Audi Sport shared an incredible gift with brand enthusiasts this holiday season with the announcement there’d be a return to Le Mans via the new LMDh prototype racing category. Then, Porsche confirmed their own LMDh shortly thereafter. Both plan a return to the segment by the 2023 racing season when the LMDh formula is set to begin… and also the 100th anniversary of the very first running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for those doing the math. There’s no doubt 20233 is going to make for an epic racing season.
What drew the two most successful marques at Le Mans back into top-tier prototype racing? There’s no doubt that the cost-effective LMDh formula is the culprit. Basically, it’s an evolved LMP2 chassis from one of a handful of providers with spec Xtrac hybrid system, Bosch electric motor and Williams batteries. Engine choices are wide open, allowed to be specific race motors or derived from a production engine, and all will be limited to 500 kW peak output with hybrid power.
Just which engines Porsche and Audi finally decide upon remain to be seen. Rumors in the press suggest Porsche may go with a turbocharged V8 derived from the Cayenne, while Audi may redevelop its DTM engine for endurance racing. The latter is a race-only engine, not derived from anything production and only used for sprint racing in the DTM series up until now. Whether or not these rumors are based in reality remains to be seen.
Developed jointly by IMSA in the U.S.A. and the ACO in Le Mans, the formula has been designed from the outset to be able to vie for an all-out win at Le Mans. It will also be eligible to compete in the IMSA series in the USA including the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring, plus the FIA’s World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC). It’s also been mentioned as a possible formula successor for series like the DTM, making an investment in a competitive LMDh design something a car manufacturer can use in racing around the world. And, the cost-effective equipment and operation mean a return of customer racing at this top level, something Audi enjoyed during the R8 LMP1 era with market specific customers like Champion Racing (USA), Team Goh (Japan), Oreca (France) and Veloqx (UK).
There’s no doubt race grids will be packed by 2023. Any number of other manufacturers have been exploring LMDh from casual confirmation of interest to explicit confirmation of evaluation programs as revealed by Mazda and Acura. In the meantime, Peugeot and Toyota are both actively developing cars for the ACO’s Le Mans Hypercar formula that will hit Le Mans sooner and be performance balanced with the LMDh cars once they arrive.
As mentioned, when the Audi and Porsche team transports do arrive in Le Mans in 2023, that won’t be the only big deal that year. The first running ever of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was back in 1923. That doesn’t mean the 100th running as the 1936 race was canceled due to strikes, and there was a hiatus from 1939-1949 due to World War 2 and the post-war need to repair the facilities. Even still, it’s the 100th anniversary of the first-ever race.
So here’s to 2023. It’s going to be a banner year in sportscar racing. We can assure you that we here at Audi Club are taking this very seriously, and already looking into options for group travel to Daytona, Sebring and even the 100thbirthday party for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.