Waving goodbye to the BMW E92 M3

A look back at the BMW M3 Coupe’s on-track success following news that production on the E92 has ceased.

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The BMW M3 DTM has been on a roll. Last year, in its first season of German touring cars since 1993, the M3 took Canadian Bruno Spengler to four victories (double that of his nearest rivals) and the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters title, secured BMW Team Schnitzer the Team’s championship, and gave BMW the Manufacturer’s championship over arch-rivals Audi and Mercedes.

It seemed ironic to many then that – given BMW’s announcement that production of the E92 M3 Coupe has ended – it was the HWA Team and it’s Mercedes-Benz C-Coupe AMG that walked to DTM victory last time out at the Norisring. To bookend this affront, the three-pointed star cemented its statement with victory one round earlier at the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, also on home turf. A bitter pill to swallow for the Männer und Frauen in Munich.

Of course, it’s no bed of roses for Mercedes either. Very seldom in motorsport is momentum taken lightly by rival manufacturers. Two victories on the bounce for Mercedes will have the Beemer clan gnashing at the bit to strike back, for whilst the ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday ‘ethos of motorsport is long gone, the significance of the DTM for road car sales is still a factor in Europe, and one-upmanship remains as important as ever. There’s also the matter of three championship crowns to hold onto.

But perhaps most importantly, given that the E92 will continue to be used on the track until an M version of the succeeding 4 Series comes along, BMW Team Schnitzer will be looking to squeeze every last iota of performance from its cars. And given the performance potential thus far established, Mercedes could do well to be worried.

Heritage-wise, the E92 couldn’t ask more solid foundations. It’s forebear – the E30 – began life as a (much less expensive) follow-up to BMW’s shortlived M1 Procar Championship. Lightweight and boasting an almost impossibly stiff chassis, the E30 was a prime target on the straights – its four-cylinders no match for its turbocharged rivals – but demonically manoeuvrable through the corners. At its first attempt in 1987, the M3 won touring car championships in Australia and Germany, as well as the European and World crowns, before adding titles in Britain and Asia-Pacific and further crowns in the ETCC and ATCC. Today the E30 is celebrated as the most successful touring car of the 1980s. A more powerful yet heavier E36-gen M3 failed to win the same praise in 1992, though a newer, more aggressive (and better handling) E46-gen model put the M3 back on-track in 2001.

Then came 2007. Announced at that year’s Geneva Motor Show, the E90 saloon was not the prettiest of models. But it oozed character, thanks to barely leashed 420hp from its 4.0-litre V8, an all-new lightweight chassis and track-born suspension that offered amazing handling, and looks only dreamed up in H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon. BMW’s newly developed double-clutch transmission aided seamless shifting for better power delivery, new electronic dampers helped keep the M3 pinned through the corners, and a 8m 05s time around the Nordschliefe – only one second slower than a Porsche Cayman – said all it needed to. Motor racing duly beckoned.

In 2009, the E92 M3 GT2 marked BMW’s return to the American Le Mans Series, ten years after the V12 LMR’s victory at Sebring. By the time its replacement – the Z4 GT3 – arrived at the start of 2013, the E92 had secured three GT championships (the only manufacturer outside Porsche to secure multiple titles during this period), one GT Team’s title and taken two class victories at Sebring 12 Hours with Rahal Letterman Racing.

America conquered, the BMW was quick to make its presence known in Europe  (the E90 320si saloon was already doing so by taking two of BMW’s three concurrent WTCC titles with Andy Priaulx). Though its DTM project was still some way away, strives were made to take an E92 M3 to victory lane at the Nurburgring 24 Hours (attempts bolstered by intermittent runs in the VLN Endurance Championship).

Though Priaulx, Jorg Müller, Jochen Ubler and Marcus Schurig fell short of GT4 category victory in 2009, Müller, Augusto Farfus, Uwe Alzen and Pedro Lamy at the wheel of the BMW Schnitzer Motorsport M3 GT2 dutifully got the job done outright one year later, cementing Lamy a record fifth event victory in the process. It certainly helped take the sting off BMW Motorsport’s troublesome return to Le Mans – the marque’s first event start since its 1999 victory – with the Jeff Koons Art Car.

But like I say, Mercedes all things considered has a lot to be worried about for the remainder of the season. Few can also deny that the BMW 4 Series – and the new ‘M3’ – has a lot to live up to either.

– Shots courtesy of Nick Dungan, Eric Fabre and Camden Thrasher

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