On Monday, BMW became the first carmaker to reveal its new hybrid racing prototype built to the new LMDh rule set. It’s called the BMW M Hybrid V8, and it will race for the first time at next January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Sports car racing is in the midst of a transition period as race organizers in the US and Europe adopt new rules for prototype race cars. Because we’re talking about sports car racing, and because there are two sets of organizers, it’s all a bit complicated.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is organized by the French Automobile Club de l’Ouest, or ACO. Many of the cars that run in that race also compete in the World Endurance Championship, which is organized by the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (or FIA). In the US, there’s the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which runs the WeatherTech championship.
Everyone agreed that it was time for a new set of prototype rules, but the ACO went in one direction, and IMSA went in another. The ACO came up with a class initially called Hypercar, now named Le Mans Hypercar (LMH), for purpose-built endurance racing cars. These can be hybrid or powered by an internal combustion engine, and they can be derived from a road-going car or not—it’s up to the manufacturer.
LMH got underway in 2021, and at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans—held this coming weekend—there are entries from Toyota, Glickenhaus, and Alpine. Over the next couple of years, we should see cars from Peugeot and Ferrari, among others.
IMSA’s concept is called LMDh, for Le Mans Daytona hybrid. It is an evolution of IMSA’s successful DPi category, itself derived from the ACO’s extremely successful LMP2 category. Companies will not need to design an entire race car from scratch; instead, each LMDh car starts off with a chassis (or spine) from one of four approved manufacturers—Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic, and Oreca.
The OEM supplies the engine, electronics, and styling. But many components are specified and common to all competitors in order to keep costs down. That includes the hybrid system, which combines a Bosch electric motor-generator unit, a lithium-ion battery from Williams Advanced Engineering, and a gearbox by Xtrac.
Here’s where it gets a bit complicated: Despite the two different rule sets, both IMSA and the ACO want teams from the other series to play in their sandboxes, so there’s an equivalency process to match the performance of LMDh and LMH. (I’ve written more extensively about how that works in the past.)
In BMW’s case, it’s working with Dallara, which has seen a lot of success with Cadillac in DPi over the last few years. BMW hasn’t given details about the M Hybrid V8, other than saying that the BMW engine behind the cockpit is a V8 (but you probably worked that out from the name).
We can see how the OEM has used the styling freedom of LMDh to link the prototype with its road cars, specifically that big grille up front. The LMDh rule set demands a low, 4:1 ratio of downforce to drag, so there’s not really an aerodynamic penalty for using road car styling elements.
BMW’s M Hybrid V8 may be the first LMDh car to officially break cover, but it’s not the first to start testing. Porsche, working with Multimatic, got a head start on all its LMDh rivals and began testing its unnamed race car in January. And over the past few days, both Acura and Cadillac have teased their own LMDh cars; they should take the grid at Daytona next January.
BMW initially planned to campaign the M Hybrid V8 in North America only, as it’s the brand’s biggest market. But now it’s now thought that a 2024 Le Mans entry could be a possibility.