Here’s the story: Right before the 2020 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) made a big announcement. A huge announcement.
“Enormous,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development. “A game changer.”
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The announcement was that NASCAR-owned IMSA, and the France-based ACO, which sanctions the FIA World Endurance Championship—for which the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June is the usual season finale for the September-to-June WEC season—are creating a Prototype-car racing class to a common set of rules that will allow teams to compete in both IMSA in North America and the WEC overseas with one common car.
This would allow IMSA and WEC Prototype teams the opportunity to compete together on the largest stage in sports car racing—the 24 Hours of Le Mans—and be able to go for a spectacular trifecta of races including Le Mans, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, plus other big races like Petit Le Mans and the Six Hours of Spa in Belgium.
Teams would pick a chassis from one of four suppliers—Multimatic, Ligier, Oreca, and Dallara—and use engines from participating manufacturers. The chassis would also be used for the next-generation LMP2-class prototype car, which presently is the same in both IMSA and the WEC, using exclusively the Gibson V-8 engine.
IMSA’s present Prototype is called the Dpi—Daytona Prototype international—and the WEC’s Prototype is the LMP1, for Le Mans Prototype One. The new combined car for Le Mans’ future, as mentioned, will be called the LMDh, for Le Mans Daytona. As for the “h,” it was unclear: Hypercar? Hybrid? Hydrogen? Or “happy,” said Pierre Fillon, president of the ACO. “Hybrid” seems the most likely, as the car will have a mild hybrid booster.
It offers up a truly global platform for exposure for IMSA DPi manufacturers like Acura (pictured above), Cadillac, and Mazda, which have long wanted to go to Europe and Le Mans but would have had to build a completely different car than what they use for IMSA racing. “This presents a fantastic opportunity,” said Nelson Cosgrove, head of Mazda Motorsports. “It’s what we’ve been hoping for.” Companies not currently in Prototype racing, such as Chevrolet and Ford, for instance, may be in the future enticed to return to Le Mans by not only the potential exposure, but by the lure of mild hybrid power. Porsche has said it is very interested in LMDh.
The future LMDh class was supposed to debut at the September 2021 season opener for WEC, and then three months later at the January 2022 IMSA Rolex 24 at Daytona. But since the 2020 WEC season won’t even end until this November instead of June, expect everything to be pushed back a year.
If that’s what happens, and there’s no reason to think it won’t, the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans will make history when it represents the sport’s foreseeable future.
So, start watching Le Mans now. Big things are brewing.