The folks over at Car and Driver had an unique opportunity to test drive the ALMS-ready racing car from BMW and Rahal Letterman: BMW M3 GT. Formerly known as M3 GT2, the car competes in the American LeMans Series and it employs four drivers: Joey Hand, Dirk Muller, Tommy Milner and Bill Auberlen.
But without any further ado, let’s loo at some excerpts from their experience behind the wheel of this excting M model. Also, see our behind the scenes article at the winter testing session at Sebring.
“According to the rules for Grand Touring–class racing [see below], the M3 has to share a reasonable amount of components with its street cousin. The steel body shell is the same as the regular car’s but with a serious-looking roll cage welded inside. The engine has to retain production castings and the same displacement as the M3’s 4.0-liter V-8, although BMW changed the internal parts, switched to a flat-plane crank, and opened up the ports in the cylinder heads. Output is up 56 horsepower to 470.
Like most modern racing cars (and ladies of the evening), the cabin is stripped for business, and there’s a lot for the driver to do and take in—enough that BMW gave me a manual to read and digest before driving the car. The steering wheel has a great many buttons on it, including the settings for the traction-control system, the pit-lane speed limiter, the radio, and the turn signals. The dashboard houses the brake balance bar and a digital display that shows revs, lap times, and the car’s vital signs. There’s also a bank of switches to the right of the tall gearshift lever that includes the ignition, the starter, and the air-conditioning controls. And what’s this? A/C? It’s there because a Le Mans rule stipulates that cabin temperatures stay below 83 degrees F unless the ambient is higher, in which case the temperature in the cockpit must match it or be lower. (In the ’80s and ’90s, cabin temperatures in sports-car racing quite often got into the 140-degree range.)
Shifting is simple. Push the lever forward to go down a gear; pull it back to go up a ratio. The clutch is necessary to get rolling out of pit lane but isn’t required on the move. The transmission has a “shift without lift” feature that allows the driver to stay hard on the throttle during upshifts. On downshifts, the electronics automatically blip the gas. The driver shifts when a sequence of lights mounted on the digital dash display goes from green to amber to red.
The M3 GT is notably quicker than a stock M3, scooting through the quarter-mile in 11.0 seconds at 129 mph compared with 12.6 seconds at 113 mph for the quickest M3 coupe we’ve tested. With a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.1 seconds and a 0-to-100 time of 6.6, the car’s acceleration is in the same ballpark as the latest 911 Turbo and even quicker than a Corvette ZR1. The engine has a strong power band, and shifts snap off instantly.
According to the data, I’m pulling 154 mph along Sebring’s back straightaway, which doesn’t seem that fast until I have to haul down the car for the ensuing third-gear corner, where the car sticks with 1.7 g, or about 70 percent more than a stock M3. The steering is surgically accurate.
The most impressive aspects of the car, though, are its brakes, its stability and grip in fast corners, and the efficacy of its traction control. As with any race car that generates a lot of downforce at high speeds, the driver can simply mash the brake pedal at the end of long straightaways; however, as speed reduces and downforce diminishes, the driver has to modulate pedal pressure to avoid lockup. The 70-to-0-mph stopping distance of 174 feet is 17 feet longer than an M3’s and 32 feet more than a ZR1’s, but from 120 mph to 0, the M3 GT’s performance is roughly equal to the best Corvette’s, despite not having the benefit of anti-lock brakes. This BMW dares its driver to brake deeper and deeper.”
Full article and extended photo gallery at Car and Driver