Will Le Mans’s new golden age spawn a supercar revolution?
Thursday 24th December, 2020 - 8:30am
If you’re a fan of sports car racing the last few weeks have been a series of early Christmas presents.
Toyota remained steadfast in its commitment to Le Mans and Peugeot committed early. Then came the good news that both Audi and Porsche will be building LMDh cars. And then there are continued rumours that Ferrari, Honda/Acura, BMW and Hyundai are also seriously considering getting involved in the relatively prototype racing.
This isn’t just good news for racing fans though, this could also have a major influence on the quality and quantity of road-going supercars we could see over the next decade. That’s because, as much as any racing series in the world, sports cars have an immense influence on what we see in showrooms.
Sure, Mercedes-AMG has been working on turning its Formula 1 winner into a road-going hypercar, but over the past 20 years the direct connection between involvement at Le Mans racers and supercars we can buy is hard to ignore.
Toyota goes Ferrari hunting
Want proof of the clear connection between Le Mans and the showroom? Look no further than the impact Toyota’s involvement in LMP1 has had on its road car line-up. The brand has been on a concerted push to add more excitement and use its Gazoo Racing (GR) motorsport team to do it.
We already have the GR Supra and next year we’ll get the new GR 86 (plus there’s the WRC-inspired GR Yaris) but the real crowning glory will be the GR Super Sport. Now in its final stages of development it will be the basis for its 2021 Le Mans Hypercar entry as well as its new hero road car.
Based on the Le Mans-winning TS050 LMP1, the GR Super Sport road car will reportedly be powered by a version of the track-proven twin-turbo V6 hybrid. It will be the clearest and most extreme example of the Japanese brand’s commitment to spicing up its image and using Le Mans to do it.
What will the German giants do?
Despite Toyota’s recent dominance there are two brands with more Le Mans heritage than any other – Porsche and Audi. The German stablemates have 31 overall victories between them and are coming back in 2023 with the LMDh rules to try and add to those numbers.
But both brands also have a strong history of leveraging Le Mans knowledge to create road-ready supercars.
Porsche did it not once but twice in recent time. First came the Carrera GT, which used a V10 engine borrowed from the brand’s stillborn LMP1 racer meant to debut in 2000. Then came the hybrid 918 Spyder which was directly inspired by the highly-successful RS Spyder LMP2 machine.
Audi used its victories at La Sarthe to launch its first serious supercar, the R8, and then used its knowledge gained on the track to introduce a range of high-performance diesels.
With both making a comeback and both in need of a new hero car to lead it into an era of electrification, it wouldn’t be an outrageous suggestion to think both could have new supercars before the end of the decade with clear Le Mans connections.
Porsche recently released a raft of never-before-seen supercar design concepts, some with very clear connections to the recent 919 Hybrid program. So don’t be surprised if the Stuttgart manufacturer creates a hybrid hero model that blends serious performance with a fuel-efficient engine.
Audi has also made no secret of its plans to ditch internal combustion performance in favour of electrified halo models. What better way to introduce an electric or hybrid replacement for the R8 that off the back of another Le Mans win.
The Le Mans launch pad
These aren’t the only possible hybrid heroes we could see in the next few years.
BMW needs a replacement for the whelming i8 and has teased an M1-inspired successor, in the form of the Vision M Next. Again, an LMDh entry would provide the perfect opportunity for BMW to make a splash at the top end of the market.
Then there’s Hyundai’s long-discussed plan to launch a mid-engine, hybrid sports car using knowledge acquired with its RM concepts and its partnership with Rimac. While the South Korean brand has enjoyed success in the WRC and TCR racing, as market-rivals Toyota have demonstrated, Le Mans is a far bigger platform to lay down your performance credentials.
Watch this space…