The 24 Heures du Mans
For many car builders the 24 Hours of LeMans endurance race is the ultimate test of performance, reliability, driver skill and pit stop strategy. Organized by the Automobile Club de L'ouest, it has been held at the Circuit de la Sarthe in LeMans, France since 1923. BMW first entered the race in 1937 with a single 328 roadster sporting a 2 liter straight six. Disappointingly, it only completed 8 laps.
Lessons learned, the proud Bavarians returned in 1939, the last running of the race before the outbreak of WWII. This time they brought a team of two 328 roadsters and one aerodynamic 'touring coupe'. They swept the 2 liter class, taking first, second and third.
The team celebrates its 1939 sweep.
The 'touring coupe' took first in class after 236 laps. Roadsters finished 2nd and 3rd.
Fast-forward 33 years. In 1972 a 2800 CS was entered by the Freilassing, Bavaria based Schnitzer team. Even with experienced drivers Hans Heyer and René Herzog at the wheel, the CS failed to last 24 hours. This was the era of fierce track battles between well-financed BMW and Ford of Germany.
1973 saw the BMW Motorsport team field three CSLs against the Ford team of V6 powered RS Capris. At the end of a grueling race the 3.0 CSL of Hezemans and Quester emerged victorious in the 'Touring Special' (TS) class. The three Fords had all broken, but so had the other two BMWs.
The Bavarian manufacturer repeated the win for a second time in 1974. The CSL of French drivers Aubriet and Depine took the Touring class laurels, outlasting the Shark Team Ford Capri of Guerie and Fornage. Both teams would be back the next year for a rematch. Which brings us to the year in question - 1975. Surprisingly, the one and only year when a BMW 2002 was entered at LeMans.
The unsuccessful Team Schnitzer 2800 CS entry of 1972.
The 1973 TS class winning 3.0 CSL of Hezemans and Quester on the crowded pit lane
The 1974 CSL of Aubriet and Depine gave BMW its second TS class trophy.
1975: The 43rd running of the 24 Hours
Sponsored by Gitanes cigarettes. Most of the 80,000 spectators got a free pack.
BMW eagerly anticipated a third consecutive Touring class trophy. Aubriet and Depine were back in a powerful 3.5 liter 3.0 CSL, hoping lightning would strike twice for them at the revered 8.5 mile track. A second factory CSL was driven by American Sam Posey along with Frenchmen Hervé Poulin and Jean Guichet. It was the very first of BMW's legendary 'art cars'. It wore a vibrant primary color scheme designed by American abstract expressionist Alexander Calder. A third CSL to be driven by experienced 2002 driver Aime Dirand was officially entered but did not materialize.
Instead, the third and final BMW entry into the Touring Special class was a privateer 2002ti. This unlikely and remarkable car was the culmination of effort by a driver from France, an engine builder from the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein, and a little help from a certain Bavarian factory in the form of a forgotten project.
Note the Heidegger and Kleber patches on Brillat's driving suit.
The 2002's road to LeMans 1975 actually started in June of the previous year. In '74, Daniel Brillat found himself the lone French driver on a Swiss team. The team had entered the 24 hour race with a tube frame Chevron B23/26 powered by a Ford Cosworth 1.8 liter 4 cylinder. Running 4:13 laps in the S 2.0 class, the Cosworth lost a piston ring and was a DNF.
Brillat was born at the end of WWII in the village of Vieu, in the Rhone-Alpes region of France near the Swiss border. He may have been born in the crisp mountain air but he had gasoline in his blood. Like any French boy who loved cars, his dream was to win at LeMans. Justifiably disappointed with his '74 DNF, yet equally motivated, Brillat contacted a skilled engine builder he had heard about in the quaint town of Triesen, Liechtenstein.
MAX HEIDEGGER OF LIECHTENSTEIN
The tiny Principality on the border of Switzerland was home to Max Heidegger BMW. Herr Heidegger built competition 2002s mainly for hillclimbing and ferocious versions of the M10 engine for Formula 2 cars. Monsieur Brillat wanted one of Heidegger's potent and reliable F2 specification 1990cc motors for a car to contest the LeMans S 2.0 class. But what chassis to put it in? Heidegger and Brillat discussed the goals and financial limitations of the project.
Brillat brought with him a useful sponsorship deal from French tire maker Kleber, but sadly not an unlimited budget. The tubular race chassis of the S 2.0 class were out of reach so the Touring Special class was considered. But TS was the domain of the six cylinder CSLs and Capris.
Being a BMW dealer, Heidegger had heard through the grapevine of two factory 2002ti chassis fitted with M12 F2 specification engines. He put feelers out to Munich about a possible LeMans attempt with the venerable 4 cylinder. Combined with a stiffened, lightened 2002 shell, he thought it would be capable of being fast enough to qualify for the race and sturdy enough to run the full 24 hour gauntlet.
The factory F2 prototypes featured very thirsty Kugelfischer injection.
The factory had considered such an option but was focussing on the glamorous CSLs and their high-profile battle with Ford. But knowing Heidegger to be a loyal BMW representative, and a very serious builder of equally serious 2002s, they relented and sold him and Brillat one of their 2 prototypes. The abandoned project was dusted off and trucked the 150 miles to Liechtenstein.
INTO THE WORKSHOP
Heidegger completely stripped the factory car down to its individual components and rebuilt it to the strict ACO specifications. French sanctioning bodies love their rules and many cars have been disqualified from LeMans for not following them precisely. Max had ideas, borne from experience and ingenuity, of how to squeeze every performance efficiency from the BMW engine and chassis.
With a full roll cage, chassis bracing and high capacity gas tanks installed the car had to meet a minimum weight requirement of 2200 pounds (1000 kilograms). New for '75 was a requirement to complete at least 20 laps between refueling stops. During pit stops and driver changes the engine had to be turned off and restarted under its own power. Heidegger relocated the alternator so it would be driven from the driveshaft, reducing load on the forged crank, high compression engine.
Heidegger M10 F2 spec engine
The expertly ported and polished cylinder head was topped with a ribbed aluminum valve cover proudly displaying the builder's name. Underneath, the revised cams worked in perfect unison with lightened, enlarged valves and springs. Intake came courtesy of dual Italian Dell'Orto side-draft carburetors mounted to custom cast manifolds. Ceramic coated tubular headers were smoothed and maximized in diameter for optimal flow of the spent racing fuel.
All this effort resulted in 260 bhp at an 8500 rpm redline. 130 horsepower per liter, 2.1 bhp per cubic inch. Impressive, but could it keep spinning for 1440 relentless minutes? Given Heidegger's literal track record of reliable F2 engines, the outlook was bright.
Further tipping the scales in favor of success was the enthusiastic cooperation of Kleber tires. They found the ideal rubber for the 2002's wide magnesium ATS wheels, perfectly housed within handsome box-flared fenders. Extensive tire tests were conducted on Brillat's home turf of France. Daniel was immensely pleased with the outcome of Heidegger's and Kleber's tremendous work. Now to the task of assembling a capable team of endurance drivers to match the capabilities of the car.
A TEAM OF DRIVERS
ACO rules stipulate a minimum of 2 drivers per car. 29 year old team boss Daniel Brillat picked a friend from Switzerland to join him behind the wheel. Michel Degoumois was an aspiring 25 year old driver from the beautiful Swiss city of Geneva. It would be his first appearance at LeMans. Together Daniel and Michel would drive in shifts to cover the long day of racing.
At the last possible minute, a third driver was added to the roster. This driver brought significantly more experience to the team. Achieving the dream of all Italian boys with motor oil in their veins, Giancarlo Gagliardi had raced for two prominent Ferrari endurance teams. By age 31 he had driven for both Scuderia Filipinetti and the famous N.A.R.T. (North American Racing Team) of Luigi Chinetti. Like Brillat, Gagliardi had suffered the indignity of a DNF at the '74 LeMans, but in his case with a Ferrari in the top S 3.0 class.
Gagliardi was once again to drive a NART Ferrari in the '75 race. However, the ACO butted heads with NART boss Chinetti and he pulled out his entire team of four formidable Ferraris just hours before the start. This left the talented Italian driver available to join Brillat and Degoumois.
Swiss novice Michel Degoumois
Late addition to the team was veteran Giancarlo
Gagliardi from Italy
Gagliardi was supposed to drive this Ferrari Dino 308 GT4. When the NART team withdrew it left him looking for a ride.
Qualifying for the ’75 LeMans was severely complicated by new fuel consumption regulations introduced by the ACO. A response to the historic OPEC fuel crisis of the time, the rules proved to be an unpopular gesture of concern and resulted in LeMans being dropped from the world championships. Entrants had to prove they could cover 168 miles (20 laps) without refueling, then run a qualifying lap fast enough to claim one of the 65 spots on the grid.
For the 2002 this meant driving for one hour and forty minutes under the watchful eyes of the ACO scrutineers without a fuel stop. With that task accomplished during the daylight, qualifying laps then had to be taken at night. These far-from-ideal requirements caused much consternation among the teams and were the cause of Luigi Chinetti's argument with the ACO. He subsequently pulled all 4 of his NART Ferraris in protest of the qualifying procedures.
With help from its Dell'Orto carbs the Heidegger car passed the fuel economy test. It then covered the 8.47 mile (13,640 meter) course in 4 minutes and 47 seconds. An average speed of 106 mph (171 kph). It earned the 65th, and final, place on the starting grid. It had beaten out two other TS cars for the final spot: one of the Shark Team Ford Capris and a Chrysler Hemi 'Cuda which struggled with a 5:15 lap time.
The number 94 Shark Team Capri couldn't match the pace of the 2002 and didn't make the cut.
The Chrysler V8 'Cuda would seem an unlikely member of the TS class. De-tuned to meet the fuel consumption
requirements, it was way off the pace.
Three other Touring cars were entered on paper but failed to appear: the #92 BMW CSL of Dirand, the #96 Ford Capri of Bonnemaison (who dropped the Capri in favor of a GT class Porsche 911), and a Mazda RX3 (#97) with an all-Japanese team of drivers. From a possible field of ten Touring Special entries, only 5 had jumped through all the hoops to qualify and race: two factory CSLs, the Heidegger 2002ti, one of the Shark Team Capris, and a French-driven Mazda RX3.
THE STARTING GRID
The Heidegger car takes its place on the last row. David versus Goliaths.
Mishaps, arguments and mechanical failures during post-qualifying practice sessions resulted in only 55 cars making the actual starting grid on Saturday afternoon. This still meant the 2002 started dubiously on the very last row. It had been assigned race number 91. All entries in the TS class carried numbers in the 90s.
The BMW was alongside another Touring Special class entry, the Mazda RX3 (#98). Propelled by a twin 12A rotary of 1.2 liters, the wankel wonder qualified three seconds faster than the BMW with a time of 4:44. This was the third year that the 12A rotary engine had been run at LeMans. It was piloted by Frenchmen Claude Bouchet and LeMans legend Jean Rondeau. Rondeau was a highly skilled driver who went on to build his own prototype cars. He won a stunning overall victory at LeMans in 1980, the only driver ever to win in a car of his own design and making.
The potent Mazda of Bouchet and Rondeau started alongside the 2002 on the last row.
There were three more Touring class entries far ahead of them. Fittingly, the fastest was the flashy Posey, Poulin, Guichet 'art car' CSL (#93) which was an extraordinarily high 10th on the grid with a time of 4:06 and 124mph (200kph) average speed. The paint job must have been worth 100 extra horsepower. Calder would die just 5 months later knowing that he had created the fastest painting in the world.
Second fastest TS car was the other CSL (#90) of defending class champions Aubriet and Depine. Painted in traditional BMW Motorsport livery it had a time of 4:19 and placed 27th on the grid. Although heavier than the 2002, the CSLs were rumored to be making an astounding 410bhp from their 3.5 liters.
The third most rapid Touring car was the only Shark Team Ford entry to qualify. It was the V6 Capri RS of Guérie and Fornage who had lost a clutch after 16 hours of redline shifting the previous year. It was the fourth year in a row that the Shark Team had taken on LeMans, and this time the Shark was out for BMW blood. Wearing number 95 it lurked in the 16th row, 32nd on the grid with a time of 4:22. Lighter than the CSL the Ford's 2995cc V6 had been tweaked to make in excess of 320bhp.
From the grid of 55 cars, 5 were vying for Touring Special victory. The next 24 hours would decide their fate.
A production car among prototypes, an amazing 10th on the grid.
The 2nd fastest TS car placed 27th on the grid.
The only Ford Capri challenger started on the 16th row in the 32nd spot.
The drama and chaos of the standing start. The Touring class BMW art car is up front with the big boys. The 2002 is on the back row. Car #26 stalled and
would not get going for 5 long minutes.
The cloudless blue sky held up a blazing summer sun. 80,000 spectators smoked their free Gitanes cigarettes while 55 helmeted drivers baked in the heat. Finally, after the pomp and ceremony of a dozen national anthems it was time for the rubber to meet the 13,640 meter road. Following a slow lap designed to further warm up both the tires and the crowd, the field regrouped to take the starter's flag exactly as the clock struck four.
Even though a stalled Lola T284 on the third row created an unexpected obstacle, it was a clean start free of collisions. During the opening laps, cars began exhibiting teething problems and the pit row started to fill. A Porsche was disqualified for adding oil, violating ACO rules banning additional fluids in the first hour.
The Posey-driven art car CSL was forced into the pits to investigate a fuel starvation issue. Caused by a faulty gas tank vent, a valuable lap was lost on pit lane correcting it. Just 45 minutes into the race, only eight cars were on the lead lap.
Predictably, it wasn't long before the Heidegger 2002 started getting lapped by the Team Gulf Mirages, Ligiers, Lolas, Porsches and Ferraris making up the 5 other classes of faster cars ( S 3.0, S 2.0, GT, GTS, and GTX). Maintaining a competitive speed, dicing with the RX3, chasing the Capri and avoiding contact with faster cars as they passed took Brillat's full concentration. All the while keeping an eye on fuel consumption.
What a sound the free-breathing BMW made going down the 6 kilometer, tree-lined back straight at 140mph. Even so, Brillat and his co drivers knew they lacked the top speed to match the six cylinder CSLs and solitary Capri RS. Their secret weapons would be reliability, consistency, and hour upon hour of smooth, clean driving.
The nimble ti keeps ahead of a Porsche 911 Carrera of the GT class.
Just after 7pm, a mere 3 hours into the race, a lack of the aforementioned clean driving claimed the first Touring Special class victim. It was the #90 BMW CSL of defending TS champion Jean-Claude Aubriet. The accident left the driver with only a bruised ego, but the car could not be repaired within the ACO rules and was withdrawn. Four cars remained in the Touring Special class.
Meanwhile, American Sam Posey was enjoying an inspired drive in the Calder art car. By 8pm he was in a stunning sixth place overall with only the fastest of the prototypes in front of him. Jochem Neerpasch, head of BMW Motorsports, started to have visions of an upset overall victory.
Other TS teams were not having it so good, namely the Shark team Ford Capri of Frenchmen Guérie and Fornage. Pushing too hard to match Posey's pace, the Ford's strained V6 let go. This marked the end of the Capri era at LeMans. The following year Porsche would become BMW's new arch rival.
As 9pm approached the French summer sun disappeared beneath the horizon. 46 cars remained in the race. Three of those cars raced into the encroaching darkness hungry for Touring class glory. For the next few perilous, moonlit hours, yellow headlights (as per French law) illuminated the track and filled the mirrors of the Heidegger 2002.
Not long after sunset, bad luck came calling again for BMW. The art car CSL was to become a casualty of its own blistering pace when a driveshaft CV joint disintegrated, taking the transmission with it. Hopefully it didn't scratch the paint. Stranded miles from the pits, Posey was unable to return for repairs.
Thus ended the Calder CSL's first and last race appearance. An upset victory over the prototypes, or a TS trophy, was not to be. The priceless car was retired to the BMW museum. Herr Neerpasch would have to wait until 1989 to win LeMans overall with the Sauber Mercedes team, having been unfortunately let go by the BMW Motorsports program which he had helped found.
Now just 44 cars remained on track. The wankel-engined Mazda was the only challenger left standing between the BMW 2002 and victory in the Touring class. Sunrise would be in just a few hours at 4:45 am Paris time. LeMans is scheduled close to, and sometimes on, the summer solstice. This allows for the maximum amount of daylight driving hours.
The car from the 'land of the rising sun' thought it would get to see the sunrise. However, still under the cover of darkness the unconventional motor of the RX3 seized. It would be another 16 years before Mazda would become the first and only rotary engine and first and only Japanese manufacturer to win overall at LeMans.
The Heidegger 2002 had made it safely through the night and greeted the dawn as undisputed leader of the Touring Special class. Eleven hours to go. The night had taken a toll on the field, and of the 55 starters only 37 were still competing. The morning sky was overcast and cool, a nice change from the heat of the start. A brief rain shower brought out the wet and intermediate tires, but also washed some of the bugs from the nose of the BMW. The 4 cylinder ti may have had no direct competition left in class but it was now racing, in a very real way, against the overall leading V8 cars.
This is where the ACO rulebook once again rears its ugly head. To be categorized as a finisher, a car must cover at least 70% of the distance attained by the overall winner. The lead Team Gulf cars had set a healthy pace with their 3 liter Ford Cosworths. Even though the F1 design V8s had been detuned to meet the fuel rules, the British-built Gulfs were already 50 laps ahead of the Heidegger 2002.
There could be no letting up to help preserve the Heidegger F2 engine. The BMW would have to maintain an aggressive pace up until the very end to be categorized as a finisher. Over the remaining ten hours, the Gulfs and their main Ligier and Porsche competition continued to lap the nimble BMW relentlessly.
Eventually the tally of passes made by the leading Team Gulf car was pushed to 85. As the BMW pressed on undeterred, cars in the faster classes continued to fall by the wayside. By 3pm on Sunday, with one hour to go, the field had been reduced to 30 tenacious survivors. An alarming attrition rate of almost 50%.
The victorious Gulf Mirage of LeMans legends Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx would take the checkered flag for the overall win on their 336th lap. A distance of 4595 kilometers at an average speed of 191 kph. The Heidegger 2002 crossed the finish line at 4pm Sunday the 15th of June having put 251 laps under the belts of its Kleber tires. In total, 3430 kilometers at an average speed 143 kph. 214 kilometers over the 70% required to be officially classified as a LeMans finisher.
The British Team Gulf takes the overall win. A French Ligier is second followed by the other Gulf Mirage GR8.
The Heidegger team had done it. Not only was the 2002 certified as the 27th finisher out of 55 starters, it was proclaimed the winner of the Touring Special class. The 2002 gave the TS title to BMW for the third consecutive year. The 2002's first and only appearance on the hallowed ground of the Circuit de la Sarthe had garnered the sought-after class victory.
The champagne must have tasted sweet that Sunday afternoon. Daniel Brillat, Giancarlo Gagliadi and Michel Degoumois got the laurel wreaths, the trophy and their names forever on the honor roll of LeMans winners. What every French, Swiss and Italian boy dreams of.
Michel drinks from a magnum, Daniel is in the hat and Giancarlo wears the light blue driving suit. They have been given
swank new BMW Motorsports jackets from M guru Jochem Neerpasch (dark jacket on right). Hard-earned swag indeed.
Of the 55 cars that took the green flag, only 30 had what it took to go the distance. The first-in-class BMW 2002ti placed 27th overall, well ahead of 3 technically much faster cars; a Porsche 911 RSR, a Lola T292 and a March 75S.
For 1976 BMW showed up with no less than 7 CSLs. They won the Touring Special class for an enviable fourth successive time with a 3.0CSL. A 3.5 liter CSL finished 4th in the new ‘Group 5’ category against a fleet of Porsche 911s.
The 1976 TS class winner. 3.0 CSL driven by Ravenel.
Daniel Brillat was associated with two teams in ’76. With Gagliardi he ran a Lola Ford Cosworth team. It won the S 2.0 class. With Michel Degoumois he actually drove in the same S 2.0 class with a Swiss-made Cheetah G601. It withdrew due to a bad CV joint. That was a real shame because the engine was a jewel-like beauty: a BMW M12 1999cc F2 motor. Brillat would return with another Cheetah chassis in 1979, this time with an ill-fated Chrysler/Simca engine.
Max Heidegger went on to even greater fame as a BMW F2 and F1 engine builder par excellence. Unlike the Calder art car CSL, which ended up in a museum, the Heidegger car was eventually parted out for other projects. The body shell was unceremoniously scrapped. Not the fate it deserved.
The sister prototype car from the factory was sold to in-house driver Achim Warmbold and rallied with M12 power fed by Kugelfischer injection. Fortunately it was spared a visit to the wrecking yard crusher, instead spending 20 years forgotten in an Irish barn. Thankfully that car survives to this day, as does Heidegger's BMW dealership and tuning shop.
You can still visit Max in picturesque, tiny Liechtenstein. Small and beautiful, just like the 2002. And never to be underestimated.
The other factory prototype in KWS Grain Co. / Radio Luxembourg livery. Note the same ATS magnesium wheels. It was last sold in 2015 for $160,000.
Sponsors include Marchal, Bosch, Bilstein, and Kleber. Note the light to illuminate the race number and the TS class designation on the door. BMW Motorsport roundels
can be seen on the windshield banner and the C pillars. The black hood, belt line and trunk, commonly seen on rally cars, has been augmented by the tricolor Motorsports stripe.
Gagliardi behind the wheel.
Brillat takes another lap.
Degoumois takes his turn at the controls.
The Aubriet CSL in traditional BMW Motorsport colors. It would be the first
car to retire from the TS class.
The stunning Calder 'art' car. Note the lack of sponsor stickers. The colors speak for themselves. Behind them on the grid is a Lola T292 (#29) and
a Cheetah G501 (#37) both from the S 2.0 class.
Art, literally, in motion.
The fastest car in the TS category. It would last 5 hours.
Who wouldn't want this at their fingertips?
A Heidegger hill climb car on the way to one of many victories.
A Heidegger prepared hill climb car showing off for the crowd.
A canyon-carving Heidegger prepared 2002.
Mazda RX3 at LeMans. It outlasted the CSLs and Ford, but not our mighty 2002.
RX3 during qualifying. Its sister car number 97 did not make the starting grid.
The lone and lonely Ford Capri RS V6 along the pit straight. '75 was the end of the Capri era at LeMans.
The Capri was the 2nd TS car to break, lasting only 4 hours.
Hey, you've just won LeMans 1975, what are you going to do next? Get ready for LeMans 1976.
A little oversteer never hurt anybody...
Catch me if you can...
"Look mum, no hands!" Englishman Derek Bell takes the first of his five victories at LeMans.
Custom cast manifold. A little rough on the outside, but polished smooth as silk on the inside.
Dell'Orto carbs replaced 'the too-thirsty-for-LeMans' Kugelfischer.
1973 Touring Special winner.
1974 TS winner
1975 TS winner
Driver change for a Heidegger car at Hockenheim.
Nice day for a little drive in the Alps.
The sister prototype during an Irish rally.
Overall winner Derek Bell gets ready to head out of town with his trophies. Yes, that's right, in a BMW.....