The BMW M1 Procar Championship, sometimes known simply as Procar, was a one-make auto racing series created by Jochen Neerpasch, head of BMW Motorsport GmbH, the racing division of automobile manufacturer BMW. The series pitted professional drivers from the Formula One World Championship, World Sportscar Championship, European Touring Car Championship, and other international series against one another using identically modified BMW M1 sports cars.
Billed as an opportunity to see a mix of drivers from various motorsport disciplines, the championship served as support races for various European rounds of the 1979 Formula One season, with Formula One drivers earning automatic entry into the Procar event based on their performance in their Formula One cars. Austrian Niki Lauda won the inaugural championship. In 1980, the series held some events outside of Formula One schedule, and was won by Brazilian Nelson Piquet. BMW chose not to continue the championship in 1981 to concentrate on their entrance into Formula One.
Jochen Neerpasch, the head of BMW’s Motorsports division, was the first to propose the idea of a one-make championship. The division had started construction of the first sports car for BMW in 1978, the M1, and had planned from the start to enter the new sports car in the World Sportscar Championship in 1979, as well as offering the cars to customers for other series. BMW Motorsport planned to build M1s to meet regulations known as Group 5, but a rule change instituted by the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) in 1977 altered the requirements for Group 5. The new regulations required a minimum of 400 examples of the M1 to be built to meet Group 4 regulations before the car could be further homologated for the Group 5 category.
The BMW M1 road car
Development of the Group 4 racing car was already under way at the time of the regulation change. Neerpasch believed that rather than delaying their racing program until 400 road cars had been built, racing cars could be built at the same time since they too counted toward the 400 example minimum. A one-make series consisting of the M1 racing cars intended for Group 4 was devised by Neerpasch since the racing cars could not yet legally compete elsewhere, while at the same time allowing BMW to develop the race cars through experience.
To attract drivers to the series, Neerpasch entered into discussions with Max Mosley. Mosley was the head of March Engineering, a constructor which BMW was partnered with in their factory efforts in the European Formula Two Championship. Mosley was at the time a member of the Formula One Constructors Association, and was able to use his position to convince other Formula One constructors to support the use of Neerpasch’s one-make series as a support race for European Formula One events. A ruling and organisation body for the series, known as The Procar Association, was set up by BMW and approved by FISA.
With the Procar Championship announced in spring 1978 at the official unveiling of the M1 road car, Neerpasch and the newly formed Procar Association laid out regulations for the 1979 season. Races were planned for the middle of the Formula One season, when the championship remained in Europe for several months. Practice and qualifying were held on Friday of the race weekend, while the race itself occurred on Saturday. The winner of each race received US ,000, second place received ,000, and third place ,000. Races varied in length, but each lasted for approximately half an hour.