Audi returns to Le Mans with hybrid hypercar
Following a series of hints, Audi now officially announced plans to enter a hybrid sports car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans again in the 2023 season. Unlike Toyota or Peugeot, however, the German company will not build a hypercar according to Le Mans rules.
When Audi announced its Formula E withdrawal after the 2021 season in November 2020, there was already open speculation on the part of the manufacturer about a Le Mans return. Now it’s official: The Ingolstadt-based company wants to return to Le Mans in the 2023 season with a hybrid sports car. However, Audi will not develop a hypercar according to the regulations of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but a so-called LMDh according to US regulations for the 24 Hours of Daytona and the associated IMSA racing series. However, the rules of both classes have been designed to allow cars to compete in the other category.
Another VW subsidiary, Porsche, has already committed to the LMDh ruleset, so Audi and Porsche will work together on the development. Audi says that the concept phase for the vehicle has largely been completed. In the LMDh race cars, the manufacturers develop the combustion engine themselves and combine it with a standardised hybrid system. The chassis are not designed by the manufacturers themselves but are sourced from a chassis manufacturer. The vehicles are visually adapted to the respective manufacturer. This should bring the LMDh to a similar level of performance as the hypercars, but at a much lower price.
“The new LMDh category fits perfectly with our new set-up in motorsport,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for motorsport. “The regulations allow us to field fascinating race cars in prestigious races worldwide. In addition, we are making use of synergies inside the Volkswagen Group with our partner strategy.”
The sports prototype for the new LMDh category is currently being created at Audi Sport in parallel with a hybrid SUV for the Dakar Rally. The first test vehicle is scheduled for completion in Q1 2022. The first race entry of the sports prototype is planned for January 2023 at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the Audis will then compete at Le Mans in the summer of the same year.
Toyota and Peugeot, on the other hand, are focusing on hypercars. Here, the manufacturers also develop the hybrid components and the vehicles themselves. Audi doesn’t want to field its cars only in a factory team: “Our goal is to also put the car in the hands of professional customer teams from the very beginning, parallel to factory entries,” says Andreas Roos, responsible for factory motorsport at Audi. “We are currently evaluating internally what that might look like in detail.”