The F1 German Grand Prix programme this year will see the revival of the most spectacular single-make competition in motor racing history. The BMW M1 Procar series will be back at Hockenheim on 19th and 20th July as a field of ten cars.
BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen, for one, is looking forward to the event: "The M1 was unveiled 30 years ago as the first car created independently by the then BMW Motorsport GmbH. 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. As Theissen continues: "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."
"There hasn't been a series as attractive as this before or since," says Marc Surer. Now working as a Formula One expert on TV, Surer is well placed to judge. As a young Formula 2 driver, he conducted testing and set-up work for the prototypes at the time. "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."
The five fastest drivers from Friday practice for the Formula One Grand Prix earned themselves a drive in the M1 race. The 15 remaining 500 hp machines were piloted by hungry young hopefuls. "You were really somebody if you got to drive in one of those races," recalls Surer. "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 mid-engined 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 idea of developing the BMW M1, however, was the brainchild of Jochen Neerpasch, the head of BMW Motorsport GmbH at the time, and it was he who initiated the single-make series with Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley within the relatively relaxed structure of F1 three decades ago.
A handful of past masters are set to line up once again for the two show races at Hockenheim. Surer will be joined by Jacques Laffite, Dieter Quester, Christian Danner, Harald Grohs and Prince Leopold of Bavaria. Jochen Neerpasch will also be there, at the wheel of the BMW M1 turned into an Art Car by Andy Warhol. His co-driver will be none other than Frank Stella, who also created an Art Car – a BMW 3.0 CSL which raced at Le Mans in 1976. The 72-year-old remains a keen motor racing fan.