BMW shrugs off concerns over Fuji joint race line-up
BMW says it has no concerns over its driver line-up for the first pair of joint races between SUPER GT and DTM at Fuji Speedway in November.
BMW will field Marco Wittmann, Alex Zanardi and Kamui Kobayashi in the SUPER GT x DTM Dream Race, with Wittmann the only full-time DTM driver among the trio.
Zanardi’s DTM experience is limited to a single wildcard outing at Misano in 2018, while Toyota LMP1 driver Kobayashi has never driven the BMW M4 Turbo before.
BMW’s line-up is in contrast to that of Audi, which has opted for three drivers from the recently-concluded DTM season: Rene Rast, Loic Duval and Mike Rockenfeller.
Audi’s fourth driver Benoit Treluyer serves as the German manufacturer’s reserve and also has a decade of SUPER GT experience, including winning the 2008 title with Nissan.
Asked if BMW's driver line-up gives it a reason to worry for its prospects in the historic race, marque motorsport boss Jens Marquardt said: "No, I don’t see that at all.
"For us, it was important for us that this Dream Race is the first time that Super GT and DTM cars run together.
"As we know the cars are slightly different still because we are on the full let’s say Class One regulations whereas the Japanese still have more aerodynamics.
"I think in that respect it’s really more for us [to find] a way to generate the biggest possible, let’s say, sporting awareness impact we can, and therefore Alex [Zanardi] has shown in Misano that he can compete on a top-level.
"With Kamui, we have a local guy who hopefully the BMW fans in Japan can relate to with our brand and with a local sort of hero."
BMW had to receive special dispensation from Toyota to allow Kobayashi to race at Fuji, however that turned out to be a straightforward approval thanks to Marquardt’s previous stint as Toyota’s Formula 1 team manager.
Kobayashi entered SUPER GT with Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus last year, but quit after a single campaign to focus on Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
“I know Jens, basically, since from Formula 1 time because he was team manager, and yeah, he offered me the opportunity,” Kobayashi said when asked about the BMW call-up.
“I said I’m not driving SUPER GT this year. Of course I needed to ask Toyota first, and they said yeah, why not. That’s how it comes.”
Audi will have two former Japanese racing veterans in its line-up, with Duval also having enjoyed a long stint in both SUPER GT and Super Formula like Treluyer.
The Ingolstadt-based manufacturer also considered Nico Muller and Robin Frijns, but both were ruled out due to a clash with the season opening round of Formula E in Riyadh.
"Rene, to start, was the easy choice obviously, the champion," said Audi motorsport boss Dieter Gass. "Apart from Rene, we have decided to bring Mike, who is the best-placed [in the DTM standings] available driver of our line-up.
"And to have Loic and Ben [Treluyer], I know they are reasonably famous in Japan. So they are very popular and they have a very good experience and a fanbase in Japan."
The BMW team will be run by RBM at Fuji, while Audi is splitting its operations across all three of its factory outfits and customer squad WRT.
Additional reporting by Jamie Klein
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