With just over a week to go until the Nürburgring 24h-Race (May 17th to 20th), we’ve chosen to focus on some of the star attractions taking part. And there are few more exciting contenders than BMW’s Z4 GT3, which has been dominant in the first few rounds of the 2012 FIA GT1 series, in the hands of Michael Bartels and Yelmer Buurman.

Expectations will be even higher at this year’s Nürburgring 24H, which marks the 40th anniversary of BMW Motorsport. Two teams will receive works assistance at the “Green Hell” endurance battle: BMW Team Schubert and BMW Team Vita4One, both of whom will run two BMW Z4 GT3 racing cars.

Team Principal Michael Bartels will lead the Vita4One team, which features Pedro Lamy, Frank Kechele, Mathias Lauda and Ricardo van der Ende at the wheel of the number 17 BMW Z4 GT3. The number 18 car will be driven by BMW Motorsport test and development driver Marco Wittmann, Pedro Lamy, Jens Klingmann and Richard Göransson.

They will be joined by the Schubert BMW team, who have set themselves the target of overall victory with the BMW Z4 GT3. Wearing the classic BMW Motorsport colours, two BMW Z4 GT3’s have been entered and will be driven by BMW Driving Experience Chief Instructor Claudia Hürtgen, Dirk Adorf, Uwe Alzen, Dirk Müller, Jörg Müller, Nico Bastian, and Dominik Schwager.

The Z4 GT3 has become a popular car with BMW Motorsport customers, after winning in FIA GT1 and the Nürburgring VLN series during 2012, so it seems somewhat dissapointing that BMW’s road car customers cannot buy anything remotely similar to the race car.

But what, I hear you ask, is so different about the Z4 GT3 from BMW’s top production model, the £45,350 335bhp Z4 sDrive35is?

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The Z4 GT3 in focus

While the production version of the BMW Z4 sDrive35is is driven by a six-cylinder turbocharged engine (as used in the 1 Series M Coupe), the GT3 car is powered by a 4.4-litre eight-cylinder engine based on the unit from the M3 GTS.

Engine output is substantially increased from the M3 GTS’ 444bhp, now delivering a buxom 515 bhp at 8,200 rpm, and the wick has been turned up to maximum peaking at 9,000 rpm thanks to a clever new exhaust system. According to BMW, the torquey power delivery of the production M3 GTS has been retained, so the Z4 GT3’s engine is as much a slugger as well as a screamer with approximately 515 Nm of torque available at 5,500 rpm.

That’s approximately 15bhp and 15Nm more than the 4.0-litre V8 engine used in the Z4 GT3’s predecessor, the M3 GT, and the 4.4-litre engine delivers this more than 500 rpm lower in the rev range.

Engine power is transferred via a sequential six speed gearbox initiated using two “Quick Shift” paddles, whilst a modern ECU408 takes over the engine management and Power400 electronic control unit controls all the actuators.

Other improvements for the 2012 season include a rear wing made from carbon fibre instead of aluminium, which produces greater downforce with less drag. A more optimised front brake cooling system and new rear axle differential. The front axle of the Z4 GT3 is an all new design based on the latest production model, whilst rims are now secured with a central locking fitment and safety clip.

The steel body of the car comes from the BMW Plant in Regensburg, whilst the safety cell made of precision steel tubing is welded into the body frame. The engine block of the V8 engine is produced in the BMW foundry in Landshut, whilst the BMW Plant in Dingolfing provides the rear axle differential. Front and rear wings, bonnet, roof, fenders and many other components are made of carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) produced in Landshut.

The end result is a vehicle with a kerb weight of 1,190 kg with a price tag of 315,000 Euros plus VAT (circa £250,000).

With an intended lifespan until at least 2015, what chance is there for a production GTS version to appear sometime in the future? Here’s hoping.

Technical specifications

Length: 4,387 mm
Width: 2,012 mm
Height: 1,210 mm
Wheel base: 2,509 mm
Weight: 1,190 kg
Tank capacity: 115 litres
Engine type: Eight-cylinder, V-configuration
Capacity: 4,361 ccm
Bore x stroke: 92 x 82 mm
Compression: 13.0 :1
Max. output: 515 bhp (8,200 rpm)