BMW to make it's mark in motorsport

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The revelation that BMW is set to enter the World Superbike Championship in 2009 – as revealed in MCN this week – perhaps shouldn’t be such a surprise, since the firm has been gradually revamping its image for the last five years.

While the firm has long been involved in four-wheeled motorsport, and has competed on two wheels in events like the Paris Dakar rally, its recent entry in the Le Mans 24 hour race was the first time in 50 years the firm ran its own works road racing team.

But the build-up to that has been a long time coming. For several years BMW has run the Boxer Cup championship for R1100S machines, and the PowerCup for the K1200R, as well as providing significant sponsorship to the MotoGP championship.
And the increased motorsport activity has been reflected in its production model range. The K1200S, K1200R and the new R1200S all show a new, sportier face to a firm who’s products were once considered the two wheeled equivalent to a comfy pair of slippers.

And it’s not just road racing that BMW has shown an interest in. Its 450cc enduro prototype hinted at a greater involvement in off-road competition, and just last week BMW signed a deal to buy the Husqvarna marque in its entirety from previous owner Claudio Castiglioni. That gives it a ready-made range of off-road machines, ready to race – although the bikes will retain Husqvarna branding rather than gaining BMW badges.

The decision to enter WSB might come after a behind the scenes flirtation with the idea of a MotoGP bike – albeit a brief affair that came to nothing – but the production-based championship is arguably a more fitting slot for the firm’s image. Where treks like the Long Way Round publicise the abilities of its off-road R1200GS, racing in WSB will give a marketing push to its more road-based bikes.

It’s not the first time BMW has considered the WSB championship. Back in 1992 it developed a boxer twin superbike with the intention of taking on the all-conquering Ducatis in WSB. Called the R1 – long before Yamaha owned that name – the BMW prototype used an all-new 1000cc, DOHC, water-cooled boxer twin, with around 160bhp. Not much by today’s standards, but enough to be competitive back then.
Late in the bike’s development, BWM decided the design wouldn’t be competitive enough to guarantee the success needed to make the investment worthwhile, and backed away from the idea of racing.

Now it’s back. The new project, which uses a four-cylinder engine, promises to be truly competitive. Codenamed 190/190 inside the factory, the bike is targeting 190bhp at the crankshaft and a 190kg wet weight in road-going trim. If it hit that, race versions should have no problem meeting the 210bhp-plus needed to be competitive in WSB, and slimming down to the 162kg minimum weight limit for the series.

BMW isn’t commenting on the project officially, but an insider told MCN that there would be an announcement about its race plans later this year. He also hinted that we were in for a big surprise at one of this year’s major bike shows, suggesting a prototype of the new machine could appear.

Even if it does reveal the bike this year, BMW won’t be racing in WSB until 2009 – but showing a prototype will allow it the luxury of testing relatively publicly for a year, on the tracks used by the WSB series, without having to try to hide the bike. Production versions of the 190/190 could also go on sale before its race debut, as BMW will need to meet the production targets set by the WSB series to homologate the machine.

Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis