It had been humiliated in 2003 when using dry ice to cool the cars before the race led to gearbox failures. This time Schnitzer Motorsport boss Charly Lamm knew there could be no repeat.

"This race is one of Germany's major motorsport events," said BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen. "A marathon of this kind is a tremendous sporting and technical challenge: it's a combination of speed, teamwork, strategy and reliability."

He forgot to mention a civil war-size budget...Nobody at BMW offered numbers, but it ploughed more into trackside advertising than most teams spent on their entry and keeping two cars running at that pace for 24 hours undoubtedly cost millions of Euros.Proving its cars to be the fastest and most reliable was more than worth the investment, so BMW took its all-conquering ALMS car and transformed it. Not only did the engine need reworking to meet the ADAC's regulations, reducing its output to 500 bhp, it also needed an all-new aerodynamic configuration for the faster Nubürgiring, achieved with a 40% model and serious wind-tunnel time. It also needed more supple suspension to cope with the ups and downs of this circuit.

Many components were reinforced to cope with the rigours of 24 hours on track, compared to the four-hour outings on U.S. soil. And BMW had one other weapon in its arsenal, a crucial one, traction control, gained from a raid on the F1 team's technology. Opel didn't have this at its disposal, and in the end it was to prove decisive.

After dry practice the first BMW lay fourth fastest behind the Manthey Racing Porsche, one Opel and one Audi TT. It wasn't looking good, but in the race the rain came almost immediately and the traction control came into its own."The car was all over the place and it was really difficult for the first half of the race, especially as we seemed to be on the wrong tyres all the time," said Jorg Muller, who won the ALMS and has been BMW's main touring car man for many a year now. He may have had problems, but they were nothing compared to their rivals.

Without traction control, Opel drivers Volker Strycek and Peter Dumbrek put BMW's only challenger into the wall during the night--losing catastrophic amounts of time in the pits. From there Muller, his brother and Stuck simply had to keep the car on the track to claim victory ahead of the sister BMW with a North American at the wheel.

It was Jorg and Dirk's first win in this prestigious race, and the jubilation was clear to see. Stuck had won twice before, but at 53 years old the former F1 driver and Le Mans winner was as jubilant and childlike as ever with his latest win.

Said III was understandably pleased with the groundbreaking effort in the second car. His most gushing praise, however, was reserved for the track.

"It's cool being the first guy from America on the podium, and if I could race at this place every week then I definitely would," he explained, with the 1,000-yard stare of a man who just returned from a warzone. "I try and tell my friends about this circuit, but I don't think I've ever really got across just how great it is here.

The wide-eyed star said it all, Boris was buzzing while I could barely stay awake. In a bid for catharsis with the drivers and complete coverage, I had stayed awake for the whole race, having driven to the Nordschleife the day of the start and home after the race. It was arguably more brutal than racing, but I wouldn't have missed it. And if Le Mans clashes with this, the world's biggest and best race next year, it will have to wait once again.

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