BMW is considering a return to Le Mans, according to a report from Autocar. But if the automaker does decide to come back to sports car racing’s premiere event, it wouldn’t enter just any race car. BMW is evaluating a hydrogen fuel cell-powered entry, possibly for 2018. BMW won its first and only race at Le Mans in 1999 with the V12 LMR prototype (pictured above).
The project is still being considered internally, but according to Autocar that evaluation process is “at an advanced stage.” The Le Mans plan has the tentative support of senior management, since BMW is preparing to launch a hydrogen-powered car by 2020, and taking a fuel cell car racing could build awareness for that model. The production car may be sold under BMW’s i sub-brand or it could be a hydrogen-powered variant of an existing model.
One unknown is what class the BMW racer would contend. If it wants to compete for ultimate glory at Le Mans, BMW needs to field an LMP1 team. That would put it up against manufacturers like Audi, Porsche, Toyota, and Nissan, which spend millions upon millions each year fielding LMP1-class cars. BMW could also enter a hydrogen car in the special, non-competitive Garage 56 class for new or experimental technologies. Nissan previously garnered a lot of press for its brand and technologies when it entered its Deltawing and ZEOD racers, despite those two cars never placing.
In a recent interview with autosport.com, BMW motorsport head Jens Marquardt seemed to discount the idea of an LMP1 effort.
“LMP1 is, at the moment, the big hybrid thing, and in there we wouldn’t be the leader,” he said. “We wouldn’t even be the fast follower, we would be a slow follower now, as the fifth manufacturer joining in.”
Entering the top class in endurance racing would also put it in competition with Toyota, which has partnered with BMW to develop its fuel cell cars. With all that said, it sounds like if a BMW Le Mans campaign does come to fruition, it will be at a level below LMP1. To our knowledge, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered sports car prototype has never been attempted, so it’ll be interesting to see if BMW’s racer can go the distance if given the greenlight.