Could Porsche bring back Nico Hülkenberg? The German was allowed by his then-F1 team Force India to take part in Le Mans ‘15 for Porsche, and duly won it at first attempt, making up for some of his unfulfilled potential in grand prix racing. With F1 2020’s supersub looking to left out in the cold once again, perhaps he could seek redemption at La Sarthe once more.
The line-up could have a more American bent now that Penske is involved. Josef Newgarden is the obvious U.S. candidate, whilst South Americans Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya might fancy it – the latter would be in touching distance of the fabled ‘Triple Crown’ of Monaco, Indy 500 and Le Mans were he to win.
Andre Lotterer, now part of the Porsche’s Formula E effort, has won Le Mans three times for Audi in ‘11, ‘12 and ‘14. New Porsche FE driver Pascal Wehrlein is likely also to have designs on racing at the highest level of sports cars, after having his route to the top of F1 blocked at Mercedes.
Neel Jani has been confirmed again as a factory driver, whilst other candidates could include their recently promoted Porsche Young Professional Thomas Preining or their only female factory driver Simona de Silvestro.
The ACO dreams of the large fields of the ’80s and ’90s, when 956s widely populated packed grids. Stuttgart appears to be on board with this idea, with Porsche saying it intends to supply customer LMDh cars after 2023.
Audi – confirmed
Two weeks ago Audi announced it was pulling out of Formula E and, according to its own motorsport boss Julias Seebach, is “intensively preparing to enter LMDh with its highlight races, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours” in 2023.
The second most successful manufacturer in Le Mans history, after Porsche, will renew its rivalry with the sister Stuttgart brand, looking to add to its 13 wins between 2000 and 2014.
No chassis builder has been confirmed yet but the company has worked with Dallara recently, with the Italian firm thought to be linked to Audi’s effort
The driver line-up could involve its longtime LMP1 and Formula E driver Lucas Di Grassi. The Brazilian has been on the podium three times for Audi at Le Mans as well securing the 2016-2017 Formula E crown.
Audi’s other Formula E pilot Rene Rast is another obvious candidate. The current DTM champion is steeped in endurance honours, with wins at the 24 Hours of Spa, Nurburgring 24 Hours and a class victory at the Daytona 24 Hours. Younger current Audi works drivers Robin Frijns or Nico Müller are also likely to be considered.
Audi may also eye up Porsche factory drivers released in its recent reshuffle. Le Mans and WEC winners Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy have just been released, with both having endurance experience in spades to call upon.
The German manufacturer has also signalled its intention to supply customer cars: “We are planning entries on a factory level, but we also want to supply customer teams,” Seebach says. “It is important for us to be able to fight for overall victories.” Audi has not yet confirmed whether it will run the full WEC and IMSA seasons in 2023.
Alpine – likely
In what will be a transitional 2021 WEC season, Alpine will enter with a “grandfathered” LMP1 car before potentially building their own LMDh in 2022 or 2023.
The Rebellion R13 Gibson, which raced for part of last season, will be run by the Signatech team, which has taken LMP2 class honours at Le Mans in three of the last four seasons.
The LMP1 car will be pegged back to be on similar performance terms with the Hypercars through the ACO’s BoP and Success Handicap regulations.
Looking to the future, it’s common knowledge that Alpine are looking to build a car around the LMDh rules. Although a 2022 entry is possible, 2023 looks more likely.
Piloting the grandfathered LMP1 car for 2021 will be current Alpine driver André Negrão’.
Joining him will be four-time Le Mans LMP2 class winner Nicolas Lapierre, whose CV also boasts two wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Completing the line-up will be Le Mans LMP2 podium finisher Matthieu Vaxiviere.
Acura/Honda – confirmed
Honda recently confirmed its Acura-branded LMDh entry into IMSA, where it currently races the ARX-05. A single-sentence press release only mentioned the American series, not WEC or Le Mans.
Whilst the prototype is expected to be ready for 2023, it is not known which teams would run the new machinery.
Both current Acura customers Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing have expressed their interest in a low-cost Le Mans assault, and Penske have won three IMSA titles running Acura in the past.
Would we see Jenson Button make a Le Mans return for Honda? The 2009 F1 champ won the 2018 Super GT title for the Japanese marque, and has said he favours a Le Mans return in the future
His highly rated Super GT partner Naoki Yamamoto could be another candidate, after he was given a Honda-powered Toro Rosso Free Practice outing at last year’s Japanese Grand Prix. The evergreen Takuma Sato, this year’s Honda-backed winner of the Indy 500, is another option.
BMW – confirmed
Flat out into the future: BMW M Motorsport will compete for LMDh glory from 2023.
— BMW Motorsport (@BMWMotorsport) June 11, 2021
An Instagram post by BMW M CEO Markus Flasch indicated the Munich marque was on its way back to Daytona and IMSA, which was followed by official confirmation.
“BMW M Motorsport is returning to international prototype racing,” a statement from BMW said. “On Thursday [June 9], it was confirmed that an LMDh car is being developed for use in the North American IMSA series. From the 2023 season, this car will allow BMW M Motorsport to compete for overall race wins at such prestigious classics as Daytona, Sebring and Road Atlanta (all USA).”
This has naturally fuelled speculation that the team will run at Le Mans and possibly WEC also, due to LMDh.
McLaren – rumoured
McLaren shocked the motorsport world by taking overall 1995 Le Mans victory with their F1 GTR – run in the LM GT1 category and technically the third fastest class that year.
Could McLaren return to the endurance fold at the highest level?
The current F1 and IndyCar team has said that it’s “very happy” with the latest LMDh regs, with boss Zak Brown declaring “We’re very interested in sportscars. I think it’s a great fit for the McLaren brand and we like it a lot.”
The brand wants assurances of parity with LMH though. “One car can be four-wheel-drive and another [LMDh] is not, so it’s one thing to balance two cars in the dry with new tires.” Browns notes, “But how do you balance them at 2 a.m. in the wet at Le Mans?”
Cadillac – rumoured
Long-time IMSA competitors Cadillac has recently confirmed its LMDh interest, with its racing programme manager saying the new regulations have “caught our attention.”
Their current Cadillac DPi-V.R model has enjoyed great success in IMSA since its debut, scoring 18 wins and two Manufacturers’ titles.
Chip Ganassi, who currently runs a Cadillac DPi in IMSA with former F1 driver Kevin Magnussen at the wheel, previously ran cars for Ford in WEC and at Le Mans in the GTE-Pro category.
Hyundai – rumoured
Hyundai is hardly the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of sports car glory.
However, the Korean marque has become frustrated with the FIA’s determination to implement hybrid regulations in the new generation Rally1 cars next year.
Unwilling to be rushed in the development of its hybrid technology, a 2023 move to sportscars with either a Hypercar or LMDh challenger could be on the cards instead, with its Motorsport director Andrea Adamo saying “Any sort of motorsport that can show the capability, the technology and the things Hyundai can do in the world are welcome.”
Lamborghini – rumoured
Lamborghini appeared to be enthused by the new LMDh regs, describing them as a “game changer”. It hasn’t ruled out a Hypercar entry either.
“Clearly, the new DPi [LMDh] is an interesting platform, as is the Hypercar for the WEC,” said their motorsport boss Girogio Sanna. “This is one of the categories that we are looking at with interest for a possible commitment in the future. Le Mans is the dream for many manufacturers, for many teams, for many drivers”
his would be the third Volkswagen Group company represented in the WEC top tier should it enter.
Mazda – programme terminated
Entering its iconic rotary-powered 787B, Mazda became the first Japanese team to win Le Mans in 1991 with Johnny Herbert at the wheel, shocking heavyweight entrant Toyota which had ambitious designs on the same achievement.
Did the Japanese marque fancy another upset? The convergence of WEC/IMSA rules was described by Mazda North America motorsport director Nelson Cosgrove as “really cool”.
However, after some consideration a statement was released saying that after “internal assessment of the current DPi series and the future LMDh series”, Mazda would not be carrying on its elite-level sportscar programme after 2021, and that any LMDh or Hypercar programme was off the cards.
Other candidates: General Motors / Ford
General Motors have said it “congratulates the IMSA and the ACO on their announcement of a convergence of the top class of prototype racing” without sounding particularly excited, but as it oversees the Cadillac DPi IMSA entry, anything is possible in terms of Le Mans.
Ford has previously expressed interest in building a Hypercar but the more recently-announced LMDh regulations could offer a more cost-effective entry.
The Detroit-based brand was involved in the development of the Hypercar rules, where it pushed for a convergence of rules across WEC and IMSA. It has finally got its wish. Could it take advantage and rekindle Le Mans ‘66 glory?