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30 Jun 2008

Past masters to revive BMW M1 Procar at Hockenheim

This season’s German Grand Prix will see the return of one of the most spectacular single-make competitions in motor racing history. The legendary BMW M1 Procar series will be resurrected at Hockenheim in July for a one-off special event.

The celebrated competition, which ran as a support series for Formula One racing in 1979 and 1980, saw the five fastest F1 drivers from Friday practice for the Grand Prix compete against 15 young hopefuls in specially prepared versions of BMW's M1 supercar.

“There hasn't been a series as attractive as this before or since,” recalled TV pundit Marc Surer, who conducted set-up work for the series’ prototypes as a young Formula Two driver. "With its mid-engined layout, the M1 was a bit of an animal to drive and had an outrageous soundtrack.

“The series fed off the appeal of the cars and the opportunity for young drivers to measure themselves against the leading Formula One stars at the time. You were really somebody if you got to drive in one of those races. It was a unique opportunity to pit your skills against the F1 drivers - and they were certainly pretty quick in the M1.

“The handling of the car suited them down to the ground. Plus, in 1979 - the first of the two years the series was held - they always started from the front and were given works cars. That made it pretty tough for us junior drivers in the independent teams. We had to look after our car, but at the same time did everything we could to make our mark.”

The series, the brainchild of Jochen Neerpasch, the head of BMW Motorsport at the time, Formula One Management CEO Bernie Ecclestone and FIA President Max Mosley, is still remembered fondly by fans, despite it’s brief two-year stint on the schedules. One admirer particularly heartened by its return is current BMW Motorsport director Dr Mario Theissen.

"The M1 was unveiled 30 years ago as the first car created independently by the then BMW Motorsport GmbH,” explained Theissen. “It was a racing car which BMW customers could also drive on the road, a unique project which had to overcome some tricky administrative hurdles before getting off the ground.

"In order to gain Group 4 homologation, 400 units of the super sports car had to be built within a period of 24 months. The idea of organising a single-make series was born out of necessity - i.e. the requirements of homologation. Nobody expected the BMW M1 Procar series to go down quite so well. Just a mention of it today still triggers an enthusiastic reaction. This revival serves as a 'thank you' to the fans.”

During July's event a smaller field of 10 drivers will compete in two show races. Amongst those competing will be several past masters including Surer, Jacques Laffite, Dieter Quester, Christian Danner, Harald Grohs and Prince Leopold of Bavaria.

German driver and team manager Jochen Neerpasch will also be in attendance, at the wheel of the BMW M1 turned into an 'Art Car' by legendary artist Andy Warhol. His co-driver will be 72 year-old American painter Frank Stella, who also created an 'Art Car' - a BMW 3.0 CSL which raced at Le Mans in 1976.

Clay Regazzoni (SUI) BMW Motorsport BMW M1 finished in 2nd place. BMW M1 Procar Championship, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 25 May 1979. World © Phipps/Sutton Bruno Giacomelli (ITA) Osella BMW M1. BMW M1 Procar Championship, Zolder, Belgium, 12 May 1979. World © Phipps/Sutton Nelson Piquet (BRA), winking a headlight, passes through the chicane on his way to 5th place. BMW M1 Procar Championship, Rd1, Donington Park, England. 26 April 1980. World © Phipps/Sutton Clay Regazzoni (SUI) BMW Motorsport BMW M1, leads Niki Lauda (AUT) Project Four BMW M1, who went on to win the race. BMW M1 Procar Championship, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 25 May 1979. World © Phipps/Sutton The Project Four team work on the BMW M1 of Niki Lauda (AUT), who won the race. BMW M1 Procar Championship, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 25 May 1979. World © Phipps/Sutton