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Thursday, July 15, 2010

2012 Wish List: BMW

With new open rules for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, fans all over are speculating about who will build the engines that power the next generation of IndyCars. Plenty of opinions have been voiced already, and plenty more will still come out in the coming weeks and months.

We all know Honda will be there. Lotus, too, is a likely bet, with their involvement with Cosworth (whose owner, Kevin Kalkhoven, also runs KV Racing Technology). Mazda has been mentioned by a handful of folks as a potential candidate; I wrote an article about their IndyCar potential yesterday. Ford and Chevrolet have been bandied about as returning to the sport, while Fiat and Volkswagen AG brands went deep into preliminary engine discussions that the series had within the past few years.

But in my opinion, the next brand that ought to look into the IZOD IndyCar Series is BMW.

Hold on, you say. BMW pulled out of Formula 1 after last year, is currently restructuring their junior formula series (which no longer even operates in the United States), and has never even competed in an Indianapolis 500. So what makes me think I know what I'm talking about? How does bringing this completely foreign brand into the sport make any sense, when past examples of such new programs (think Alfa Romeo and Patrick Racing in the early 1990s) have been disastrous?

What makes BMW such a solid fit for IndyCar is their relationships with current prominent team owners in different areas of motorsport. They currently provide the engines for two of the top sports car teams (in their respective classes) in all of American sports car racing: Chip Ganassi Racing's Daytona Prototype in the Rolex Sports Car Series, and Rahal Letterman Racing's pair of GT2 M3s in the American Le Mans Series. Those two teams have won three of the past seven Indianapolis 500s, and Ganassi has won the past two series championships.

I don't need to get into describing a Ganassi-BMW alliance, but the natural continuation of the Rahal-BMW alliance only makes sense. While they have mostly been involved in sports car racing as of late, everybody knows that Rahal is, first and foremost, an open-wheel team; its storied history in CART and at Indianapolis leaves little doubt of that. Bobby Rahal has been attempting to run a full-time IndyCar program for each of the past two years to no avail. If the BMW brand, which will likely maintain its connection with Rahal for the foreseeable future, was to move to IndyCar, there's almost no doubt who would get the factory sponsorship.

The same folks who own Dreyer & Reinbold Racing also own a pair of large BMW dealerships in central Indiana, making them a solid fit as well. Assuming all three of these teams maintained their relationships with the brand and continued racing at their current or potential capacities, BMW could have a stable of five to seven cars in 2012, were they to enter the series.

The driver stable would also likely be one of the best of any brand. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will probably remain with Ganassi until they each retire, unless somebody has an unlikely plummet down the standings. Rahal could be blessed with the services of his son, Graham, if he continues to struggle finding sponsorship as he has this year. And DRR has made its way up the ladder in IndyCar year by year, rung by rung, to the point where it is now one of the more respected teams in the sport. With that prestige comes at least one, if not two marquee drivers, depending on the market in any given year. Though Justin Wilson may be gone, Mike Conway could develop into a top talent by 2012.

The engine itself would likely be a new creation. BMW has an existing 2.0-liter I4 that currently competes in the World Touring Car Championship, and won the 2005-07 titles with Andy Priaulx behind the wheel, but that motor is not turbocharged. While BMW does have an existing twin-turbo motor for that car, the E90, it exceeds the 2.4-liter limit that IndyCar has put in place.

Were BMW to pursue IndyCar competition with the three teams, with whom they have already established solid business and racing relationships, the results could be devastating for the rest of the series. A proper BMW effort would claim some of the best minds and drivers in the sport, and challenge for the first Indianapolis 500 win by a German automaker since Al Unser Jr. drove a Penske-prepared Mercedes to victory in 1994.

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