Interview With BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen
Having secured three wins in the latest four rounds of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, BMW has returned to the road to success. However, BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen confirms the BMW national teams, which have won all the European and World Touring Car Championship titles since 2004, are facing a difficult task if they want to secure the title again in this year's season finale at Macau (MO).
Mr Theissen, ten rounds of the World Touring Car Championship have been contested. What is your conclusion so far?
BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen: "At Curitiba we made a promising start to the new season by securing three podium finishes. However, these races gave us a hint our competitors would make our life difficult this year. In Mexico, we encountered a weekend to forget. In the kick-off to the European season we experienced a slight upward trend which was confirmed by the wins we celebrated in France and the Czech Republic. At the same time, I have to wwwit we are far from being where we want to be. In the Drivers' Championship, Andy Priaulx lies 24 points behind the championship leader. In the manufacturers' classification, we hold second position. No doubt, this will be our most difficult season."
What are the reasons for the current balance of power?
Theissen: "The balance of power is down to several factors: quite obviously to the quality of teams and drivers, but also to the performance level of the base car and the FIA regulations. Basically, the level of competitiveness in the WTCC has increased massively and all the competitors involved have moved closer together. We witness extremely hard-fought races. At the same time, SEAT added to the challenge by introducing a turbo-diesel engine. In 2007 BMW and Andy Priaulx claimed both titles in an extremely close season finale – just as in the previous years. This season, however, the regulation advantage of the turbo-diesel engine has made an impact on the results: currently, SEAT holds the lead in the championship. Nevertheless, recently we succeeded in turning the tables. Therefore, I hope we will experience a thrilling championship right to the finale."
The revs of the diesel engines have been limited. Since Pau, the base weight of all the BMW vehicles has been reduced by 15kg. Did these measures have a major impact on the competitiveness?
Theissen: "It definitely represented a difficult task creating the World Touring Car Championship regulations for both front and rear-wheel drive cars without giving an advantage to the one or the other. Now the different engine concepts – turbo-diesel engine and naturally aspirated petrol engine – have made this task even more challenging. The classification of the different concepts has resulted in permanent discussions in recent months. The results seen in the opening stages of the season demonstrated the turbo-diesel engines currently have an advantage. To also keep the WTCC open for cars powered by naturally aspirated petrol engines, the FIA reacted to the current situation by allowing a reduction to the base weight of our cars by 15kg to the same base weight we raced with in 2007. This has been a factor in the improved competitiveness we displayed recently. But at the same time, BMW Motorsport and the teams also worked really hard to compensate for the disadvantage caused by the different engine concepts."
Will BMW enter a diesel powered car as early as this season?
Theissen: "Quite obviously, we have got the technology to do so. In a test, the BMW 320d displayed massive potential. Nonetheless, this doesn't represent a preferred option for us. Entering the BMW 320d would turn the World Championship into a diesel series, with other manufacturers being forced to pull out. I assume the organisers also are aware of this fact. Furthermore, establishing a new engine concept in the highest category would represent an inappropriate signal for our customer sport programme. Independent BMW teams throughout the world appreciate the fact that our cars offer them the chance of battling for race wins and titles on a long-term basis. That's something we don't want to change. At the end of the day, our decision will depend on the future classification of the turbo-diesel engine."
How do you assess your chances this year to successfully defend again the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championship titles?
Theissen: "Since 2004 – when we did this in the European Touring Car Championship – we have claimed victory in both the drivers' and the manufacturers' rankings every single year. It will be anything but easy to repeat these successes, but it remains our goal. We will keep on working in focused style up to the season finale in Macau. In 2007, we saw anything and everything can happen there."
The discussions about regulations, equal opportunities and weight distribution are a permanent factor in WTCC. What has to happen to help the sport come back to the fore?
Theissen: "It's the task of the FIA Touring Car Bureau to create regulations that guarantee equal opportunities for every competitor before the season which shouldn't be subjected to changes during the course of the season. If equal opportunities aren't ensured from the very beginning of the season and the rules of the game can be changed during the year, the work is made more difficult for all those involved."
Is BMW going to also race in the 2009 World Touring car Championship?
Theissen: "It's a fact we will see the BMW 320si in the 2009 WTCC season. This is ensured by the large number of customer teams successfully running this car. And as soon as the future strategy of the organisers and regulations are clear, we will make the decision regarding our works involvement."