If the majority of LMDh programs I’ve heard of materialize, IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will enter uncharted territory as no less than six auto manufacturers are expected to commission next-generation hybrid prototypes.
To date, three major brands have committed to LMDh, and the only significant question left to answer is when the fourth, fifth, sixth, and more will confirm their plans.
Of the three manufacturers currently competing in DPi, Acura was the first to declare its intent to stay for LMDh in 2023. It will continue working with ORECA, whose 07 LMP2 chassis forms the basis of the brand’s championship-winning ARX-05 model. Of the other two DPi contenders, Mazda is departing at the end of 2021 and will not return for LMDh, which leaves General Motors and its Cadillac brand as the only other manufacturer left to declare its intent.
All the signals surrounding GM point to extreme positives. As the only DPi manufacturer linked with Dallara, and owing to the championships and big endurance victories earned with the P217 serving as the underpinnings for its DPi-V.R, it would be a shock if GM does not sign on for LMDh and take advantage of the ability to send one or more cars to Le Mans each June in pursuit of overall victories.
Another item to ponder is whether a GM LMDh would continue under the Cadillac banner, or if the rumored Corvette sub-brand might be deployed. If we’re fortunate to keep GM when DPi transitions into LMDh, its anticipated use of the formula to support its upcoming shift towards electrified cars and trucks could form the basis of an interesting advertising initiative.
Of the newcomers, Audi and Porsche, two flagship names from the Volkswagen Group, have also launched LMDh programs. Multimatic, maker of Mazda’s gorgeous RT24-P DPi, is expected to handle the chassis supply for the German conglomerate.
In the six weeks or so between January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona and March’s 12 Hours of Sebring, the Volkswagen Group is said to have expanded its interest in using LMDh as a cost-friendly platform to bring two more of its brands to the formula in Bentley and Lamborghini.
While Audi and Porsche are set for 2023 launches and are expected to field factory efforts in IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship, I’ve only heard mention of Bentley and Lamborghini as being on a slightly delayed LMDh trajectory for 2024.
Whether it’s two, three, or four from the Volkswagen Group, it’s obvious the company has found something significant on the cost side that works for a wide variety of its brands. The most interesting angle to emerge among the four brands is Lamborghini, which could be positioned as the primary solution for LMDh customer sales.
And that’s not to say Audi or Porsche won’t sell their LMDhs to privateers; we know they’ve received an overwhelming number of inquiries, but those are known to be factory racing programs first and foremost. If it’s accurate, Lamborghini’s position in the auto industry as a manufacturer of highly-customized super cars would be a natural fit to serve as Volkswagen’s supplier of customer cars for LMDh in North American and European endurance racing.
Depending on how many Volkswagen Group models are commissioned through Multimatic, one must wonder if the company would have room to supply anyone other than Audi, Porsche, and a few of its sister brands.
As we wrote last month, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is hoping to continue its association with BMW if and when the manufacturer commits to LMDh. Provided the company is successful at landing with Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic, or ORECA before other brands fill the limited number of production vacancies, I’d feel confident in adding Bavarian Motor Works to the LMDh stampede.
Ford has offered encouraging words about LMDh, but it’s hard to get a read on whether the company is ready to press the button on a new professional sports car program. I wonder if the note about Multimatic – Ford’s partner in the Le Mans-winning Ford GT project that ran through 2019 – and the high ambition from the Volkswagen Group could limit the ability for both sides to collaborate on an LMDh. And if, by chance, there are no vacancies at Multimatic, would Ford really consider taking its LMDh business elsewhere?
McLaren is another manufacturer known to harbor an interest in joining the LMDh field. I don’t think I’d be revealing anything top secret by mentioning the brand has been both hot and cold on the topic of LMDh since the new formula was announced, and if recent rumblings bear any truth, the topic is getting warmer each day.
Like McLaren, the same hot/cold routine has been found whenever Hyundai’s name is mentioned. The Korean manufacturer was said to be out of the LMDh conversation late last year when it recommitted to the World Rally Championship, but hints of a North American-based LMDh project continue to make the rounds.
After Acura, Audi, and Porsche, which brands among Bentley, BMW, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Lamborghini, or McLaren will be next to plant their flag in LMDh? I don’t expect all seven to be represented on the WeatherTech Championship grid, but for the first time in more than a decade, there’s a reason believe we’re headed towards a new golden era in North American endurance racing.