Bart Mampaey Team Principal RBM
“You only get results by letting talented people work hard and together”
Discreet. There is no better word to describe the headquarters of the Belgian RBM squad. Hidden in an industrial zone in Mechelen, in between Antwerp and Brussels, only the impressive BMW Juma-dealership refers to the glorious racing past of the Mampaey family. The workshop in which RBM prepares its DTM machines is right next to the showroom.
Could you tell us what RBM stands for?
“RBM is an operational (engineering, operational and logistics) team working in motorsports. Our main goal is to race in a professional environment, and win the championships in which we compete. We want to select all necessary ingredients that lead to such a success and then put them to good use. This could be by representing a car manufacturer or its sports department (such as BMW Motorsport), but we could also support an external partner, by providing the necessary services or by developing a product that leads to a common goal. RBM has a past and a future in motorsport, but we want to look beyond. In the future RBM would like to focus on developing services and products that could find their way to the car industry.”
What are you first memories of racing?
“Those date back from the time that my dad Julien ‘Juma’ Mampaey made his racing debut in the Belgian hill climb championship! I guess that was around 1973. The first image that comes to mind is the Lola prototype of multiple champion Jean “Beurlys” Blaton (former father-in-law of Jacky Ickx and a well known racer and Le Mans-competitor in the Seventies, ed.) in the hill climb of Bomerée, known as the “M” of Bomerée. Obviously I have plenty of memories of the races in which the Juma team was competing, especially when it comes to the Spa 24 Hours or the international races in the European Touring Car Championship.”
When did you decide to go for a career in motorsport?
“I grew up during the heyday of the united Juma/Joosen Racing team. At a very early age I knew I wanted to do something in motorsport. I spent plenty of time in the paddock or pitlane, but I especially liked to watch the cars trackside. I am pretty sure that I sometimes stood in a spot that was off limits for a kid my age! I remember that during the 1978 Spa 600 km I saw Derek Bell almost lose control of his Juma BMW. I had just pulled myself up to see above the guardrails when it happened, but out of fear I let go and tumbled back down. When I decided to follow courses in industrial engineering and applied economics that was certainly with a career in motorsport at the back of my mind.”
Did you ever race yourself?
“I had a stab at karting. My cousin Bruno Mampaey was happy to tinker with my kart and to help me transport it to the karting track in Genk. But it was difficult to combine with school. The races abroad made it difficult to invest the necessary time. I have always focused on managing a team and the level of my driving skills was not about to change all that. I did compete in a couple of Belcar races with my sister Pascale, but that wasn’t really a success.”
When Juma put a stop to its racing activities, you worked for some important teams. Was that part of a bigger plan?
“It was a pity that in 1986 the Juma team ceased to exist. I was only 17 at the time and I had high hopes that I could continue my motorsports activities during my engineering studies. Through my parents’ contacts with their former colleagues/team bosses I was able to work for some them during the school holidays. That was how I joined the Swiss Eggenberger squad (representative of Volvo Motorsport and Ford, ed.) for the Spa 24 Hours and I was part of the crew taking care of their two Sierra Cosworths. Subsequently I moved to the engine department of BMW Motorsport and during the 1992 Spa 24 – the one with the famous sprint finish in the last lap – I was part of the winning Bigazzi squad. Afterwards I helped dismantle the engine of the winning Martin-Soper-Danner BMW M3 in Munich. Years later I often worked together with those people again, in the ETCC or the WTCC.”
“I stole a lot with my eyes.” That is how you describe your passage with the Schnitzer team, a squad you eventually would beat in the ETCC and WTCC!
“I already learned a lot during my early years within the Juma team, but I also gained plenty of experience afterwards, in three different projects. When in 1999 RBM had it first shot at the Spa 24 Hours with the Nissan Primera, I spent plenty of time with Nissan Nissan Motorsport Europe in Didcot, England. NME ran the BTCC program at the time and through their high level, their resources and their people I quickly learnt how to develop and build a car in a professional environment. In 2000 the French Oreca team offered me a job as a race engineer for one of their Viper GTS/Rs in the American Le Mans Series, Daytona 24 Hours, Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA GT championship. At the same time I also was the race engineer for the Belgian PK Carsport Viper. During that ALMS season the Oreca Viper shared the same starting grid as a couple of Schnitzer cars, and one day Charly Lamm asked me to work as a race engineer for BMW Motorsport, so I could take care of their BMW M3 V8 GTR during the 2001 ALMS season.”
That Nissan Primera was the first time the name ‘RBM’ was visible on a car, but the real debut of RBM dates back to the 1995 BMW Compact Cup.
“Exactly! RBM was created in 1995, but because of the close relationship with the BMW Juma dealership we never showed the name. That continued in 1996, when we had a BMW 325 TDS in the Spa 24, in 1997, when we finished first and second in Group N of the Spa classic, and even the 1998 Spa 24 Hours winning BMW 320i of Duez-Cudini-Van de Poele had a Juma logo on it. Circumstances dictated that it was more appropriate to run the Nissan under the RBM flag though.”
RBM won the 2004 ETCC, followed by three title-winning seasons in WTCC. How do you explain the success of the RBM/Priaulx partnership?
“To compensate for our lack of experience and the fact that we had only one driver and one car, we had to aim higher than the competition! In 1998, we learnt a lot from [French racing driver] Alain Cudini, even though our programme together was limited. He had worked for very professional teams, had been AMG-driver in DTM and knew that when it comes to developing a car and finding the right set-up test days are key. Those two aspects are the foundations of getting great results. Andy Priaulx was very open-minded about our way of working, had the necessary talent and proved to be mentally and physically very strong. In our ETCC/WTCC days there was no limit on the number of test days, I think we did at least 45 each season. You only get results by letting talented people work hard and together, with the same objectives and the same work ethic.
After the WTCC adventure came to an end, you laid low for a while. We remember you took a Z4 to the test track.
“After ending the official WTCC program at the end of 2010, 2011 was a transition year. During the season BMW asked us to test the first turbo engines for customer teams in WTCC. At the same time there was the development of a Z4 GT3 and the first intensive test days to prepare for DTM.”
That led to your nomination as one of the BMW teams in DTM?
“The decision to quit WTCC was inspired by the choice to enter DTM. Based on our good results in WTCC, RBM was picked as one of the teams that would represent BMW in DTM. The fact that we were testing the new car in 2011 and that last year we were asked to run three cars instead of two shows that we have a great relationship with Munich.”
Endurance or sprint racing? Which do you prefer?
“There is no difference for me, I don’t prefer one or the other. What counts is getting the results. In an ideal world we would do both as it's always nice to take on a different challenge. RBM has quite a history in sprint racing, but when at the end of 2016 we entered a VLN race with a M6 GT3 for Jörg Müller and Nico Menzel we were pretty competitive (pole position and finishing second in the race, ed.). Afterwards, the team was really happy. And I think endurance racing is part of my professional DNA as well, because of my Juma background.”
The way DTM works and the new technologies at hand show that motorsport has evolved plenty during the last couple of years. Is there a big difference between working with BMW in WTCC and in DTM?
“In WTCC we had a base kit, which we continued to develop ourselves. That is why we often managed to beat the other BMW teams. DTM is completely different. It starts with the development and the construction of the car, which is done by BMW Motorsport, extensive wind tunnel testing included. During the races there is a continuous exchange of data between BMW Motorsport and the teams. It is the first time that we work so closely together with the people from BMW Motorsport. Due to the complex nature of the car and the extreme high level of technology there is no other option. A lot of former F1 personnel are still working at BMW Motorsport and I can say that our team has learnt a lot because of our collaboration.
We try to get the most out of the team-car-driver combination. What counts is the preparation by the engineers, a perfect operational execution, the collaboration with our drivers and a perfect simulation of each session and each race on each circuit. To support this, the team now has a racing simulator, and we spent a lot of time on it to collect the necessary data to get an ideal preparation for each of the ten race weekends.”
Are you still directly involved in running the cars?
“Some 30 people are now working at RBM, divided in four different groups: team management, engineering, operations and logistics. Each group has its own leader, and they are responsible for the contact with BMW in their area of expertise. The same goes for development, testing, racing, strategic decisions, marketing and PR activities. So to answer the question: no, I haven’t chosen the type of springs on our cars for quite a while now! My job is to oversee all activities. I am involved in each of the groups, but within RBM I am mostly occupied with the overall organization, recruitment and keeping the team motivated.”
You have won everything there is to win with touring cars. What is your goal now?
“I like changes. I like challenges. I do not want to stand still. At present, the car industry is evolving enormously, and that will change motorsports as well. Obviously I still have dreams for RBM, and I hope that one day we will be able to realize them. There’s the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the Indy 500… Plenty of races to be inspired by.”
Besides RBM, is there something else in your life?
“Of course there is! People in motorsport tend to work hard, and it’s no different at RBM. We like to push the boundaries. But obviously my family life is more important. Together with Lies we try to share the adventures of our children, Rieke, Per, Woud and Liv, as much as possible. We love to travel as a family. Since last November, I have also been trying to get to grips with golf. That proves to be a bigger challenge than I expected!”