Car giants line up for Le Mans bids

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Car giants line up for Le Mans bids

Porsche is set to go up against four major manufacturers when it mounts an attack on outright honours at the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time in 16 years in 2014.

Toyota and Jaguar are known to be eyeing assaults on the LMP1 category in the future. That means, with Peugeot and Audi as good as certain to say in the premier prototype division, there could be as many as five manufacturers chasing the ultimate prize in sports car racing with full-blown factory programmes when new rules come into force in 2014. Porsche announced its return to the top flight of international sports car racing, which has been boosted with news of the FIA World Endurance Championship, at the end of June. It plans to make its first assault on overall

victory at the 24 Hours since 1998 when it won with the 911 GT1-98.

The return of the Stuttgart marque, which has a total of 16 outright Le Mans wins, follows its successful LMP2 campaigns in the American Le Mans Series with Penske Racing and the RS Spyder in 2006-08. The company has talked openly about building a P1 since then and last autumn research and development boss Wolfgang Durheimer said “the time has come for a big motor sport programme at Porsche”.

Porsche president Matthias Muller said on the launch of the car: “Motor sport was always an essential part of the Porsche brand, so for us it was only a matter of time before we returned as a factory to the top league of racing. Porsche’s successes in Le Mans are unrivalled. We want to follow up on this with the 17th victory.”

It is likely that Porsche will employ the energy-retrieval technology which it is already developing in its 911 GT3-R Hybrid Niirburgring 24 Hours contender. Motor sport boss Hartmut Kristen said this would be “a logical step” to take advantage of new rules for 2014 that will limit each car to a fixed amount of energy. The timing of Porsche’s announcement 10 days after this year’s 24 Hours lends credence to the theory that Audi has been given clearance

to compete against Porsche from 2014. It is understood that Ferdinand Piech, chairman of the Volkswagen Group’s supervisory board, told Audi that it had to build a car that was at least a match for the latest Peugeot if it was to continue beyond 2013.

Audi Sport boss Wolfgang Ullrich explained that he expects the marque to remain in sports car racing for the “medium term”.

“This is something we will have to decide, but basically our programme is that we are going to continue the route with the 24 Hours,” he said. “Each brand is taking its own decision, though in consultation with the main VW Group board.”

Toyota is known to be evaluating hybrid technology in a test vehicle built to the latest LMP1 regulations by Japanese constructor Dome (see August issue). Jaguar, meanwhile, is the latest manufacturer to emerge as a likely candidate to join the fight. The British sports car manufacturer’s Indian owner, Tata Motors, is looking closely at mounting the first Jaguar prototype campaign at La Sarthe since 1991 when the TWR squad claimed second, third and fourth with the XJR-12 Group C design. Company boss Ratan Tata and his new CEO, Carl-Peter Forster, are said to be leading

the push for the marque’s prototype return. Sources suggest that a decision in favour of a prototype programme has been made in principle. The timing of the comeback is unclear, though the likelihood is that there will be no prototype Jaguars on the grid at Le Mans before the new

regulations come into force.

Jaguar in the UK would not comment on the likelihood of a prototype comeback. “Our only current motor sport commitment is in the ALMS with Jaguar RSR Racing,” said a spokesman, “but we are continuing to monitor developments in motor sport around the world.” Jaguar ended its long absence from Le Mans last year when Paul Gentilozzi’s RSR team took the start with one of its XKR GT cars. That programme is continuing in the American Le Mans Series this season. Gary Watkins

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