Driving BMW's Killer Historic Race Cars Is a Flat-Out High

a red race car on a track
Driving Historic BMW Race Cars is a Flat-Out HighHoratiu Boeriu @BMWBLOG

I'm blazing down Homestead-Miami Speedway's front straight in a BMW M8 GTE race car, chasing factory driver Bill Auberlen, who's in a BMW M3 GT race car—and I can't catch him though I'm in the far faster car. That's not surprising; Auberlen has been a BMW factory race driver for 28 years and has amassed 65 International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) wins, more than any other driver. He hurls the M3 racer off the banked front straight into Turn 1 at about 130 mph, but I don't dare do that in the M8, not after a handful of laps—probably not after a lifetime of laps. I'm not going to be the guy who balls up a famous race car that BMW hopes to sell soon for seven figures.

I brush the brakes. This is insane. Wonderful. Crazy. What the hell am I doing strapped into this missile? Finding out what it's like out there, in the very best way.

We all want to know what our sports heroes are experiencing on the playing field. As a gonzo racing geek, here I am with a chance to see what it's like behind the wheel of a car that has competed and won at Daytona, Road Atlanta, and Virginia International Raceway at the highest echelon of sports-car competition in the hands of top pros like Auberlen. Pinch me twice. This is heaven.


BMW brought six retired race cars to Homestead to participate in Targa 66, a laid-back vintage race-car track event that former race driver Brian Redman has put on for more than 30 years.

Hunkered down in the BMW garages located along Homestead's pit road are two M8 GTE race cars that competed in IMSA's then-top sports-car class, Grand Touring Le Mans (GTLM), from 2018 to 2021. They were campaigned by the Rahal Letterman Lanigan race team (yes, that Rahal and that Letterman).

One stall over is a trio of pristine M3-based GT race cars, an E46 that last raced in 2006 and two E92-generation racers—one of which won IMSA's 2011 GT class championship in the American Le Mans Series. Auberlen will drive one of the E92s and serve as our rabbit, tracing the racing line around Homestead's road course for me at high speed while I attempt to keep up. Lastly, BMW brought a sweet restoration of one of the company's most important early race cars, a 1971 2002ti originally built and run by Alpina.

You know you're in the big time when it takes a village to get a race car running. BMW Motorsport has a full crew attending to the cars, and they're busy prepping, changing tires, warming engines. After a dozen familiarization laps in a 543-hp M3 CS street car—an impressive track weapon itself—I climb into one of the E92 M3 GT racers and do my best to follow Auberlen in the sister car. From 20 feet away, these E92s look like stock M3s with fender flares and Cessna-sized rear wings, but pretty much everything in front of and behind the cabin is cut away and purpose-built for competition. Most body panels are carbon fiber. These rear-drivers even have rear six-speed Xtrac manual transaxles, something the street version never had.

The half-dozen laps I'm allowed go by in a flash, the 475-hp, flat-plane-crank, 4.0-liter V-8's exhaust blaring an ear-splitting, concussive howl as it passes north of 7500 rpm. I barely have time to get the feel of the manual brakes (no ABS and amazingly responsive), the paddle-shifted manual transmission (gearchanges in an eye blink), or the massive cornering limits (is this thing on a tether?) before we're back in the pits. I love this car! It's approachable rather than intimidating, and I wish I had 100 laps to make friends with it. But that's okay, because the main course is yet to come.