The Procar revival
After four decades, the BMW M1 has lost nothing of its fascination
It’s unthinkable nowadays, but Grand Prix drivers used to take time out during F1 race weekends to take on the best touring car and sports car drivers in the world in the most spectacular one-make series in motorsport history.
Four decades later, the BMW M1 still wows the crowds, as DTM’s Norisring demo duly proved.
For one weekend every year, the Beuthener Strasse and Zeppelinstrasse, normal public roads in the eastern part of the city of Nuremberg, are closed for regular traffic to form the Norisring, a 2.3 kilometres long track that – in various layouts – has been in use for motorsport events since 1947.
The DTM raced there in its inaugural 1984 season, and the street circuit has been on the DTM calendar every year since ’87. The series’ annual visit to the city ranks as one of the undisputed highlights of every DTM season.
A 40th birthday present to the fans
The Norisring event is never short of highlights, but this year, motorsport fans had one extra thing to look forward to. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the legendary BMW M1 Procar one-make series, BMW had come up with the splendid idea to assemble a field of original M1 race cars for what they officially referred to as a ‘high-speed demonstration’ of the Norisring under the ‘BMW M1 Procar Revival’ banner. The venue was perfect, because the Norisring featured on the calendar of the 1980 Procar season.
No fewer than 14 BMW M1s duly lined up in the paddock. Famous liveries abounded: Jägermeister, BASF, Gösser, Uher, Buler, Marlboro and, of course, the unmistakable BMW Motorsport colours.
“It’s beautiful to see all these cars together; they bring back so many fond memories,” said Jochen Neerpasch, former head of motorsport at BMW. It was Neerpasch who came up with the idea to create a one-make series for BMW’s mid-engined sports car, launched in 1978, when the planned homologation for Group 4 sports car racing couldn’t be completed due to a delay in the production of the cars at Lamborghini.
Together with Max Mosley and Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, it was decided to run the Procar series, as the competition was called, on Saturday afternoons at European Grand Prix events, with the five fastest drivers from F1 qualifying taking on 14 regulars in the series. Only the Ferrari and Renault F1 drivers didn’t get permission to participate due to conflicting interests. All the other F1 stars raced regularly: Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet, Carlos Reutemann, Didier Pironi, Jacques Laffite, Alain Prost, Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda and various others gladly took the opportunity to have some on-track fun – and earn a bit of money as well, because there was an attractive prize-fund on offer. Niki Lauda won the inaugural title in 1979, and Nelson Piquet became the second and final champion in 1980.
‘I want to have fun and drive’
Racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck jumped at the opportunity to drive his old competition car at the Norisring again. “Officially, we are meant to be doing some kind of regularity run with a target time and points and all that,” he smiled, “But I don’t care. I just want to go out there, have fun and drive!”
Stuck made his ambitions very clear, leaving no doubt about his fascination for the series: “The five fastest drivers from Formula 1 qualifying racing against 14 regulars, something that has never happened before or after. And absolutely unthinkable nowadays.”
“There’s no better place to do this than the Norisring,” Stuck continued. “It has such great history, so many fans – and I won the Procar race here in 1980!”
“Yes, you beat me there,” quipped Dutchman Jan Lammers, who also made his comeback at the venue where he raced an M1 39 years ago. “You’re much taller than me anyway, but on the podium, the difference was even bigger…”
Understanding a cult car
Lammers, too, cherishes the memory of racing the M1, and enjoyed it as much last weekend. “The car has undisputed cult status, and it is easy to understand why,” he explained. “Mosley, Ecclestone and Neerpasch together came up with the idea at the time – probably over a few glasses of wine – and still thought it was a splendid idea the next morning, so they simply made it happen. And the series doubled the crowds on the Saturdays of the Grand Prix events. Everybody loved it!”
The Dutch driver, now very much involved in the comeback of Formula 1 to Zandvoort, also underlines that the Procar series gave drivers like himself the chance to shine at the time: “Stuck and I didn’t really have the best cars in Formula 1 and in Procar, we were racing against drivers like Reutemann, Piquet and Jones, who were regularly racing the Formula 1 cars that we were so keen on driving ourselves. In Procar, we sometimes were able to beat them, which was sheer joy!”
Behind Stuck and Lammers, Swiss driver Marc Surer finished third in the Norisring Procar round on 22 June 1980. He, too, had made a trip down memory lane that brought him back to the streets of Nuremberg.
“For me, the race at the Norisring was very special. I had broken my feet in Formula 1 [in a crash at Kyalami] and been side-lined for four months,” he explained. “And this was my first race back after coming out of hospital. Of course, I wanted to prove to the world that I was still my old self and indeed put the car on pole position.
“As usual, Peter Sauber had done a great job of preparing the car. In the race, however, my feet hurt so badly that I had to let Stuck and Lammers get past. But, at least, I got on the podium. I was proud to have made it!
“I have a special connection with the Procar as I had done most of the test work for BMW at the time. I think I found a good set-up; the balance of the car is good, it is quite easy to drive, but still fascinating at the limit. An amateur driver can be fast with it, but it allows the professionals to have fun with it, too. Especially with a low setting on the rear wing. Then it’s quite tricky.”
Memories come flooding back
Another well-known driver in the Norisring paddock was Harald Grohs. The 75-year-old veteran had a busy weekend switching between Procars and the Tourenwagen Classics, in which he raced as well.
“But that keeps me young,” he said with a smile. “I first came to the Norisring in 1972 and won many races here, but the GT races with the M1 were the highlight.
Indeed, Grohs and several others raced the M1 in the ‘Rennsport Trophäe’, a separate category within the ‘Deutsche Rennsport-Meisterschaft’ that saw Grohs winning the title with the M1 in 1983. “The battles with Stuck, Quester and the likes were legendary,” he recalled.
“When I first drove the car again here on Friday,” Grohs continued, “and got out after 25 laps, I was drenched in sweat. The engine in the rear, the incredible heat in the cockpit, no power steering. I have to say, we were quite good back then, dealing with all that!”
Prices of M1 with competition history have increased considerably over the past years, but that didn’t prevent the drivers from using them as they were meant to be used during the ‘Revival’ event.
“Of course, they’re museum pieces, but they’re also great fun to drive,” Lammers pointed out. “And we’re doing lap-times similar to those of the current Porsche Carrera Cup. Not too bad, is it?”
The only question that remained unanswered during the Norisring weekend was who enjoyed it more – the drivers or the fans on the grandstands.
One thing is certain, however: after four decades, the BMW M1 still fascinates. It always has done, and it always will…