BMW to make top-flight sportscar racing return in 2023

BMW will make a return to top-flight sportscar racing after an absence of more than 20 years in the new LMDh prototype category in 2023.

The winner of the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours with the V12 LMR prototype has revealed its intent to join the new category after confirming last week that it was one of the options under review as it plotted its post-Formula E future. Now, it has firmed up its intent to join a class that already has firm commitments from Porsche, Audi and Honda's Acura brand.

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The confirmation that the German manufacturer will be part of a category that will span the World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship came via the Instagram account of Markus Flasch, boss of the BMW M brand into which BMW Motorsport has been incorporated.

The post from Flasch is made up of an image of the Williams-built V12 LMR with the words 'We are back! Daytona 2023'.

 

The 2023 Daytona 24 Hours is effectively the first race at which LMP2-based LMDh machinery can race.

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, of which Daytona is the traditional series opener, is replacing its DPi class for 2023 with LMDh. The WEC has left the door open for LMDh prototypes to join the Le Mans Hypercars in its top division before that date which coincides with the introduction of the next generation of LMP2 machinery on which they will be based.

The perfunctory announcement offers no insight into whether BMW is planning dual programmes across IMSA and the WEC. But Flasch indicated last week that an ability to race LMDh prototypes in both arenas was a major attraction of the category.

Asked if that ability made LMDh an enticing prospect, he replied: “Yes it does. That is part of our analysis, absolutely.”

BMW's last prototype programme spanned the Atlantic: the Schnitzer team ran the V12 LMR at Le Mans in 1999 and also raced in the inaugural year of the American Le Mans Series. Its programme included a winning debut for the car at the season-opening Sebring 12 Hours in March.

Schnitzer returned to the North American series with the V12 LMR in 2000 but did not defend its Le Mans crown after BMW made its return to F1 with Williams.

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Flasch made it clear that he saw a factory future for BMW above its customer-orientated programmes after the end of its involvement in FE at the end of the 2020/21 season. BMW will have to pick one of the four constructors – Oreca, Multimatic, Ligier and Dallara – with licences to build P2 prototypes.

It will be able to style the car to its own requirements and used its own internal combustion engine, which will be mated to a spec rear-axle hybrid system supplied by Williams Advanced Engineering.

Obvious candidates, should BMW seek an established U.S. team to run the IMSA side of the program, are Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Andretti Autosport. The Bobby Rahal-David Letterman/Mike Lanigan-owned team has been campaigning the works BMWs in the soon-to-die GT Le Mans class since 2009.

Meanwhile, Michael Andretti’s company has been BMW’s partner in Formula E, also has experience running top-rank sports prototypes, thanks to its former partnership with Acura, and currently has an LMP3 squad in IMSA.

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