The two BMW M Hybrid V8s are used by the RLL team in the American IMSA series. SPEEDWEEK.com spoke with team boss Bobby Rahal about the program and also the past in motorsport.
RLL has been BMW’s team partner in North America for many years. Crew chief Bobby Rahal, whose co-owners are TV icon David Letterman and entrepreneur Mike Lanigan, is one of the most dazzling figures in American motor racing: he won the Indy 500 at three times (1986 as a driver, 2004 with Buddy Rice and 2020 with Takuma Sato as team manager), he won the Indycar Championship as a driver three times (1986, 1987, 1992). His attempt as a youngster to gain a foothold in Formula 1 lasted only a short time: after two races in Canada and the United States in 1978, Walter Wolf was not granted an extension. But Rahal returned to Formula 1 when he was handed the management of Jaguar Racing by then-top Ford manager Wolfgang Reitzle in 2000, but that phase also lasted just under two years. In 2001, Reitzle Niki Lauda named him “President”. In Indycar racing, his own team was created through the purchase of Patrick Racing in 1991. Letterman became a partner in 1996 before Bobby ended his active career in 1998.
How did the long-term collaboration with BMW start?
Bobby Rahal: “In 2006, I came into contact with BMW North America and wanted to use their cars. I was later in Munich and spoke to Mario Theissen (then Head of Motorsport BMW, editor’s note). After a few meetings, we reached an agreement and launched joint projects in 2008.”
RLL and BMW had been partners in GT sport for many years, now they are getting into prototypes. How difficult was the transition?
“We have used a number of GT models over the years, most recently the M6 and M8. But the prototypes are much more difficult, they are cars that have been developed to an even higher level. It’s a very big project for BMW Motorsport and our team. I am satisfied with the development work, it is now necessary to prove the durability. So far so good for now.”
Were the cars assembled in Europe or at RLL in Indiana?
“The first test model in Munich, the others came from Dallara.”
How many tests were done, was there a 24 hour run?
“We tried a 24-hour test but couldn’t complete it. Given the short preparation time, we weren’t able to cover as many kilometers as we had hoped. We tested just under 5000 kilometers.
What goals have you set for this year and beyond?
“Everyone who races wants to win. So do we – the race and then the championship. We can do that. We also want to be successful at Le Mans next year, but of course the focus is on America at the moment.
Are you happy with your Daytona debut?
“Finishing in the top six is very good. Getting there was the first priority at the start.”
Do you still have time to follow Formula 1?
“Yes, I sometimes watch them on TV.”
Are you surprised at what Red Bull has done with your old team, Jaguar Racing?
“No, because I knew the genius Adrian Newey (who Rahal and Niki Lauda tried to get from McLaren to Jaguar in 2001 and who signed with Red Bull Racing at the end of 2005, editor’s note).”
Do you regret that your son Graham couldn’t make it to Formula 1?
“It would have been fine, but Graham is big enough, there would have been a physical problem.”
Will Michael Andretti arrive in Formula 1 with his team?
‘He should come there. He would be an asset!”
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