With all the coyness of a 19-time overall champion, Porsche announced on Tuesday that it is returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Stuttgart carmaker let us only glimpse its plans for the LMDh class in the announcement, but that was more than enough to elicit strong reactions from the motorsport world.
The announcement says Porsche’s executive board green-lit development of the prototype that will eventually run in the legendary FIA WEC endurance race. The prototype must comply with upcoming regulations specific to the LMDh class. For those unfamiliar, the acronym stands for “Le Mans Daytona hybrid” and, as you can guess, means the drivetrain must be partially electrified.
In the announcement, Porsche’s CEO, Oliver Blume, said the following:
“The new LMDh category allows us to fight for overall victories with a hybrid system at the Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring classics – without breaking the bank. The project is extremely attractive for Porsche. Endurance racing is part of our brand’s DNA.”
The class regulations dictate specifications for the cars running, but also puts a cap on the machine’s costs and limits the amount carmakers can spend. You might recall cost has become a significant concern for carmakers in motorsport, and race administrators are finally doing something about it.
The exciting thing about these regulations is they grant carmakers autonomy without making the endurance race a show of financial force. The idea being carmakers can’t just buy their way to victory.
Porsche is emphasizing its prototype will run in the LMDh class, but rival carmakers Toyota and Peugeot will run in the LMH, or “Le Mans Hypercar,” class. This means different regulations will apply to different machines all running in the same race.
The LMH class could mean higher costs and more complex development than the LMDh class. In the former, there are no requirements for hybrid drivetrains and either specialized prototypes or existing hypercars can be outfitted for the race; the latter is strict about drivetrain, output, and even suppliers for any given prototype. We’ll see which approach wins out.
Porsche has been slowly releasing more information since the tweet late Tuesday. In a subsequent statement, it gave an early, broad outline of the prototype, which it claims “will tip the scales at around 1,000 kilograms [about 2,200 pounds],” and be “powered by a hybrid system with an output of 500 kW (680 [horsepower]).”
For now, Porsche’s announcement is only a preview, which makes sense given the timeline. The carmaker is making this announcement as we head into 2021, but the prototype won’t race at Le Mans until 2023. Starting that year, the LMDh cars will run in the top class of the series. In other words, it’s a distant return for the carmaker but a big one.
What we can make out from the images Porsche is sharing has nonetheless drawn our attention. The early design of the prototype seems derived from the 919 Hybrid, with its fenders flared and rigid fin bisecting its upper panel. The LEDs are a departure from that design but by the time we see actually see it, the prototype will be leaps ahead anyway.
The welcome-back wagon has rolled out for Porsche throughout the day and of course, we would be remiss without it, so, Porsche, welcome back.