BMW became the latest factory team to announce its departure from the WEC earlier this week, its GTE Pro effort fleeing the scene after a tough debut season which looks likely to end without a single victory.
The news didn’t come as a major surprise, as rumours had been spreading the past few months that its days in the WEC were numbered. But, it’s a real blow for the championship’s factory GT class, which could sink to six entries next season if Ford has decided behind-the-scenes to pull out too.
It’s just as big a blow too, for MTEK, the former DTM powerhouse which was tasked with running the BMW programme. The German crew found out it wouldn’t be continuing in the WEC just hours before the announcement, meaning the chances of Ernest Knoors’ team getting a programme together for the 2019/20 WEC season are slim to none.
The likelihood of any other project getting underway before the end of the calendar year is also pretty unlikely. With the WEC calendar now ‘winterised’, and the rest of the motorsport world still running to a calendar year cycle, MTEK has been left with few options.
“We didn’t know this was happening,” Knoors told DSC in the aftermath of the news. “We found out the day before it was announced, in the afternoon. But obviously there has been background noise, you know that programmes are being evaluated, so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise.”
As it stands MTEK can’t work out its next move yet either, as it needs to wait until its exclusivity deal with BMW is lifted.
“We have an exclusive contract with BMW,” he explained. “So we are restricted from talking to anybody for now. But that will be lifted pretty soon. We can’t really move until they make a decision. It’s very late in the game. Or, very early, as you’re looking at the next season.
“Where it leaves us is we are looking at what we want to do, with a programme that suits our skills. We are considering what direction to take.
“MTEK has a full crew, as a unit we are independent, and we can operate a full programme. We’ve come from DTM, and we’ve adjusted to WEC.
“We always had a good relationship with BMW, they were always happy with how we handled the car, which was not the easiest to work with. But I think generally we got the best out of it.”
So, if MTEK is to stay in the WEC, and make no mistake, Knoors’ team want to carry on in the FIA’s global sportscar championship, it will probably have to find a partner and wait until the 2020/21 season.
“The closing date for the entries was Tuesday lunchtime, so with the decision being taken that late it basically means we can’t lodge an entry for next season now. At the moment it’s not something we have ready to go.
“If the decision was made earlier, we could have prepared earlier. Now it would be a small miracle to pull it off. For an operational point of view, and a running point of view it could be done, but from a backing point of view, that would be extremely difficult, as BMW owns the cars we’ve been racing.
“But we like the WEC,” he said. “We have very good experience in it. It’s a nice championship. There are difficulties and challenges, but it’s well run, well organised, and we found ourselves very welcome there. We’re looking for opportunities in that pit lane. We’ll take the next couple of weeks after Le Mans to decide which direction we should take.”
At the moment though, the team must refrain from getting too distracted, as its final WEC race is just around the corner. It has to focus on Le Mans, and do everything it can to score a win in its final act.
“In the end, the news doesn’t change anything for Le Mans,” he concluded. “There’s a huge disappointment, but this presents us with one more chance to do well in a big event and put ourselves out there as an operational unit.
“Everyone is always motivated to do well at Le Mans though, we don’t need special circumstances to get the guys eager to win.
“This happens in motorsport, we have to move on. After Le Mans, we start a new chapter.”