UK-based BBM Sport, which specializes in the running of historic sportscars, particularly those from the Group C era and later, has released a video giving an overview of the latest additions to its stable, no less than five BR Engineering BR01 LMP2s, which were run by SMP Racing until 2016.
The LMP2 class has always been hotly contested, and prior to the introduction of rules limiting racers to a choice of just four chassis from approved manufacturers, it was home to a plethora of different brands. One of the last of the pre-homogenized LMP2 entries was the SMP Racing-run BR01, a bespoke car, designed by Paolo Catone (who also penned the Peugeot 908), which had its debut in 2015.
Its arrival caused some controversy, as others claimed it went against the spirit of the cost-capped LMP2 regulations where teams were supposed to purchase cars from manufacturers rather than build their own.
In 2015, the rules required that a manufacturer had to sell a car-less engine for no more than €450,000 (US$505,000) [€370,000 (US$415,000) for an open cockpit car], to try and limit performance gain through spending. If a team built its own car, however, there was no way to guarantee that it was not spending more per car than the imposed limit. Yet BR Engineering was adamant at the time that their cars were available to customers and that it was financially viable to sell them within the cost-capped price.
Speaking at the time of the car’s debut, designer Catone explained the concept of the car: “The idea behind the car was for it to be suitable for customers. This means it must be comfortable inside, with good visibility and accessibility. It is a car that needs to be sold, and if a customer sits in the car and is not comfortable, they will not buy it. Gentleman drivers are not always very thin or athletic. For example, one of our drivers who tested the car in the early days is a big chap, and if the car can fit him, it can fit anybody.
“But there is also the cost and performance to consider. We decided we wanted something that was as light as possible, but not using sophisticated materials [which push the cost up]. Instead, it is designed and manufactured in such a way that the weight and stiffness are optimized at every point of the process.”
As an example of this approach, one only has to look at the windshield surround, which is very thin compared with contemporary machines, providing the driver with excellent visibility. However, as Catone noted, “To get that design to pass the crash tests, a lot of attention needed to be paid to the construction, particularly the way the carbon fiber is laid up, the section thicknesses and the joints.”
Development of the car was also hindered by international politics, and it almost never made it to the grid. The SMP team is owned by Boris Rotenberg and his brother Arkady, both of whom were major stakeholders in the Russian bank with which the team shares its name. In 2014, the bank was subject to EU and US sanctions as part of wider financial sanctions placed on Russia for its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine.
Unbeknown to Catone, this meant payments to parts and suppliers were being frozen, just after the car’s debut. “We could not pay for things, and we even had a case of having a payment going to a supplier and the bank sent it back,” Catone recalled.
“We asked the supplier why they had not started work and they said they had not been paid. It was then that we discovered that the bank was just sending the payments back, but not telling anyone they had done so.”
The BR01 was due to be testing in November 2014, but after these issues it didn’t debut until February 2015.
The car proved to be potent, but its career would be short lived, as it was only allowed to race in 2015 and 2016. Now, once racing resumes, the cars will represent some of the most up to date machinery racing in the Masters Endurance Legends Championship.