Why Le Mans’ new era will lead a performance revolution
Thursday 9th June, 2022 - 8:41am
The 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans will see a stacked grid with factory-backed entries from Toyota, Peugeot, Ferrari, Porsche, Acura/Honda and Cadillac – with BMW and Alpine also a possibility. It will mark the beginning of a new golden age for the French endurance classic, but will also likely herald the start of a new generation of electrified performance cars.
As we’ve written before, Le Mans has long been a proving ground for new technology that filters down to road cars, but it also helps shape the agenda for brand’s and typically leads to more performance cars.
The rulemakers may have dropped the stipulation for this new generation of Le Mans Hypercars (LMH) to be based on a production model, but that’s unlikely to stop car makers from leveraging its entry to sell more production cars. The same is true of the LMDh/GTP entries from Porsche, Cadillac, BMW and Acura, because racing isn’t just about having fun – it’s all about helping these brands become more successful in the sales race.
Take a look at Porsche and its recent history with Le Mans. After winning the race in 1998 with its twin-turbo flat-six powered GT1-98, it designed and built an all-new prototype powered by a V10 engine. However, management decided to divert the money for the Le Mans program to the then-new Cayenne SUV project and the race car – known officially as the Porsche 9R3 – never turned a lap in racing anger.
But Porsche didn’t waste its Le Mans knowledge and eventually utilised the V10 engine as the basis for its Carrera GT supercar. It was a similar story for the brand’s follow-up supercar, the 918 Spyder, which used the same basic engine architecture as the RS Spyder LMP2 entry.
It’s not just Porsche or supercars either, Audi is another brand which leveraged its Le Mans domination into a new wave of production cars. The Audi R8 road car is inspired by (and named after) the company’s first Le Mans winner, but where the four-ring brand really maximised its Le Mans involvement is in promoting turbo diesel engines as a genuine performance alternative.
Prior to the success of the diesel-powered R10 at Le Mans in 2006, diesel was seen as the choice for trucks, tractors and those worried about fuel economy. By developing a new style of smoother, more refined and more powerful diesel engines and demonstrating its potential at Le Mans, Audi ushered in a new era of performance diesel vehicles.
This began with its Audi SQ5 TDI SUV, which has become one of its most popular models in Australia, with customers making it clear over the years that they prefer the combination of performance and economy that diesel delivers over a petrol alternative.
Which is why this new era of LMH/LMDh cars, which will use a combination of conventional combustion engines and hybrid systems, will likely lead to a new push from the brands involved to highlight the performance benefits of electrified vehicles.
Ferrari has just begun utilising electrification in its production models, with the SF90 Stradale and 296 GTB, but more are expected as emissions regulations effectively make it mandatory in the coming years. The Italian brand has even confirmed its first all-electric model and its Le Mans Hypercar will likely help the brand convince customers that a battery-powered Ferrari can still be fast, reliable and exciting.
Cadillac is in the midst of an electric rejuvenation, so racing its hybrid LMDh/GTP machine at Le Mans will help it demonstrate to the world that it has what it takes to compete against the likes of Porsche, Audi and BMW. The brand has committed to several all-electric models – including the Lyriq SUV and Celestiq sedan – and performance hybrids are also likely to play a key role in the future.
In 2024 Lamborghini will join the fray with its own LMDh entry and its timing will coincide nicely with the brand’s transition towards hybrid powertrain for its supercars. The replacement for the Avantador is confirmed to retain a V12 engine but with an all-new hybrid system to support it. You can be sure that the company’s Le Mans efforts will play a role in helping promote this new era for the brand.
Who knows what Porsche, BMW and the others have planned but you can be sure that Le Mans will help accelerate the development of the cars we’ll be able to drive in the coming years…