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40 years of BMW Motorsport talent promotion: A meeting of generations at the anniversary event.
The big meeting of generations was the highlight of Monday’s celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of BMW Motorsport talent promotion. The BMW and MINI Driving Experience in Maisach (GER), that had turned 40 years in 2017 as well, was the venue for the anniversary event, at which the heroes from the early days met BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt (GER), as well as graduates and the current crop of drivers on the BMW Motorsport Junior Programme.
The big meeting of generations was the highlight of Monday’s celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of BMW Motorsport talent promotion. The BMW and MINI Driving Experience in Maisach (GER), that had turned 40 years in 2017 as well, was the venue for the anniversary event, at which the heroes from the early days met BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt (GER), as well as graduates and the current crop of drivers on the BMW Motorsport Junior Programme. The guests included Jochen Neerpasch (GER), the first managing director of BMW Motorsport GmbH and founder of the first BMW Junior Team in 1977, as well as Eddie Cheever (USA) and Marc Surer (SUI), two of the BMW Motorsport Juniors from that time. It was the first time in German automobile racing that a manufacturer had put together a team consisting solely of juniors. This long tradition makes BMW stand out from other manufacturers involved in motorsport. Ever since the pioneering efforts of Jochen Neerpasch, the promotion of young drivers has been one of the central pillars of the BMW Motorsport philosophy, and is now more important than ever.
As well as interviews and video recordings, the anniversary event focussed primarily on a photo shoot with the historic BMW 320 Group 5, with which the first BMW Junior Team caused such a stir in 1977, as well as the BMW M6 GT3 and the BMW M4 GT4 – the two cars the current BMW Motorsport Juniors are racing with. Surer also completed a number of drift laps in a BMW M car with the current Juniors.
Interview with Jens Marquardt and Jochen Neerpasch: “It is just as important to invest in the drivers as in the technology.”
The history of BMW Motorsport’s promotion of talented youngsters is inextricably linked with its founder: Jochen Neerpasch. The former BMW Motorsport Director launched the legendary BMW Junior Team in 1977. Neerpasch and BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt met up at an event to mark the 40th anniversary of the talent promotion programme. In an interview, they discuss the past, present and future of talent promotion at BMW Motorsport.
Mr. Marquardt, Mr. Neerpasch, to what extent is 40 years of BMW Motorsport’s talent promotion a special anniversary for you both?
Jochen Neerpasch: “It was great to meet up with Eddie Cheever again after so much time. I had not seen him for ages. It is fantastic how these people have developed outside motorsport. That was a lovely experience for me.”
Jens Marquardt: “For me, it is impressive to see how we at BMW Motorsport are managing to continue to pursue the basic concepts of projects such as the Junior programme, which Mr. Neerpasch launched 40 years ago, and to build on those concepts. The way that the former and current Juniors immediately got on so well just goes to show that the motorsport family has always formed a great unit at BMW.”
When the BMW Junior Team took to the track in 1977, you were still at school Mr. Marquardt…
Marquardt: (laughs) “Yes, I was ten at the time.”
When did you start to show an interest in motorsport?
Marquardt: “It was about then. Although, to be perfectly honest, I was not massively interested in BMW at the time. I always used to cycle to school with a friend, and we used to have races. We were obviously Formula 1 drivers: he was Jacky Ickx, so I had to look elsewhere and opted for Mario Andretti, simply because I really liked the black Lotus with the gold writing. I won the odd race to school on my bike as Mario Andretti.” (laughs)
Speaking of school, Mr. Neerpasch: How did you come up with the idea of launching a school for racing drivers, in the form of the BMW Junior Team?
Neerpasch: “I used to race myself, and had certain physical issues. If there was a change in the weather, I used to suffer from headaches and could not concentrate. Back then, there were no physiotherapists. The drivers were completely on their own. That was the first thing that sprang to mind when I moved into management and became responsible for motor racing: to give the drivers a physical basis on which to promote the interaction between man and machine, and not simply to place the emphasis on the technology, but also to train the drivers. Only the combination of driver and technology can be successful. That is why we started the Junior Team.”
The first class, with Eddie Cheever, Marc Surer and Manfred Winkelhock, was known as “Wilde Reiter GmbH” because of their driving style. Were you always confident that you had made the right choice with those three drivers?
Neerpasch: “Oh yes. We had obviously watched them beforehand. All three were really successful in Formula 3, and we identified them as outstanding, talented youngsters. Also, we did not simply set them loose on the racetrack. We gave them some technical training over the winter, at tests and trials. We then headed to St. Moritz for a fitness camp, where they were given physical training. They were well prepared. However, we did not have any regulations regarding who should be out in front. Instead, we just sent them out in the same cars against our more senior drivers – at the time, they were Ronnie Peterson, Hans-Joachim Stuck and David Hobbs. That was the benchmark for them. The competition with each other and the seniors meant that they learned a lot more in a very short time.”
Mr. Marquardt, the close cooperation between BMW works drivers and BMW Motorsport Juniors is still very important today, isn’t it?
Marquardt: “Absolutely. Exactly the same principles apply today as applied back then. The goal is to develop our Juniors technically, physically and mentally. There is no better way to do this than by using successful examples and role models. Fortunately, we have a lot of them. We have Dirk Adorf, who looks after the Juniors very early on in the programme, and Jörg Müller, who is responsible for the GT3 training. On top of that, we also have Martin Tomczyk, Philipp Eng and all the others, who are all only too happy to drive alongside the Juniors. They all have a lot of fun and know from experience that they have also had people who have supported them throughout their career. They are only too happy to give that back to the Juniors. The drivers are a really great team. That is something I am very proud of.”
Generally speaking, how happy are you with the realignment of the Junior Programme since 2014?
Marquardt: “After Formula BMW and the Formula BMW Talent Cup, we have now based the new programme more on the way it used to be, in so much as we now look for drivers in other series, then develop them systematically in the BMW programme and with BMW products. The success of our former Junior Jesse Krohn, who is now a permanent fixture in our GT driver line-up, shows that we are on the right path, and we will continue this way.”
Mr. Neerpasch, in your opinion, have the demands placed on young racing drivers changed much over the last few decades?
Neerpasch: “I think so, yes. You get involved in motorsport at a much earlier age nowadays. You are already driving karts at the age of six or seven. The preparation is also different. Everything is simulated today. A racing driver already knows the racetrack before he even drives it for the first time. An awful lot has changed in that regard. In the past, you had to learn everything from experience. Today, you are already well prepared when you take to the track.”
Mr. Marquardt, how important do you feel it is for a manufacturer like BMW to promote its own juniors?
Marquardt: “It is extremely important. Our programme is so diverse, with commitments ranging from GT racing, DTM and the WEC to IWSC and Formula E, that we obviously want to use young drivers that we have developed ourselves in these projects. I believe that Mr. Neerpasch identified very early on that it is just as important to invest in the drivers as in the technology. It is no use having a great car if the driver – and they often make the crucial difference – cannot perform to the best of their ability, and is thus unable to get 100% out of the overall package.”
With this in mind, how important is the work that Mr. Neerpasch carried out, not only for the promotion of young drivers, but generally for BMW M and BMW Motorsport?
Marquardt: “I have great respect for what he achieved. In many ways, Mr. Neerpasch is a great role model for me, because he has shown the way into the future for BMW M and BMW Motorsport, as well as for the promotion of juniors. The Art Car, which was recently in action in Macau, was also one of the ideas he helped to develop.”
Neerpasch (laughs): “I’m gradually starting to blush here …”
Mr. Neerpasch, what is your impression of the current crop of Juniors and the way they are trained?
Neerpasch: “I have to say that I was very impressed – just to see their mentality, how committed and how well trained they are. And I found their attitude very impressive. I have been out of the business for a long time now, but I have to pay you a big compliment, Mr. Marquardt. Great stuff. It made a really strong impression on me.”
Marquardt: “Thank you very much!”
Mr. Marquardt, can you tell us what is in store for the Junior Programme next year?
Marquardt: “Yes, we will basically continue to work in exactly the same way as we have done this year. We have decided to stick with the BMW Juniors we currently have on board next year. We will not be taking on any new youngsters. Instead, we will intensify the programme with the Juniors. I am already looking forward to it. Jesse Krohn will have outgrown the Junior Programme next year. I am sure that he can look forward to some interesting roles in our works programme.”
Over the course of the past four decades, the BMW concept for promoting youngsters has produced numerous successful racing drivers, who have won races and titles in a wide range of series around the world. They include well-known drivers such as four-time Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel (GER), as well as current BMW works drivers Timo Glock (GER) and Martin Tomczyk (GER).
Quotes on the BMW Motorsport talent promotion anniversary event.
Jens Marquardt, BMW Motorsport Director:
“40 years of BMW Motorsport talent promotion – this anniversary is a very special one for all of us at BMW Motorsport. With his idea, Jochen Neerpasch laid the foundations for something that has has accompanied us ever since and proven itself right through to today. When you look around the international motorsport scene, you find numerous drivers who came into contact with BMW Motorsport’s talent promotion programme in the early stages of their career. This shows that the path we embarked upon back in 1977 was successful and remains both the right path and important. The aspects that were fundamental when the BMW Junior Team was founded 40 years ago still apply to the way we train our young drivers today. We prepare our talented youngsters technically, physically and mentally for the challenges they face in motor racing. Our goal is to be able to use them in our cars within our diverse motor racing programme. This promotion is paying dividends today, just as it did 40 years ago.”
Jochen Neerpasch, first managing director of BMW Motorsport GmbH and founder of the BMW Junior Team:
“I was delighted to see Eddie Cheever and Marc Surer again, and to meet the current Juniors. I was impressed by how mature they are already, despite still being so young, and how professionally they are being prepared for their future careers. BMW Motorsport deserves a big compliment for that. I founded the Junior Team back then, because even Formula 1 drivers were not well prepared physically for the challenges they faced in a racing car. It is nice to see what an outstanding junior programme has developed from that idea.”
Eddie Cheever, BMW Motorsport Junior 1977:
“I find it fantastic that BMW Motorsport has continued along the same path we took for the first time back in 1977, in terms of the way they train young drivers. The new generation, who we had the pleasure of meeting today, really impressed me. Compared to us, they have completely different means of preparing for their careers. However, I can feel the same passion we had 40 years ago. As we were back then, the current crop of Juniors is very proud to be part of the BMW family.”
Marc Surer, BMW Motorsport Junior 1977:
“My appearances for BMW Group Classic mean I am still regularly in touch with Jochen Neerpasch, and I am often reminded of that period of my life. However, this is the first time I have seen Eddie Cheever for many years – and I am really pleased to have met up again. It was also fascinating to meet today’s class of Juniors at this event. They are all already far more mature than we were back then. They are very fortunate to be supported by a company like BMW. Nothing is more important to a young racing driver than being able to develop in a professional environment and in sophisticated racing cars.”
Sebastian Vettel, four-time Formula 1 world champion:
“Congratulations to BMW on this anniversary! When I was a young racing driver, I was fortunate enough to be supported by BMW and Red Bull. Without that support, I would possibly never have made it into Formula 1. I am very grateful for that time, and look back fondly upon it. I will also never forget my first Formula 1 race for the BMW Sauber F1 Team. When I look around the Formula 1 paddock today, a number of the other drivers also started out in Formula BMW, just as I did.”
Timo Glock, BMW DTM driver:
“I was lucky to benefit from BMW Motorsport’s talent promotion programme. As such, BMW was instrumental in the way my motorsport career panned out. It is incredible to see how many big names the programme has produced over the decades. Thank you very much to BMW Motorsport for their fantastic commitment to the BMW Motorsport talent promotion. Hopefully it will continue for another 40 years.”
Timo Scheider, BMW works driver:
“Firstly, I would obviously like to congratulate BMW on the 40th anniversary of its talent promotion programme. Without this kind of support, it is very difficult for youngsters to find their feet in motorsport – for many reasons, including financial ones. I also benefitted from the comprehensive support I received in 1998 as a BMW Junior. Part of the training programme was for us to help out in the engine department in Munich, to assemble the racing engines and, in doing so, to gain valuable experience. I still remember well how I helped to build the engine with which Jockel Winkelhock raced at Le Mans. I am very happy that I was able to gain that kind of experience at such a young age, thanks to BMW. I am still benefitting from it today.”
Martin Tomczyk, BMW works driver:
“I experienced for myself just how important the promotion of talented youngsters has always been to BMW when I was 16 years old and competed in the BMW Formula ADAC Junior Cup. It was during that period that I laid the foundations for my future career. I now enjoy using my experience to support the next generation of BMW Juniors whenever I get the opportunity.”
Philipp Eng, BMW works driver:
“I have nothing but fond memories of my time on the BMW Motorsport talent promotion programme. I was part of the programme in 2006, and it gave me the opportunity to show what I was capable of. I won the Formula BMW World Final in 2007, and received a test in a BMW Sauber F1 Team car as my prize. That was obviously a major highlight in my career. I can only congratulate BMW on its promotion of young drivers, and thank them for it.”
Jesse Krohn, BMW Motorsport Junior of the Year 2014:
“It was fantastic to meet the people who, 40 years ago, went down the same road as we are doing today. Hopefully I will be able to attend a similar event in 40 years, and can tell a new generation of talented youngsters about my career. I had almost given up on my dream of a career in motorsport when BMW Motorsport gave me the opportunity to be a part of the realigned Junior Programme in 2014. Since then, I have been living my dream.”
Beitske Visser, BMW Motorsport Junior 2017:
“This day is a great end to my first year on the BMW Motorsport Junior Programme. It was fun to meet the former Juniors, and to find out more about racing back then. Personally, I am happy with my season. I gained my licence for the Nürburgring-Nordschleife and won my first race in the BMW M4 GT4. That was fantastic.”
Ricky Collard, BMW Motorsport Junior 2017:
“Thank you very much to BMW Motorsport for allowing me to be part of this programme, and this anniversary event. It was fantastic to meet up with the current Juniors and chat with the legends from past years. I think we all share the same passion for motorsport. It was also awesome to see the BMW 320 Group 5 up close and personal. I love vintage cars.”
Mikkel Jensen, BMW Motorsport Junior 2017:
“I found it fascinating to see how BMW Motorsport’s talent promotion has developed over the past 40 years. Motorsport has changed dramatically, and the programme has adapted to it. For me, making it onto the BMW Junior programme was a big step. It is now up to me to show what I am capable of.”
Dennis Marschall, BMW Motorsport Junior 2017:
“Today was brilliant. I really enjoyed listening to Eddie Cheever and Marc Surer tell their stories about racing in the BMW 320 Group 5. I also had the feeling that they were interested in how we prepare for our races nowadays. I am incredibly grateful to be part of the BMW Motorsport Junior Programme.”
Nico Menzel, BMW Motorsport Junior 2017:
“I know from my father about the fascination of racing in the past. It was very cool to meet the first generation of BMW Juniors and to be able to chat to such big names as Jochen Neerpasch, Eddie Cheever and Marc Surer. I have been lucky enough to drive the historic BMW M3 from the 1980s twice during my season as a BMW Motorsport Junior. I am fascinated by race cars from that era.”
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