BMW, Cadillac chart LMDh progress

Images courtesy of Cadillac Performance

BMW, Cadillac chart LMDh progress

IMSA

BMW, Cadillac chart LMDh progress

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Manufacturers are putting the miles on their new LMDh cars as they gear up toward IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTP and FIA WEC Hypercar competition in 2023 and beyond. While Porsche was the first to hit the ground with its 963, the other manufacturers are playing catch-up fast, and often using some of the knowledge Porsche has gained in its testing to do so.

As we speed toward the first IMSA-sanctioned test immediately following the season finale Petit Le Mans less than a month from now, RACER is checking in on the manufacturers and their progress as the try to get the cars ready for a pair of IMSA tests and then the Roar Before the 24 and Rolex 24 At Daytona in January. First up: Cadillac and BMW.

Cadillac: Balancing development and durability

Cadillac has already run several tests of its V-LMDh, starting with a shakedown and including runs at Sebring International Raceway in Florida with Porsche in July and at the end of August at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Both teams that will run the cars — Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express Racing — have now been involved in the testing, with only a handful of drivers slated to race the car in 2023 not yet having a go. So far, things are going well, beginning with the “shakedown.”

“We were able to run way more than I would consider a normal shakedown, which was exciting — being able to put so many laps on the car and to try things, vs just making sure that everything’s talking to one another,” explained Laura Klauser, sports car racing program manager at General Motors. “And I think the reason that we were able to do that is we did a lot of what I’m calling ‘indoor testing’ before we got the car on the track.

“The engine has been on a dyno pretty much all year running and working on those type of things. As soon as we had parts, we mated the hybrid system to it as best we could, working through all of that. And then we did some work at [dyno company] AVL, which I think most of the OEMs are doing as well. With such a complicated integrated system, being able to try that out on a dyno and the full car setup was great, because then you can work out the bugs there, instead of being at the racetrack where you never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you, and you’ve got a lot more people there, because running the car in person like that takes a lot more manpower than just having it plugged into a dyno.”

As all the manufacturers move forward with their testing programs, they’re looking for a balance between testing systems and performance, and putting in mileage to test durability. While mating, in Cadillac’s case, a naturally aspirated V8 to the spec hybrid system has its own challenges, and figuring out how to make it all work together and make the car fast, equally important is making sure it can run for 24 hours, because the first true test of the LMDh cars will be the Rolex 24.

“We really want to make sure we start to check durability for everything, working on putting miles on the car is as simple as it is. And there’s a balance, because when you’re doing a lot of development in an integrative system, like the power unit is for this car, it’s not really a lot of mileage,” Klauser noted. “Usually you go out, do a couple runs, you come back, look at data — you kind of just gently move ahead into honing in on whatever you’re you’re chasing. With the mileage runs, the idea is just get the car so it can run and let it run — and just run and run and see what happens as things get age and wear on them. So it’s trying to find a balance. Moving forward we still clearly need to do development — that’s important — but then we also need to achieve our goals in terms of the durability testing.”

The test with Porsche provided good insight and an opportunity for further cooperation, and all four LMDh manufacturers are exchanging as much information as possible so that they can make the grid for the Rolex 24 only five months away and all have somewhat dependable race cars — it’s no good for anyone if the attrition rate is high. And the LMDh is a much more complex car with the spec hybrid system than a DPi to begin with. The manufacturers have to figure out how to make systems cooperate that were more independent before.

“The complexity of this car is incredible,” she said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy; but until we got into it, and really started finding out how much the systems talk to each other…. Systems that never really cared about each other in the past are linked now, just because you’ve got the hybrid system, the engine, the electronic braking system — all of that stuff comes together and all the pieces in between that interface with them. Interactions that weren’t a thing or weren’t something you had to worry about, now can stop the car.

“Thankfully, we’ve got some really great people that are digging into this and trying to figure it all out and make sure we don’t miss anything. It’s exciting — from an engineer’s perspective, this is where it’s fun, because it’s new territory that we’re playing in and we’re learning and trying new things and there’s no bad ideas kind of side of it. It’s what makes all this pretty thrilling and what’s exciting about the car.”

The drivers are upbeat about the car as well.

“I think we had a really successful first test at Sebring and the guys at GM have done a great job in the short break to take all the information and make some positive steps forward in the overall development of the car,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Earl Bamber after the Sebring test. “We continue to learn about the engine and the hybrid system, which is new for everybody. Same goes for the powertrain and the chassis with Dallara. The car is wicked fun to drive. Now it’s about getting more miles, so it’s a busy time coming up with tests that are critical to the project.”

BMW: No time to waste

BMW has put its M Hybrid V8 through a brace of tests in Europe and is about to embark on its testing in the U.S. And while BMW Head of Motorsport Andreas Roos is optimistic, there’s no doubt BMW is a bit behind the curve of Cadillac and Acura, as it tries to get its car ready for Daytona and a two-car IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program with BMW M Team RLL.

“We never made a secret the decision at BMW was taken quite late to develop an LMDh car, for sure,” he said. “This now ends up in in a quite packed and tight time schedule. But we love this competition and at the end, we will manage — this is why we are there. So for sure, it’s easier, always the more time you have, but this is how it is and we all want to be in Daytona. So it’s definitely a tough time coming.

“We hit the track for the first time last month. For sure not everything runs always completely smooth. But I think we can be quite happy with how it runs. So we have some kilometers already under the belt and continue in our very intensive testing phase.”

BMW M Hybrid V8 undergoing shakedown testing. Image courtesy of BMW Motorsport

Many of BMW’s drivers have had a hand in testing the car in Europe, including Connor De Phillippi, Augusto Farfus, Nick Yelloly and new signing Rene Rast. De Phillippi, spending this season campaigning the new BMW M4 GT3 for Team RLL in GTD PRO, was the first to get behind the wheel.

“It all went really smooth,” De Phillippi related. “Obviously, it’s very early days. Lots of system stuff to work with. It’s the first time we’ve had a hybrid race car like this, so it’s kind of a new step for us as a team and as a brand. I was honestly really, really impressed on how many how many miles that we logged the first time running the car. So definitely a positive start. I think it’s been to our advantage that a couple of the other brands have done some laps and kind of shaken out the bugs in some of the systems and it’s allowed us to kind of hit the ground running.

“It was a blast to drive. It was really an honor to be the first one to drive it. Obviously, it’s a rare thing to get to do, especially since we haven’t been at that level in and quite a long time. I was comfortable right away — I had a chance to do some LMP3 stuff last year, and so getting in a closed cockpit like that I felt kind of right at home. But that was the most power I’ve ever had in the race car. So that was pretty amazing to feel the pure grunt of that thing,” he added.

BMW will run its two-car program with Rahal for 2023 in IMSA and expand to WEC in 2024. The company hasn’t stated any intent to sell customer cars, but will keep that option open. Right now, the focus is on getting its cars ready to compete in one the toughest race on the WeatherTech Championship schedule to open the season.

“They are all fully motivated, and everybody’s full push on it with all our partners, which are involved,” said Roos. “And it’s not only a BMW thing — the team is involved, Dallara is involved …everybody’s involved in the development phase, and everybody’s pushing in the right direction. So I’m quite quite happy to see what’s going on.”

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