BMW and a gathering of 600 invited guests got into the Christmas spirit at the weekend, as the Austrian town of Seefeld staged the celebration of a successful season for the marque in Formula One and the European Touring Car Championship.

The festivities followed the unveiling of BMW's 2004 competition programme, which motorsport director Mario Theissen said would again be spearheaded by the assault on Formula One's world championship.

"The number one priority is naturally our challenge for the Formula One world championship with the BMW WilliamsF1 team," Theissen said, "I believe we've got what it takes. We have developed a further new engine in Munich and we want to set the benchmark for Formula One again in 2004 with the BMW P84. Our partner WilliamsF1 has announced the second innovative chassis in succession, and we can continue to depend on our successful drivers Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and Marc Gen?."

Attending the party were Formula One drivers Montoya, along with wife Connie, Schumacher, with wife Cora, and test driver Gen?, who were joined by the BMW works drivers from the European Touring Car Championship, Dirk and J?rg M?ller. Also joining in the celebrations were another two dozen racing drivers who had claimed motor racing successes around the world for BMW in 2003.

Enjoying the Christmas market in the medieval ambience of the BMW Motorsport Castle and the party that followed were, among others, BMW board member Professor Burkhard G?schel, WilliamsF1 bosses Frank Williams and Patrick Head, outgoing BMW motorsport director Gerhard Berger, ex-Formula One world champion Keke Rosberg, Prince Leopold of Bavaria, Alessandro Zanardi, TV celebrity Wolfgang Fierek and TV presenter Barbara Sch?neberger, who hosted the varied entertainment programme with occasional assistance from Hans-Joachim Stuck.

In the evening, the most successful of the independent drivers were honoured at the traditional award ceremony of the BMW Sports Trophy, worth a total of EUR241,000.

Fun and games preceded the festivities, as the 1800 square metre open-air ice stadium at the Olympia Sport and Congress Centre in Seefeld was transformed into a venue for curling and ice hockey competitions in the afternoon, with the three F1 drivers forming one team and the two M?llers, plus BMW motorsport director Mario
Theissen making up the other.

While the traditional sports passed off without a hitch - even if a little lacking in expertise - tackling the ice on BMW mountain bikes, even with spiked tyres, and in a Formula BMW race car demanded considerable skill from all inclined to take part.

The drivers' motivation to break the dominance of the colour red - representing rivals Ferrari and Alfa Romeo - was evident. Even when they dressed up as Santa Claus to hand out sweets to delighted spectators, they donned blue and white coats!

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