Selling a racing program to the bean counters or a board of directors whose sole focus is moving road cars isn’t always an easy task. Certainly in some car companies where motorsports is ingrained in the DNA, it’s probably much easier. For others, there has to be a solid business case and clear evidence of return on investment. The manufacturers producing LMDh cars for the GTP class in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and for WEC Hypercar in some cases, have clear visions for how that return is manifested.
There are few companies that have been racing since their inception — one of those being Porsche, which has raced at some level since the brand’s beginnings in 1948. There likely isn’t a lot of selling involved in a Porsche racing program such as the 963 LMDh car that Porsche Penske Motorsports will race in the WeatherTech Championship and WEC. Still, for Porsche and each of the other three manufacturers — Honda/Acura, BMW and Cadillac –there is both a marketing component and a technological transfer benefit as well. Racing helps sell cars, especially sports and performance-oriented cars — it’s a communications tool to let people know a manufacturer is serious about performance. But there is also knowledge to be gained in racing as well.
“The (Cadillac V-LMDh cars) were designed by our design team, they were designed for racing,” explains Rory Harvey, Cadillac’s Global vice president. “But it gives us great ability to be able to further our experience in terms of aerodynamics. We take those learnings and we can portray those onto our performance vehicles, albeit that we’re in that transition phase between internal combustion engines and going all EV, as an example.”
Cadillac has an EV for sale, and Acura has hybrids with an EV on the way. BMW and Porsche already sell both. The hybrid powertrain of LMDh makes it an easier sell as companies move to some level of electrification in their road cars, and a better connection between the race cars and road cars. The spec nature of the hybrid system makes LMDh more cost effective than the bespoke Hypercar drivetrain as well. All benefits, to be sure, but performance is usually the number one communication point of racing to prospective customers.
“We wanted to be back in the in the highest level of motorsport,” says Andreas Roos. head of BMW M Motorsport for which BMW M Team RLL will race a pair of BMW M Hybrid V8s. “Then we also we have our pyramid in motorsport coming from the M2CS cup, GT4, GT3 cars; but for sure, we also want to compete in the in the top level of motorsport and the LMDh was, for us, the perfect platform. The GTP category is just awesome.To compete against all the other strong manufacturers is just where we want to be. And the IMSA championship for us is very important, because we sell roughly half of all our M models in the North American market.”
Like BMW, Cadillac has its own performance line, the V Series. And within that, the more track-focused Blackwings. Racing the DPiV.R allowed Cadillac to showcase its performance DNA. The V-LMDh, where the manufacturers have a little more freedom of design, takes that to another level, and adds in the electrification factor as well.
“We’re able to showcase what we do from a technology perspective, from a performance perspective, from an aerodynamics perspective,” says Harvey. “And it gives us the ability to sort of transfer technology across to our road cars, whether it be looking at the aerodynamics as an example, and like my colleague in terms of the M series, obviously, Cadillac has our V series, and we have our V series Blackwings, which are very, very successful. As we work with them to ensure that we can maximize this opportunity, and make sure that we can replicate some of this on the road. We did the track editions last year that sold out virtually immediately, which shows in terms of the target audience, that they really do dovetail into what we want to achieve.”
With a spec hybrid system, though, does LMDh really give manufacturers anything to learn in the drivetrain department? According to Honda Performance Development president David Salters, as HPD and Acura prepare to race the new ARX-05 with Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing, the answer is yes, thanks to much room to maneuver within the software.
“The lovely thing about this platform is in terms of software, it’s open. You can write all your own software,” Salters explains. “So we have a group of people that are also working with our main engineering group, and we are looking at energy management and again, how do you recover energy? How do you deploy energy? And there are clear learnings there that could transfer in terms of making a more efficient vehicle or a more performing vehicle, because that’s exactly what a race car needs to be in different phases — efficient and performing. So we get to fast track that and we get to try it, particularly on energy management, and what batteries are doing and thinking about, and how motors behave, and all that sort of stuff. We have them on our test cells, we have them in our race car, we discuss it with our road car guys. Some of them are actually embedded. So there’s direct transfer there.
“There are other areas, also. The ability to express your styling should not be underrated. It’s a big motivator throughout the company, to the people to have that opportunity. And then there is the key bit of developing people. So you get to have people in your programs, they get to really push themselves, and then that transfers back into the main organization. With all the software being open and the hybridization, all that sort of stuff has definitely allowed us to attract the next generation of engineers. And that is delightful from my point of view, because I’m turning into an old crusty engineer now, and you want to see the next group come through.”
Beyond the marketing and engineering benefits to the racing, there’s another: racing, and in particular, winning, is often a company-wide morale booster. It’s something Salters and his colleagues at the other companies understand as well.
“It’s also fun; we shouldn’t forget that,” Salters says. “It’s sometimes hard, but not really. So we do it because it’s fun, but it’s also in our DNA.”