A look back at the famous Formula One support series
Hockenheim marks the home Grand Prix for BMW, Williams' engine supplier and keen technical partner. The Munich company has a long association with the sport, including the famous and much-loved M1 Procar series that ran as a support series for Formula One racing back in 1979 and 1980.
But, this was a support series with a very big difference. The drivers in it were not young hopefuls, trying to get themselves noticed by the pitlane's movers and shakers. Rather they were the Formula One drivers themselves, with the quickest qualifiers during the Friday session offered a chance to race in identical, specially prepared versions of BMW's M1 supercar.
The championship proved a big hit with spectators and (most) drivers alike, offering some relatively 'light relief' before the intense competition of the race proper, featuring at most of the European Grands Prix. The Procar racer basically evolved to make use of stocks of M1s that had been built to homologate the car for use in "Group 5" racing. The rules of this series had changed by the time the car was ready and the M1 was no longer competitive, which is why the support series idea was devised.
Not that the M1 Procars were ever slow. They used the same mid-mounted six cylinder engine as was featured in the extremely rare road-going M1, but turned up to an impressive 500 bhp state of tune, which equated to 320 kph (200 mph) performance on the right circuits. Racing was close and spectacular, and the series' format of star drivers in identical cars was later adopted for the 'IROC' International Race of Champions series in the USA.
This being the days before major manufacturer involvement in the sport, most teams were happy to allow their drivers to compete in (and implicitly endorse) BMW's products. The exceptions were Renault and Ferrari who, selling road cars themselves, understandably refused to let their drivers participate. Drivers including Eddie Cheevers, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alan Jones, Jochen Mass, Carlos Reutemann and Mario Andretti all took part. The 1979 Procar Championship was won by Niki Lauda, with Nelson Piquet taking the prize in 1980. Production of the M1 had finished in 1981 and the championship was not run again.