The countdown is on: In seven weeks, a new era in prototype racing will begin with the 24 Hours of Daytona. Last Tuesday and Wednesday (December 6th and 7th), the finished LMDh racers from Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche were shown for the first time in a joint pre-test on the legendary US oval. Where are the opponents currently?
The new era of sports car racing surprises right at the beginning. Because despite the three babbling V8 units from BMW, Cadillac and Porsche and despite the equally not very quiet V6 from Honda's luxury brand Acura, a completely different sound is initially heard - a poisonous whirring of the electric additive when catapulting away from the pits.
Although hybrid drives are nothing new since the LMP1 heydays of Audi, Porsche and Toyota, with the LMDh they will finally become the standard. The technology concept developed by the US IMSA sports car championship, which is also adopted by the sports car world championship WEC, relies on a maximum 500 kilowatt (680 hp) strong overall drive. The maximum 50 kilowatts of supplementary e-supplement, powered by standard batteries from Williams Advanced Engineering, still has enough power for a juicy electric start.
However, the combustion engine comes on relatively quickly, making it unmistakably clear: Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans and Co. will continue to be noisy in the future. Due to the divided regulations, it is again possible to compete with a prototype both in North America and in the World Championship. The new LMDh racers will be aligned with the well-known Hypercar cars (LMH) from Toyota, Peugeot and Glickenhaus via a Balance of Performance (BoP). The other newcomer for the coming year, Ferrari, also belongs to the LMH group with a little more technical freedom.
Porsche and Cadillac with miles ahead
In the coming IMSA season, however, only LMDh will be at the start. Although Ferrari is interested in a double program because of its great US history, it wants to wait for the time being. Toyota and Peugeot are keeping a low profile. But that didn't dampen the anticipation at the pre-test at Daytona International Speedway. Although there have already been some test drives with several manufacturers, all the cars met in Florida on Tuesday (December 6th) and Wednesday (December 7th) for the first time in the final homologation specification.
In the previous preparations, Porsche and Cadillac reeled off the most kilometers. The Porsche 963 already had its shakedown in mid-January and since then has clocked up more than 27,000 kilometers on European and American routes. Due to its role as a technology pioneer, however, the people from Weissach also identified the first problems with the standard components and had to invest a lot of time for solutions from which the competition is now benefiting.
US competitor Cadillac sent its V-LMDh hybrid racer to its home tracks six months later in July and reported before Daytona that it had clocked 19,000 kilometers on the project odometer. In contrast to the other three LMDh, the GM luxury brand relies on a naturally aspirated engine. The 5.5 DOHC eight-cylinder, which, like the other power plants, is fed with renewable fuel (VP Racing R80), sounds correspondingly powerful.
Faster Acura and catching up BMW
Like the Cadillac, the Acura ARX-06 and the BMW M Hybrid V8 officially debuted in July - albeit a little later in the month. Both programs had to contend with an extremely short timeline, which was accompanied by technical problems and accidents. For example, BMW had to abort a 24-hour test prematurely, and Acura also struggled with the full distance. Accordingly, people were last covered when it came to tangible numbers.
At least the fastest laps in Daytona gave hope to the Acura camp. The two ARX-06s from Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing managed the 1:35 minute mark and were at least within sight of this year's pole time (1:34.034 minutes). Despite the heavier weight, the cars are expected to be at least on par with their DPi predecessors. Because of the unofficial nature of the pre-test, no times were given.
Overall, the processing of test plans was in the foreground on both days. In addition, one chassis each from BMW and Cadillac were subjected to a shakedown. Aside from Cadillac, who are starting three cars in the GTP class of the 24-hour classic, all other manufacturers rely on duos. Porsche customers will have to wait until April.
Lots of homework and one last chance
Although the preparations are well advanced, there were numerous problems in the test field on both days. Almost all cars experienced problems related to loss of time. In the paddock, the opinion grew that the racing debut of the four LMDh models could be very reminiscent of the old days when you had to protect the technology even more.
BMW driver Connor de Phillippi looks ahead: "At the beginning we focus on our program and don't let the competition tempt us too much. We have to hold everything together and, when it counts in the end, deliver." Since you always get back a lost lap during safety car phases in the IMSA, minor problems would even be bearable.
Before the 61st edition of the 24 Hours of Daytona (28th and 29th January 2023) reveals the truth, the teams still have some time to do their homework. In addition, the week before there is a test for the entire field of participants. By then at the latest, all the final driver line-ups will be known. The LMDh cars will finally make their WEC debut in mid-March. Cadillac and Porsche have registered for the season opener in Sebring (USA).