INSIGHT: Porsche's road map toward a prototype reboot

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INSIGHT: Porsche's road map toward a prototype reboot

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INSIGHT: Porsche's road map toward a prototype reboot

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Porsche isn’t ready to offer a lot of specifics on its newborn LMDh project, but there are plenty of indicators as to where the factory sports car program might be headed in the coming years.

Speaking with Porsche factory motorsport director Pascal Zurlinden ahead of Tuesday’s LMDh announcement, the Frenchman underscored the importance of keeping costs in check. Its financial conservatism comes after the company, along with its former FIA WEC LMP1 Hybrid rivals, effectively killed the LMP1 class through budgetary excess.

“The DPi class in IMSA showed that you can have outstanding motor racing at the highest level but with controlled costs,” he said. “Motorsports at the moment is really guided with maximum cost efficiency. And in this light, having spare parts is extreme, an extreme factor. And then the LMDh concept allows Porsche to continue to showcase the brand’s DNA, which is endurance racing. (It) all fits together.”

Zurlinden’s cost-related comments align with those of Oliver Blume, Porsche’s CEO, and the first major area where this approach could be demonstrated is with the choice of LMDh chassis supplier. Four LMP2 constructors bear the responsibility of turning manufacturers’ LMDh dreams into reality, and with Porsche’s sister brand Audi having committed to LMDh on November 30, there’s cost efficiency to be found in using a single supplier to create both models.

Zurlinden wouldn’t be drawn on this topic, but RACER understands Multimatic, the Canadian firm tasked with building Ford’s road and racing GTs, and building and running Mazda’s RT24-P DPis, is the top candidate use its next-generation LMP2 chassis as the basis for Audi and Porsche LMDh designs.

“At the moment, we are unable to evaluate it and also to comment,” Zurlinden said. “Our next step would be to decide which partner we would go for this time, which could be ORECA, Dallara, Ligier, or Multimatic. We have a favorite but it’s not done yet, and building on this decision, we’ll be able to build up all our roadmap because you need to know when you get parts, delivery times and so on. So the first step will be to choose our partner.

“Evaluation is coming in the next month, and then we will take the decision. It was not part of the first evaluation we had in our concept phase; who gets the green light.”

Although many aspects of the Audi and Porsche LMDhs will be different, with custom bodywork, custom engines, and unique cooling needs to consider, the majority of the chassis beneath the skin will be identical. And it’s here where the opportunity to order race-ready components and spare parts – from the tub to crash structures to door latches to fuel bladders – can be done in bulk, and at a prearranged discount.

Porsche’s LMDh program opens the door to a new era of its endurance racing rivalry with Audi, but without the stratospheric costs that ultimately killed LMP1. Motorsport Images

Another key area to finalize is the engine that will power Porsche’s LMDh. Zurlinden is not in favor of building something new and purely for the sake of endurance racing like the wild V4 turbo that propelled the brand’s Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid.

“It’s in the final evaluation, but as we said, cost efficiency is important for us,” he reiterated. “So a road car-based engine is always more cost-effective.”

Like its anticipated selection of Multimatic, RACER has learned Porsche is keen to take the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 found in its Cayenne SUV and develop the motor for use in LMDh. At a claimed 541hp for the production Cayenne, the need to make 630hp in LMDh – coupled with the spec 40hp kinetic energy recovery system supplied by Bosch and Williams – isn’t much to ask. Provided the Cayenne turbo engine is chosen as Porsche’s half of the LMDh hybrid equation, the only significant task to consider would be carving weight from the production-based motor. The job, however, might not be overly intensive, as the minimum engine weight in LMDh has been set at a friendly minimum of 397 pounds.

For the sake of differentiation, Audi and Porsche are said to be headed down different paths with motors. Facing the end of its participation in the DTM, it’s believed Audi will repurpose its 640hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines for LMDh. Making sufficient power won’t be an issue; turning the motors into 24-hour performers would require most of Audi Sport’s efforts. And at a comparatively tiny 187 pounds – akin to Mazda’s engine of the same displacement and cylinder count – ballast would be necessary to meet LMDh’s minimum standard.

One area of partial clarity is found with Porsche’s intent to field factory racing teams, and to supply cars to interested LMDh customers. A budget is said to be in place for a pair of cars in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the FIA’s World Endurance Championship, but team identities, and the volume of customer LMDhs to be made available, are unknown at this stage.

“We intend to run full championships in both championships from 2023. That’s our intention,” Zurlinden said.

With its base in Germany, Porsche Motorsport is expected to have a big role in running its WEC program, whereas in North America, a new partner team would be required to campaign factory LMDhs. Team Penske, a significant player in running and developing the title-winning Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 in the American Le Mans Series, continues to be mentioned as the leading option to represent the brand’s LMDh program in IMSA.

On the matter of customer cars, rumors of significant interest have made the rounds, with requests for multiple cars said to have been made by more than one prospective entrant. Zurlinden declined to say how many LMDhs would be commissioned in its first order, but he did indicate requests from privateers will factor into the build process.

“It’s all about capacity and delivery times, but definitely we will not say to a customer, ‘No, thank you,’ he said. “Ideally, if you look at, if the car is cost-effective, if the car is easy to handle… If you look at the past of Porsche motorsport in the ’80s and ’90s, it was standard to have our customers in the top class, even fighting against the works cars, even winning the big races. And as Porsche, if a Porsche wins, we are happy.”

If Porsche selects the Cayenne V8 for LMDh, it would add to the achievement earned by Action Express Racing, which used a privateer version of the engine to win on its debut at the 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Image by Marshall Pruett

Locking in the final elements to move forward with an LMDh project will dominate Porsche’s immediate future. As the brand’s fans await concept drawings and finer details of the new-for-2023 challenger, Zurlinden says he’s confident Porsche has chosen the right prototype formula.

Its first true step – weighting the merits offered by IMSA’s LMDh and the WEC’s Le Mans Hypercar regulations – resulted in the only real definitive answer to hold.

“We can speak openly about it; we are really fully convinced that LMDh is really cost-effective, and if the balance of performance works, which we are really convinced that all mechanism are in place at ACO, FIA and IMSA, then both [LMDh and LMH] concepts would have the same performance level,” he said. “The best thing is to look at GTLM races, or GTE races, or DPi races. [For] a few years, we see that racing is always getting closer and the BoP systems are working. And I think you can see the closest racing which is possible, and why not [join] this top class? And then if you have a cost-efficient concept, you know you can go for the overall win, and you trust that the BoP will work, why choose the other one?”

Audi is in. Porsche is in. Acura has started an LMDh design study with ORECA. McLaren has reaffirmed its ongoing evaluation of an LMDh program. And more positive news could be on the way for the formula.

“We are looking to still see some big names coming out,” Zurlinden said. “And the more manufacturers you have the better it is, but also LMDh gives a chance to have private teams who can also fight for overall [wins], and so if you have agreed between 10 and 15 cars to start with, it’s a good number to have really big, nice fights. But it could be become even bigger. Let’s see and wait [for what happens in] the next six months or more.”

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