With the first of the ’08 M3 street cars currently making their way into owners’ hands, BMW of North America LLC reveals it will carry on the vehicle’s competitive history by fielding a pair of M3 racers in the 2009 American Le Mans Series.

Both cars will run in the entry-level GT2 class and will be managed by BMWNA and Rahal Letterman Racing, co-owned by motorsport legend Bobby Rahal and late-night television luminary David Letterman.

“Sports-car racing has been part of BMW of North America’s history practically from day one,” says Chairman and CEO Tom Purves. “We are confident the fourth-generation M3 will continue the legacy of its two predecessors, which combined to win six manufacturer’s championships over nine seasons in U.S. sports-car racing.”

BMWNA began its racing efforts in the U.S. in the late 1970s’, with various M3s accounting for 53 victories between 1995 and 2006.

“BMW represents one of the cornerstones on which the ALMS was built and has maintained a loyal following of dedicated owners and fans since that time,” says ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton.

To compete with Ferrari F430s, Porsche 911s and Aston Martin V-8 Vantages at the GT2 level, the auto maker optimized nearly every high-performance aspect of the new M3 coupe developed by BMW M GmbH.

The stock 4.0L DOHC V-8, known as P65 in race trim, is fitted with a dry-sump oiling system for a lower center of gravity, as well as a new engine-management system and improved intake and exhaust flows. Output is estimated at 485 hp and 368 lb.-ft. (500 Nm) of torque, up from the standard M3’s 414 hp and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm).

A 6-speed sequential racing gearbox delivers the power, while widened and highly adjustable front and rear suspensions manage the balance of the chassis.

Additional racing gear, including wider 18-in. slick tires, larger brakes and the requisite safety equipment, also has been added.

Much of the M3’s interior has been gutted to save weight and make room for a roll cage.

However, the bulk of the racecar’s diet comes from the liberal use of carbon-reinforced plastic (CRP) for nearly all of the aerodynamically honed body.

The standard M3 utilizes CRP for its roof, as does the racecar, but expanding the material’s use allows curb weight to be cut by nearly one-third to 2,535 lbs. (1,150 kg), the auto maker says.

BMW AG previously has said it has no immediate plans to compete with the new M3 in Europe, as it is pleased with the current success of its Z4 M Coupe GT in the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile’s World Touring Car Championship.

msutton@wardsauto.com