So Good They Banned It – BMW M3 GTR

Back in 2001, BMW decided to take on Porsche once and for all. The stage was the American Le Mans series; an endurance racing competition run to the same rules as the annual 24 hours event.

BMW had found the E46 M3 to be outgunned by the performance of the Porsche 911 GT3-RS. The standard fit 3.2 litre straight-six in the M3 lacked the power to rival the rear-engined Stuttgart racer. To address this, BMW developed a brand new 4 litre, 500hp, V8 engine. The fact they didn’t sell a V8 M3 was a mere technicality; the ALMS rules were so loosely worded it wasn’t important. Of greater significance was a race car which looked as awesome as this:

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Run by the Schnitzer Motorsport and PTG teams, the GTR had the metal to back up its looks. Winning its class in 7 of the 10 ALMS rounds for that year, along with the championship, the GTR was dominant in 2001. So successful that Porsche complained; they claimed the M3 was not “in the spirit” of GT racing when a road-car equivalent could not be bought. To counter, BMW offered 10 road versions for sale €250,000 after the season had ended. The street version was detuned, and lacked the visual clout of the racer along with its flame spitting side-exhausts:

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For the 2002 season the rules were changed. BMW would need to sell 100 cars and 1000 units of the V8 engine; an unrealistic proposition. The Munich team withdrew, allowing Porsche to return to winning their GT title without competition. Until 2010 at least, when BMW returned with that same V8 engine in the new E90 M3 GTR. As the M3 road car was now a V8, they were truly within the “spirit of’ GT racing. Consecutive BMW titles in 2010 and 2011 must make Porsche wish they had kept quiet a decade earlier.

The E90 GTR may now be legitimate, but the E46 will always be more special for pushing GT racing to the limit of its rules. It also happens to be one of my favourite racing cars of recent years.

11 comments

  1. So special, that it is the flagship car in Need for Speed: Most Wanted of 2005. And the story revolves around this car.

    It has the most powerful engine in the game, although with non tunable parts and non-replaceable nitrous.

  2. LMAO
    Is there any article in the internet about M3 GTR E46 that doesn’t mention that stupid mostwanted game?
    Car’s appearance in vidya gaem doesn’t make it legendary, its real achievements do

  3. Hell yeah this car rocks! I’m guessing nfs team bought this car before creating the actual game. Would be cool if someone shared a story about this .

  4. Interesting that my original comment was deleted (page says “6 comments” but there are only 5 visible). I only noticed since I got the email notification for the new post. Anyway, this author is completely inaccurate in his assertions about the legality of the E46 M3 GTR.

    ALMS rules were that any car competing in GT/GTS had to be in production and on sale in two continents within one year of the publication of that season’s rulebook (12 month rule to allow companies to run a race version a few months before the traditional fall unveiling of new models). BMW was getting hammered since they couldn’t get enough power out of the 3.2 inline-6, so they dropped a bespoke, prototype 4-liter V8 into the E46 chassis and told the ALMS they’d have a street version in production within the allotted timeframe. Like basically everyone, ALMS expected an actual production version, since all the other manufacturers competing had full series-production cars (hundreds or thousands) as the basis for their racecars, both in GT and GTS (except the Saleen, which was in the less-stringent GTS class and was basically a supercar). With ALMS and everyone else expecting an actual production run, BMW cynically released a run of “ten”, right before the deadline, for a quarter-million each. And they weren’t really “on sale” in the traditional sense. ALMS changed the rules to prevent this kind of crap, and at the time I remember debate about whether ALMS was going to vacate the wins since BMW didn’t fulfill the regulations, but I can’t seem to find any source as to whether they went through with that. BMW basically entered a prototype in a production car class.

    I know the author is going to disagree, I only ask that you discuss it like an adult instead of deleting my comment (again).

    1. Thanks for your comment – genuinely unsure as to what happened to your previous one. Can only apologise for that.

      Anyway, in relation to your comment, I’m unsure as to your statement about inaccuracies regarding the legality of the E46 GTR. As stated – BMW developed a specific engine for racing, and used it in the E46 M3. ALMS rules, at the time, only required a minimum of two production equivalents be offered on two continents. BMW did so – albeit only very briefly offering them during the 2001 Petit Le Mans. Also, from checking the archives on the old ALMS website the wins and points weren’t taken away it would seem.

      Therefore was it legal? I would say yes, in BMW’s interpretation of the regulations at the time. Was it clearly within the spirit of what ALMS intended? No, obviously not. But motorsport is always about pushing boundaries, exploiting loopholes and being creative with rules. Take the way GT1 rules were used by manufacturers in the late 1990s to create the Toyota GT-One, Mercedes CLK-GTR etc. Or Porsche 911 GT1.

  5. becas of nfs most wanted i fell in love with this car and i always knew i had to have one so to me even 1 million isent to much

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