a fuel-only stop put Milner out front in the second-half, only for it to be clawed away by the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Long in the closing minutes.

Joey Hand had similar fate at last month’s six-hour enduro at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as he lost the lead to Long on the final restart, settling for a second-place finish for he and co-driver Dirk Muller.

While both BMWs trail the point-leading Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche in the GT championship chase by no less than 13 points, they could also still face a performance setback for the next round at Miller Motorsports Park.

Schnitzer’s M3s were handed a 0.7 mm smaller air restrictor at Le Mans, and the ACO’s balance of performance adjustment could be instated in the ALMS as well. Schnitzer team boss Charly Lamm estimated it had cost them 10-15 horsepower.

Despite that possibility, Birkmann is still confident of continued success and is hopeful of getting back to victory lane soon, something BMW RLR hasn’t achieved since the Asian Le Mans Series at Okayama, Japan last October.

“There’s five or six cars in contention each race,” Birkmann said of the ultra-competitive GT division. “It’s top driving talent, extremely professionally run teams and it’s a pretty darn good show. Globally, I don’t think you’ll find that anywhere else but in the GT class in the American Le Mans Series. That’s my firm belief.”

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