LMDh latest: Entries, rules and specs for the new sports car category

Sports Car News

New-generation LMDh cars can race at Le Mans and Daytona; in WEC and IMSA series. Here's the latest on the rules, specs and team entries, including confirmed and rumoured manufacturers

Porsche LMDh rear

Porsche

Porsche’s announcement that it is building an LMDh car to compete for the overall Le Mans win, with an “open-ended” commitment to the category, means the future of endurance racing is suddenly starting to look a lot more promising.

Audi has already announced its LMDh intent, it’s assumed Acura/Honda will do too and several other manufacturers are contemplating an entry in the top-level sports car programme.

It’s evidence that the new LMDh regulations, due to come into play in 2022, are working as intended.

They have been designed to cut the costs of racing, with a chassis that must be bought from one of four suppliers and a standard hybrid system. The cars will be eligible for both the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and North American IMSA Sportscar Championship, enabling them to fight for overall wins at Le Mans and Daytona.

By 2023, it’s likely that we will see Toyota, Peugeot, Porsche and Audi competing for the overall Le Mans win — potentially with customer teams and other manufacturers in the mix too.

Scroll down for more information on the key aspects of the LMDh formula, or click below to jump to a section.

Balance of Performance

What does LMDh stand for?

LMDh technical regulations

LMDh entries: confirmed manufacturers and teams, plus rumours

 

LMDh vs Hypercar

LMDh cars will compete against Le Mans Hypercars in WEC, including the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The Hypercars — being built by Peugeot and Toyota among others — offer manufacturers greater freedom but at a higher development cost.

The ACO, which organises WEC, and drew up the LMDh regulations with IMSA, is attempting to ensure close racing by harmonising the regulations: the power limit, minimum weight and aerodynamic performance of both types of car will be identical.

However, only the Hypercars will have four-wheel drive, with the combustion engine driving the rear axle and an electric motor at the front. In an attempt to reduce the advantage, the Hypercars won’t be able to engage the electric drive below 75mph in normal racing conditions.

A Balance of Performance system will also be used.

 

Balance of Performance

A new Balance of Performance process will be introduced next year for Le Mans Hypercars and will extend to LMDh when the first cars appear in 2022, as part of attempts to ensure close racing.

Full details have not yet been announced, but it’s likely to change from the system used last season in LMP1, which heavily penalised the Toyotas and prevented the Japanese cars from fighting between each other. A similar process for GT cars has been operating for several years.

Options include adjusting weight, fuel flow and energy deployment from the hybrid system.

 

What does LMDh stand for?

‘LM’ stands for Le Mans whilst the ‘D’ stands for Daytona to reflect the regulations, which are designed to unify elite sports car racing. What does ‘h’ stand for? No-one’s quite sure. WEC prefers ‘hypercar’ whilst IMSA has moved towards ‘hybrid’.

 

LMDh technical regulations explained

Chassis

The LMDh car will be based on an enhanced iteration of LMP2’s next-generation chassis. Entrants can choose from four options made by one of the specified manufacturers: Dallara, Oreca, Ligier and Multimatic.

  • Manufacturers have relatively free-rein over the styling of the bodywork, enabling them to incorporate aspects from road cars.
  • Underfloor aerodynamics are tightly controlled. Each car will have a limited downforce to drag ratio of 4:1.
  • Maximum dimensions are 5100mm in length, 2000mm wide and 3150mm wheelbase.
    The car’s minimum weight is 1030kg.

 

Powertrain

To cut costs, LMDh cars must be fitted with a specified hybrid system and power management software. It’s a major divergence from Le Mans Hypercars, which are allowed to run entirely bespoke powertrain systems.

In both categories, manufacturers can design their own combustion engines with few major restrictions except for a cap on power output.

  • The combined LMDh powertrain is limited to produce a maximum of 500kW (671bhp) at any one time. The engine, designed by manufacturer entrants – must provide a minimum peak output of 470kW (630hp).
  • The spec hybrid system produces 50kW (67bhp). Bosch is developing the hybrid motor, Williams Advanced Engineering the battery and Xtrac the gearbox.
  • The system is supposed to withstand 22,000km (14,000 miles) of running, equivalent to more than four Le Mans 24 Hours races, between rebuilds and has its software locked so teams cannot tinker.

 

Performance

In terms of lap times, the cars are expected to clock in around 3min 30sec at La Sarthe. The lap record set by Toyota’s Kamui Kobayshi in qualifying last year is 3min 14.791.

Whilst markedly slower than current LMP1 cars, the ACO, FIA and WEC will be hoping an increased field size will make the trade-off worthwhile. This has been boosted by both Porsche and Audi saying they hope to supply customer LMDh cars in addition to their works efforts.

 

Cost

What makes LMDh so potentially attractive to manufacturers and entrants is the cost. The hybrid system will cost €300,00, the chassis €345,000, with the total (once the bodywork is added in) coming to around €1m before the combustion engine is factored in.

To compare, Porsche’s 919 LMP1 programme, which was run between 2014-2017 and only eligible to race in WEC, is said to have cost $200m.

As Porsche’s CEO Oliver Blume put it: “The new LMDh category allows us to fight for overall victories with a hybrid system at the Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring classics – without breaking the bank.”

 

LMDh entries: which teams and manufacturers are confirmed? Who’s next?

Porsche – confirmed

Earl Bamber Le Mans 2015

Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendan Hartley were the last drivers to win Le Mans overall for Porsche

DPPI

Three years after closing its LMP1 919 programme, Le Mans’ most successful manufacturer (with 19 overall wins) is back again at endurance’s top table for 2023.

For a luxury sportscar brand known for its engineering excellence, opting for a set of regs which is cheaper and has less creative input from the designers doesn’t seem to be particularly ‘Porsche’, but the company appears to be convinced by the longevity a cost-effective set of rules offers.

Related article

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.

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

Audi Le Mans 2016

Audi took 13 Le Mans win between 2000 and 2014

DPPI

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

Signatech Alpine 2020 Le Mans

Signatech will run an LMP1 car for Aline next year and likely an LMDh effort after that

DPPI

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.

No drivers have yet been confirmed for Apine’s modified LMP1 effort, but André Negrão, Thomas Laurent and Pierre Ragues from the WEC LMP2 team are all possibilities.

Richard Mille will surely be pushing one of the drivers from their all-female ELMS team, also run by Signatech, made up of  Katherine Legge, Sophia Floersch, Beitske Visser and Tatiana Calderon.

 

Acura/Honda – rumoured

Honda Nurburgring 24 Hours

Could Honda make the leap from IMSA and GT racing to WEC?

DPPI

Honda is strongly rumoured to be planning an LMDh entry for IMSA, where it currently races the ARX-05 under its Acura brand. A low-cost Le Mans entry is thought to be attractive too.

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.

 

McLaren – rumoured

McLaren F1 GTR 1995

McLaren F1 GTR took a shock win in 1995

DPPI

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?”

 

Hyundai – rumoured

2020 Monza Rally Ott Tanak Hyundai

Hyundai could soon be trading mud for the Mulsanne

DPPI

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.”

 

Ferrari – rumoured

Jochen Rindt Ferrari 250 1965 Le Mans

Jochen Rindt drives the Ferrari 250 LM to the Scuderia’s last overall Le Mans victory

Getty Images/Bernard Cahier

Hard though it is to believe, the last overall win for Ferrari at Le Mans came 65 years ago. LMDh might tempt Maranello to challenge at the elite sports car level once more.

The likelihood of Ferrari producing its first endurance prototype in twenty years could be boosted by LMDh being standard across IMSA and WEC, with their GT boss Antonello Colleta describing it as “perfect for us”. Ferrari believes the cost would be similar to its existing GT programme.

However Maranello has serious reservations about having to purchase a chassis from another company. “We hope to [be able to] have a Ferrari chassis, this is a need,” Colleta said. “It is important to have a direct line with our road cars – by definition we make a Ferrari.”

Although it seems unlikely ACO would bend their own rules just to attract one brand, solutions often emerge where the Scuderia is concerned.

 

Lamborghini – rumoured

Lamborghini

Lamborghini has described the new LMDh rules as a “game-changer”

DPPI

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 – rumoured

Mazda Le Mans 1991

Mazda stunned the Le Mans field by taking overall victory in 1991

DPPI

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.

Do they fancy another upset? The convergence of WEC/IMSA rules was described by New Mazda North America motorsport director Nelson Cosgrove as “really cool”.

“Obviously it would be great to bring the Mazda brand back to the Le Mans 24 Hours with a factory programme,” he said, “LMDh would be a great opportunity to get back if it makes sense.”

 

Other candidates: General Motors / Ford

Ford Le Mans 2019

Ford pulled out of Le Mans competition in 2019 but has hinted at a Hypercar or LMDh future

DPPI

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?