Big is Beautiful / #BMW-M6-GT3
Newly minted this season as BMW’s only Asian factory GT3 team, we take a closer look at Japan’s BMW Team Studie and its sexy new BMW-M6-GT3. Words and photography: Chris Nicholls.
Big is Beautiful We go behind the scenes with Japan’s BMW Team Studie and its sexy new M6 GT3 race car.
“For all the BMW GT3 teams this year, 2016 is the first year with the car”
“When I first heard they were going to use the M6 as a [GT3] base instead of the M4, I was worried. More than anything else, I thought it was too big,” says Yasuaki ‘Bob’ Suzuki. The head of both Japan’s largest BMW tuning chain, #Studie-AG
, and the #BMW-Team-Studie-GT300
squad is talking about his experiences with the car to date. After five years of running the much smaller Z4 in Super GT competition (three as a privateer team and two as a BMW Japan-backed Sports Trophy outfit), you can see why he might have been anxious before he got his big new toy. Yes, Japan has large, fast circuits like Fuji or Suzuka that inherently suit such a car, but the majority of its tracks are quite small, with some, like Autopolis or Okayama, pretty tight and technical. So you can imagine Bob’s relief when his team first took possession of the car and ace drivers Jörg Müller and Seiji Ara found, despite its 2900mm-plus wheelbase and near five-metre length, that it flew around Okayama during the pre-season shakedown. “We were shocked. It really turned,” he says. “Proof once again of BMW’s engineering skills”.
The M6’s first full-race performance at the same circuit for Round One of the 2016 championship proved Team Studie’s first impressions were not mistaken, either. Despite being the largest car in the field by some margin, the M6 qualified third and stayed there until the end. For a first race in a completely new and unproven car, this was a huge result, and showed great promise for the future.
Sadly, the team has been bedevilled by mechanical issues during the rest of the season to date, but when it’s had clean runs, it’s been fighting for the lead every step of the way (often with the only other M6 GT3 in the field, the Team ARTA entry), proving the car’s speed. And while it’s massively frustrating to Bob and his team to see the car sidelined due to these teething troubles, he knew to expect them.
“For all the BMW GT3 teams this year, 2016 is the first year with the car, so of course there are always going to be niggling problems. However, there are 20 M6 GT3s currently in use worldwide, and the teams using them all exchange information in terms of what bolts are likely to work themselves loose or what needs to be strengthened or replaced early because it’s likely to break etc. So by exchanging this information, we all work together to help improve the M6 GT3. If nothing breaks, the car itself is plenty fast enough, so by figuring out the problems that only arise when racing wheel-to-wheel, all us M6 GT3 owners will make the car a winner.”
As we’ve seen at the Spa 24-Hours and other races, that’s already happening, so hopefully it’s only a matter of time before the Team Studie car joins the likes of Turner Motorsport, Team ROWE and Team ARTA (who took a pole-to-flag win at round four) on the top step of the podium. At least thanks to Super GT’s unique rules, the bad luck will make things easier for the team in the last few races of the season, as unlike regular GT3 series worldwide, Super GT adds its ‘success ballast’ in a much more aggressive way – teams can be penalised not just for winning, but also fast lap times mid-race and high qualifying positions. This means, while it’s not an advantage it’d like to have, Team Studie’s M6 currently weighs less than any of its rivals’ cars.
For those not familiar with the current Super GT landscape, those rivals are many and varied, too. In the GT300 class (there’s a GT500 class above for factory-supported DTM-style silhouette racers), you don’t just have the usual Ferrari, Audi, Mercedes and Lamborghini GT3 competitors, but also vehicles like the Subaru BRZ GT300 (a BRZ GT3 by any other name), the Toyota Prius GT300 (complete with hybrid RWD driveline) and home-grown oddities like the va rious MC, or Mother Chassis cars. Most commonly shrouded by a GT86/BRZ-style body and set up in an FR configuration with Nissan V8s, these silhouette carbon tubs are built by Dome and are designed to offer a lower-cost entry path to GT3-level competition. And while they’re usually run as GT86s, one team puts a Lotus Evora body on its car, complete with mid-engined Nissan V8 driveline. Indeed, such is the MC’s flexibility, you can put a pure EV system in there if you want. Either way, these cars are fast, and regularly compete at the front of the field. It’s this variety, and a unique rule set that helps maintain parity better than other GT3 series, that makes Super GT so exciting to watch.
Of course, even if you’re just interested in BMWs, the new M6 GT3 provides much to look at and enjoy by itself. The result of heavy development by BMW Motorsport to address both the biggest known weakness of its Z4 predecessor – mid-range torque – and provide a cheaper, easier-to-run package for its customer and factory teams worldwide, the M6 GT3 is a masterpiece. In keeping with the lower cost philosophy, the engine is now a production unit based on the standard M6’s S63 twin-turbo V8, with only the dry sump system, intercooling (now air-to-air), exhaust system, management and sundry motorsport-spec connectors changed from the regular road-going motor. Even the turbos are stock, albeit with restrictors fitted to keep the engine to 585hp or less than the road-going Competition Pack model.
Given the race car is only 1295kg though, that’s not an issue. Unsurprisingly, the driveline is less related to the regular M6, boasting a Ricardo transaxle with a four-plate clutch inside and the generator and A/C compressor bolted to the casing, but then road car gearboxes don’t like competition stresses much.
Thanks to the latest GT3 rules, BMW has also switched suspension to be double wishbones allround, and there’s also cockpit-adjustable anti-roll bars to work with the Öhlins dampers. Braking, meanwhile, is via AP Racing six-piston front and fourpiston rear callipers and Dixcel pads (Dixcel is a Studie supplier), with BBS 13x18-inch centre-locks carrying Team Studie’s chosen Yokohama rubber. Interestingly, despite everything above, the biggest changes from the road car are actually to the chassis.
Obviously there’s an FIA-spec cage in there and everything’s been stripped, but that’s just standard for any serious racer. The major changes lie in the crash structure, with carbon fibre front and CFRP rear sections designed to absorb the huge energy loads the car will see in a major impact. In fact, if you watch the Motorsport YouTube channel’s development video, you’ll see the whole front end of the car comes off in one piece, engine and all, which not only facilitates easier maintenance, but should also mean greater safety, as the whole front end can come away in a severe-enough crash, absorbing the energy and leaving the safety cell intact. The rest of the body-related alterations lie in the move to all carbon panels and funky access ports to all necessary fluid reservoirs, filters and data connection points, as well as the fitment of the requisite air jacks and drybreak fuelling system. Wrapped in Studie’s unique take on the traditional M stripes livery, it’s a stunner.
Perhaps oddly, given that beautiful exterior and the engineering that’s gone into the rest of the car, Bob’s own favourite part is the interior. However, one look shows why that may be: the austere, almost Zen-like black-on-white aesthetic, complete with stunning carbon dash, door trims, control box and foot rest, is perfect, while the obligatory tiny, control-festooned carbon ‘wheel’, ventilated safety seat and AP Racing pedal box all help complete the look. In the case of Studie’s car, the Schroth harnesses have been replaced by OMP ones (again, as per supplier agreements), but the rest is untouched. Maybe you can now see why, when Bob first saw it, he says it gave him goosebumps. His other favourite part of the car, in case you’re wondering, is the engine. Not just because its mid-range torque finally allows his drivers to overtake when they want to, but from a pure engineering perspective, because it’s so low. Drysumped and buried as far down in the front clip as possible, it is an impressive piece of packaging work.
“You have trouble actually seeing the motor when looking down from above,” he says.
All this new tech does come with its downsides, of course. First year reliability issues aside, the different chassis, engine and aerodynamics mean the team has virtually no data to work with for each circuit, and when they do get to run, modern race ECUs means they’re flooded with almost too much information. “As of right now, we only have five races’ worth of data on the M6. And assimilating and processing that is tough,” says Bob. Not that he’ll let that, or any of the other issues the team has suffered, curb his championship ambitions. While the 2016 trophy may be out of reach, thanks to the bad luck they’ve had, Team Studie will push on to get as high a position as they can, and next year, they’ll go again, knowing they’ve got a brilliant base to build on for the near future. Long term? No one can tell, but Bob’s plans are grand. Aside from remaining the factory BMW GT3 squad in Japan, he also wants to eventually move into GT500, if and when the long-planned merger of the DTM and GT500 rules occurs; something that would allow him to run an M4 DTM alongside the M6. Both have their advantages – GT500 has the speed, glamour and technological advancement only a top-tier silhouette class can bring, while GT300 is more relatable to his Studie tuning shop customers – though running in two different classes brings its own strains and stresses.
However, Bob is not the kind of person to let that phase him, so keep an eye out on Super GT, as you may see Studie cars competing, and winning, in two of the best tin-top categories the world has to offer.
“You have trouble actually seeing the motor when looking down from above”
“By exchanging this information, we all work together to help improve the M6 GT3”