Dalmas now works as an advisor to the WEC race control team, but he clearly remembers how BMW were approaching the 24 Hours twenty years ago. “BMW were quite rightly ambitious ahead of the ’99 race. The Williams chassis had improved a lot since the previous edition. All the points we had raised during the various tests had been addressed, such as the power steering. I had asked for that to be changed after the first time out on track and it was done five days later. The BMW-Williams alliance was very efficient. It needed to be because there was a lot of competition that year, from Mercedes and Toyota who were fielding closed-cockpit cars, unlike us. That made a huge difference as far as the aerodynamics were concerned. Yet after a lot of hard work, starting with a machine that was quite tough to drive with too much oversteer, we managed to set up quite a balanced car. And we had the advantage in terms of fuel consumption.”
Going all out wasn’t the right approach. I was the only one to say so and it put a bit of a damper on things!
Technically speaking, the Bavarian firm had plenty going for it but its management (Mario Theissen and Gerhard Berger) were not really up to speed with things at Le Mans. “It might sound pretentious but I knew Le Mans well. I knew what to do, what to avoid, and I gladly shared my experience with teammates Joachim Winkelhock and Pierluigi Martini,” the former driver continues. “It soon became apparent that the specification for the race was ‘Attack, attack, then attack some more!’ At the brief attended by the management, drivers and engineers, I remember that I was the only one to put my hand up and say that it was the wrong way to do things. I wasn’t the only one to disagree with the approach, but I was the only one who said it out loud. It put a bit of a damper on things!”
Pierluigi Martini qualified the #15 BMW V12 LMR for P6 on the starting grid, but the team’s executives seemed to favour the sister car driven by Kristensen, Lehto and Müller, more inclined to adopt the defined strategy. “I was in the car at the start of the race,” continues Dalmas. “During the first couple of stints, I could hear Berger over the radio: ‘Yannick, come on, foot down, go!’ I didn’t answer. I had told my teammates not to mistreat the car, to preserve the gearbox and suspensions, and to keep away from the kerbs. We drove stint after stint, and then Gerhard started again, and that’s when I answered: ‘I don’t want to go all out!’ When I finished my stint, Charly Lamm, head of the programme, asked me to explain myself. I told him, with all due respect, that he had won the Spa 24 Hours and Nürburgring but that he didn’t know Le Mans, and that if we went all out, we’d wreck everything.”
As the competitors encountered a series of incidents and mechanical issues, the #15 eventually took the lead. “Pierluigi was chomping at the bit and did what he had to in the final few hours to stay ahead of the Toyota,” sums up Dalmas with a grin.
PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES DU MANS, 2019. Without Yannick Dalmas’s in-depth knowledge of the 24 Hours, BMW’s 1999 victory might never have happened.