Monday 22 July 2019

BMW on track to the future

A celebration of Mondello track chimes with insights of what is to come, write Martin McCarthy and Martin Brennan

Fast back then: BMW M1 of 1979
Fast back then: BMW M1 of 1979

Today will see the celebration of 50 years of motorsport at Mondello Park - and stand as a tribute to long-term owner Martin Birrane, who died in Dublin in May and would have been 83 today.

Last Monday, BMW hosted a press day at the track, featuring the best line-up of BMWs assembled in Ireland - including the tremendous M Series cars - and it is fitting the two events should be in this one week.

Track owner Martin Birrane being remembered today on what would have been his 83rd birthday
Track owner Martin Birrane being remembered today on what would have been his 83rd birthday

The M Sport division of BMW can trace its roots to 1973 when young Hans Stuck, son of a pre-war racing hero of the same name, began to race in Formula 2 using a March, with a self-developed BMW 4 cylinder 2-litre in the back. In an after-hours project, some young Munich engineers developed the power-plant into a winning unit. Stuck was talented - and his significant success tempted BMW to develop a competition version of the huge 635CSL for saloon car racing. Its success in turn egged on the BMW higher-ups to get the engine race development group to "go legit" and form the M (Motorsport) division.

Their next goal was to build a road-going super car - the M1 - and graduate into Formula 2 where Mondello-trained Derek Daly had great success in 1979. Derek finished third in the championship, missing some races because of clashing F1 events, but rounding out the season in dominant style by qualifying on pole, setting fastest lap and winning at Donington Park in his March BMW.

At this time, Frank Keane had already retired from motor racing - having won the 1966 Sexton Trophy, the ultimate accolade in Irish motorsport. Mondello Park struggled in the early 1980s until Martin Birrane stepped in. He invested heavily and made the track suitable for corporate events; one of the first to use it was BMW Ireland, then owned by Keane.

BMW then, as now, is an iconic brand. Other corporates felt: "If it is good enough for Frank, it's good enough for us." Frank still has an original M1, as did Martin Birrane. After Hans Stuck and Derek Daly's success on track, BMW unveiled its M1 road supercar for 1979. With less than half the power and torque of today's M5 coming from the 3.5-litre straight six, it was still enough to compete with the best that Ferrari and Maserati had to offer. Like Ferrari, it's all about the engine at the core of BMW. The 1979 and 2018 M cars share the same philosophy of incessant improvement.

Today will be a celebration of the great legacy of Martin Birrane and his family in developing Mondello Park.



In the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, writes Martin Brennan, we all enjoyed the wild excitement of Bond in his BMW iL with built-in rockets, gun compartments and tyre-shredding gizmos. Fantasy stuff. However, in one scene our hero was able to retrieve his car using his mobile and that function made for a unique chase where Pierce Brosnan's Bond drove from the back seat.

Technology is bringing yesterday's nonsense into the real world. Autonomous driving is on the way although back-seat driving must surely be a no-no. But smartphone technology is becoming more omnipotent by the day.

Daniel Craig is reprising his role as 007 and a new movie is due in November next year. The filmmakers will have to find new flights of fancy as car companies roll out increasingly sophisticated developments.

BMW offered an insight into its new models and technology at Mondello Park; the indications are that the car is becoming a mobile office for the driver's convenience. Your car can now be the place where you dictate emails and receive vocal replies.

Connected Drive sees the eventual integration of 260 services to cars - including messaging and cloud services, with smart phone functions such as automatically switching on outdoor lights when you approach home.

The car will also be able to detect ice on the road and automatically activate traction control. Why not use your phone to turn on the air conditioning remotely, lock the car or phone your 'car key' to other drivers so they can unlock and drive away?

Cars can now communicate and warn following traffic of danger ahead; this technology can anticipate the emergency without driver input. Simple hand gestures can activate several functions like music and air conditioning.

In development, there are working models of fully automated Remote Valet Parking Assistant which links information from four scanners which generate an accurate image of surroundings and creates a digital plan of the car park which makes its possible to use the data to drive a BMW i3 independently to an empty space, even in a multi-storey building.

The list goes on and each week sees new developments as BMW strives to transition into a 'tech' company with a focus on enhanced mobility services and solutions. Book an airport parking space in advance so you know where to go when you arrive, use a sim card for weather warnings, and there is even an app to let you know what type of driver you really are. The car of the future will in large part tell the driver what is required, and do it automatically.

BMW used the occasion to announce new models. The M5 Competition version of the M5 will be the fastest accelerating production BMW ever with a 0-100km sprint time of 3.3 seconds on 24in wheels. Also on the way is the new 8 Series which is targeting the much vaunted Aston Martin DB11.

The initial claim to fame is that the petrol version, 850i, costing €178,000 is 0.3 seconds quicker than the Aston Martin in the 0-100km sprint with an impressive time of 3.7 seconds. (James Bond, take note). The 840d is priced at €125,000.

The M5 which settles for 25bhp less than the Competition version is powered by a 4.4 litre V8 petrol engine putting out 600bhp and 750NM of torque capable of sprinting to 100km in 3.4 seconds. It is the first M5 to have an 4X4 active differential, biased towards the rear wheels creating a drift mode.

The i8 Roadster, the world's best-selling hybrid sports car since 2014, is given a 50pc increase in battery capacity and has a combined horsepower of 374 with a sprint to 100km taking 4.6 seconds. This is BMW's halo car for sustainability in hybrid technology, and it has a €178,000 price tag. The i3s now has a real world range of 190-200kms with a price tag of €42,000 and €49,160 with a range extender.

The new X5 arrives in November with 7-Series technology and will have twin-axle air suspension to improve ride quality and give off-road capability. The X4 gets a wider rear track to improve handling and stance, and an M40i, a two-litre petrol version, is on the way as well as a 20i.

Under the new stricter emission WLTP rules which are now in force, the average price increase on BMW models across the range is €457. The high-selling 520d is now priced at €53,570, an increase of €660 since last March.


Last week in the review of the Subaru Impreza, wrong fuel consumption figures were give after feeding incorrect details into an Amazon Alexa Echo unit. The correct conversion is 44mpg-6.4L/km; 30mpg-9.5L/km.

Sunday Independent

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