*Updated* In news today that surprises no enthusiast familiar with the series, it has been confirmed that BMW Motorsport have announced the withdrawal of their factory teams from the World Touring Car Championship for the 2011 season.
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This story comes on the heels of two other important changes within the BMW Motorsport camp that Dr. Mario Theissen, current BMW Motorsport Director, is retiring and BMW are re-engaged in participating in DTM(German Touring Cars) for the 2012 season after a nearly 20 year absence. Despite the factory teams pulling out of the WTCC, BMW have announced that they’ll provide the turbocharged 1.6 liter direct injection race engines to customers in order that they stay in compliance with the FIA’s regulation changes for the series for 2011.
Dr. Thiessen was quoted as saying: “The BMW 320 TC, powered by the newly-developed 1.6-litre four-cylinder (DI-)turbo engine, will expand our customer racing offering, and be entered in the World Touring car Championship by private teams.”
You can read more about the details of this engine and other BMW Motorsport projects in our exclusive interview with Dr. Theissen located here in our Ten Minutes with Theissen article.
This move follows after the Spanish Audi subsidiary SEAT who also pulled manufacturer support from the WTCC at the end of the 2009 season despite two back-to-back title wins from 2008 to 2009. SEAT’s withdraw was primarily due to the push for regulations in WTCC that were to level the playing field for other teams against SEAT’s dominant turbodiesel engines.
Ironically, BMW recently had their own row with the FIA regarding WTCC regulations when homologation issues arose at the penultimate race of the season in Japan when the leading works team ran 6-speed sequential gearboxes versus the normal 5-speed standard gearbox. As a result of the overturning of the race results sited by non-homologated gearboxes, Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus lost their championship points from the Okayama race and both drivers lost contention for the championship while BMW lost its shot at another constructors title thus giving the points lead to Cheverlot for its first championship.
While BMW Motorsport’s last season in WTCC ends on a down note, BMW is still the most successful manufacturer to participate in the WTCC. since the revival of the WTCC (born out of the previous European Touring Car Championship) with Andy Priaulx winning the first three championships of the WTCC in 2005 to 2007. This move will allow BMW Motorsport to refocus efforts on both the M3 GT2 and M3 DTM programs. BMW is also engaged in the World Rally Championship via a partnership between MINI and known rallying experts prodrive.
Early reports are indicating that many of the BMW works WTCC drivers like Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus are being re-assigned to the European M3 GT2 program fielded with the help of the Schnitzer team.