IMOLA, ITALY—After a break of 50 years, Ferrari is returning to top-level endurance racing with a new hybrid prototype race car. It’s called the 499P, and in 2023 Ferrari will campaign a pair of cars in the World Endurance Championship, a series with the 24 Hours of Le Mans as its crown jewel.
As I’ve written before, 2023 is going to be an exciting time for fans of prototype racing. After the cubic megabucks-era of LMP1h collapsed under the weight of unsustainable budgets, the top class of the World Endurance Championship has spent a few years in the doldrums as Toyota faced minimal opposition from much smaller teams. But the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (which runs the Le Mans race) has a new ruleset now, called LMH (Le Mans Hypercar), designed to attract the interest of automakers by keeping costs sane—€30 million versus the €80-200 million that LMP1h cost—and, with less reliance on aerodynamic downforce, allowing for a closer visual link to their road-going products.
And so far, it’s working. Toyota was first to LMH with its GR010, followed by boutique manufacturer Glickenhaus, then this year saw Peugeot ease its way back into to endurance racing with its new 9X8—still not sporting a rear wing—ahead of a full campaign in 2023. But none of those brands have quite the same magic as Ferrari. Even though it last won Le Mans outright in 1965, it still has more of those overall wins (nine) than Toyota (five) and Peugeot (three) combined, trailing just Audi (13) and Porsche (19).
The fact that the new ruleset has brought Ferrari back to the sport means it should be considered a success already, though the Formula 1 cost cap might have played a part as the company found itself with resources it could no longer employ towards that championship.
Sorry, but this is about to get complicated
Now, it wouldn’t really be sportscar racing if it wasn’t needlessly complicated, and so in addition to LMH, there’s another new ruleset for hybrid prototype endurance race cars written for the International Motor Sports Association’s championship here in North America called LMDh.
LMDh is more technically proscriptive; each automaker is required to use one of four approved carbon fiber chassis or spines as their starting point, and the gearbox, electric motor, and battery are all spec components. But like LMH, there’s much less reliance on aerodynamic downforce and so the cars can look more like the ones you might find in a showroom. It too has worked, with new cars racing in 2023 from Porsche, BMW, Acura, and Cadillac. Audi’s planned return has been shelved in favor of a Formula 1 program, but Lamborghini will arrive in 2024.
Two competing sets of sportscar regulations usually works out badly for everyone, but happily in this case the ACO and IMSA are allowing both LMH and LMDh cars to enter their races, with performance balancing to ensure as level a playing field as possible.