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April 17, 2008

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BMW Motorrad Motorsport Returns To Le Mans With Two Factory Teams

Woodcliff Lake, NJ - The BMW Motorrad Motorsport team is making final preparations to compete in the 2008 FIM Qtel Endurance World Championship. The first event in this year's six-round championship will take place April 19 and 20 at Le Mans, France. BMW Motorrad team members are looking forward to returning to the historic Bugatti circuit for the '24 Hours Moto of Le Mans' race. Last year, the factory team marked its return to world championship motorcycle racing with a fantastic result at the grueling 24 hour race in France, ending with a win in its class and a highly impressive 16th overall after 776 laps on the modified R 1200 S sports boxer.

Along with many other teams, BMW has been participating in two days of testing on the Bugatti racetrack and is now able to confirm its rider line-up for this prestigious race.

Two BMW factory teams will pilot the new HP2 Sport at Le Mans. Experienced endurance rider Stephan Mertens -- now free from injury - will return to the team on bike number 17, along with fellow Belgian countryman Sebastian Le Grelle and German rider Rico Penzkofer.  British rider Richard Cooper, Spaniard Josť-Luis Nion and American Brian Parriott will ride bike number 71. For Richard Cooper, his inclusion in the team is a "dream come true".

The 24-year-old recently impressed international audiences with a fantastic ride for BMW Motorrad Motorsport in the Formula Xtreme Daytona 200 race - the most prestigious race in America - where he finished in fifth place, just in front of teammate Brian Parriott. Although he appeared perfectly at home on the HP2 Sport in the USA, Cooper has benefited from the recent shakedown test at Le Mans and is feeling extremely confident with the capability of the sports boxer on the French circuit.

"Things couldn't have gone much better for me in the USA last month, and this has fortunately continued last week in Le Mans," he said. "I rode a different bike than the one I had at Daytona and things just 'clicked' instantly. I was the fastest BMW rider in every session and I've come away much more confident, and with what I believe is a really good set-up for the race. I can't put my finger on it, but things just feel right. Our team seems really well suited too - Josť -Luis Nion is the same size as me, so we have a similar bike set-up; and Brian speaks Spanish, which helps team communication with Josť-Luis. It's a shame Thomas Hinterreiter is injured as he is such a valuable member of the team, but I believe he will be in pit-lane with us anyway."

Richard's teammate, Brian Parriott, is looking forward to participating in what is probably the most famous and also the toughest endurance race on the calendar. The Californian was part of the works team that raced at the Bol d'Or last September and was also in sensational form at Daytona earlier this year. He is really looking forward to joining the factory squad in Europe again.

"I love racing in Europe - who wouldn't? For me, it is especially nice to be back with the factory BMW team. I have a great relationship with everyone involved and it is a very top-notch effort. I enjoy Le Mans as a circuit and the surrounding area is very beautiful, so I am very much looking forward to this opportunity. My early impressions of the HP2 Sport are that it is just fabulous - a real race bike. I've been racing BMW boxers for a long time now and the changes from the R 1100 S to the HP2 Sport are 3,000 percent! It seems to me that the Boxer Cup series really excited BMW and challenged the company to start building race-ready machines."

This is a view that is shared by Josť-Luis Nion, who is looking forward to hustling the factory twin-cylinder sports bike around the 4.18-kilometer Bugatti circuit in front of an anticipated 90,000 spectators this weekend.

"I love the new HP2 Sport, and I believe it has great potential. It's very fast, handles well thanks to its stiff chassis and suspension, and has excellent braking capability too. The French Le Mans circuit is seriously fast and very technical, so the bike's excellent performance at low revs is important. I would love to get on the podium here - as last year's result in Oschersleben was one of my best moments in racing - but we'll have to see what happens. The weather can be so variable at this time of year, but we've got lots of experience in the team and we are ready for anything."

One rider that is certainly ready for anything on the works BMW is Sebastian Legrelle. Like his teammates, the Belgian rider has vast experience on the sports boxers from his early days in the International BMW Boxer Cup series, and he too has benefited from the pre-race test sessions at the Le Mans circuit.

"The two days I spent at Le Mans with the team were invaluable for getting to grips with the BMW HP2 Sport. I was soon 'up to speed' and was comfortably doing similar lap times to those from last year, so this bodes well for the 24 Hours race. The circuit isn't one of my favorites, but when you ride the HP2 Sport, it's hard not to enjoy yourself. It feels similar to every sports boxer I have ridden before, but is so much better in every area, such as power, brakes, and chassis. For me, the start of the race can't come soon enough!"

Free practice will start at the Le Mans 'Bugatti' track on Thursday, April 17 at 11:00 a.m., with a first qualifying session taking place in the afternoon and a night session finishing off the day's proceedings. On Friday, April 18, the second qualifying session will start at 11:00 a.m. The average best lap of each rider will define the team's position on the starting grid, making it a real team effort from start to finish. The pit-lane will be open to the public on Friday, April 18 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. The official start of the '24 Hours Moto of Le Mans' will be on Saturday, April 19 at 3:00 p.m.

Photo: BMW

(April 16, 2008)

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