One of the best stories in this year’s Dubai 24-hour race, with a record entry of 96 cars and 89 cars taking the start of the race, was the participation of the ‘Mission Possible’ team with four paralysed drivers racing a BMW M235i Cup, run by experienced German team, Sorg Rennsport. The BMW M235i Cup, a car from the German one-make series that normally runs within the VLN endurance championship on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, was only slightly adapted: a manually operated lever for throttle and brake was mounted on the centre console and an eight-speed automatic transmission, supplied and approved by BMW Motorsport, replaced the car’s regular gearshift with shift paddles mounted on the steering column. The pedals were covered by a wooden plank. Otherwise, the car was in no way any different from the five other cars that were entered for the BMW Cup class in Dubai. Drivers steer the car with their left hand only and use their right hand to operate the lever for throttle and brake.
The team had asked for permission to have an additional person to assist with driver changes during the pit stop (normally, only four people are allowed to work on the car during pit stops), but this request was turned down. There was just one mechanic with a wheelchair standing ready on the side when one of the drivers got out of the car. With Austrian Gustav Engljähringer, German Marc Dilger, Dutchman Mike Smit and Australian Matt Speakman, the team had a truly international line-up. Engljähringer, Dilger and Smit had already raced together in last year’s twelve-hour race at Zandvoort in The Netherlands, Speakman was a new addition to the team. “In fact, we had also spoken with Takuma Aoki, the paralysed former Japanese 500 cc motorcycle racer who is now doing well in GT racing, but in the end, we got Matt Speakman on board,” says driver Mike Smit. Through BMW’s motorsport department, there was also contact with Alex Zanardi, who sent a personal message to the team and to each of the drivers to wish them well for the race in Dubai.
And the team did indeed do well in Dubai, finishing a highly creditable 49th overall out of the 89 participating entrants and fifth in the hotly-contested BMW Cup class. “Making it to the finish was our primary goal, and that is what we did. We only had one scratch on the car, on the left rear side, but apart from that, we didn’t have any problems whatsoever. Of course, driver changes took a little bit longer, as a result of which we spent a little bit over 30 minutes more in the pits over the entire race than three of the teams that finished ahead of us, but for the rest, it went perfectly,” Mike Smit tells.
So, having completed their ‘Mission Possible’ by making it to the finish in the Dubai 24 Hours, what could be the team’s next challenge? Mike Smit: “Of course, the initial goal when the team was founded was to take part in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, but the German motorsport federation has more stringent rules than the Dutch or the Austrian federation, so that is still a difficult thing. But with Matt Speakman, we now have an Australian driver on board and he is looking for opportunities for us to race in Australia, too, and it goes without saying that the Bathurst 12-hour race would be a dream, too!” First of all, the team are looking at possibilities to take part in the remaining five rounds of the 24H Series for this year. Just like two Dutch amateur racers made their dream come true by staging that first race in Dubai in 2006, the paralysed drivers of the ‘Mission Possible’ team are turning their own dream into reality.