A few weeks ago, the auto-centric corners of the internet were aflutter with a rather perplexing video. The clip showed a Ferrari which was evidently a test mule for a new type of powertrain, however both the type of engine and the vehicle for which it is destined were a mystery. The answer may have a major impact on the racing world.
We believe the engine was a turbocharged V6 that would work in unison with a hybrid powertrain with Kinetic Energy Recovery System for a LeMans Prototype. This means that after a forty-year hiatus, one of the most storied brands in endurance racing is making its return.
It is speculated that the vehicle would not be a wholly new LMP racer, but actually a racing version of the LaFerrari. If that was the case, it would usher in a whole new era in the relationship between road cars and race cars. It would also be the first time in years that a car available to consumers had a chance to win Le Mans outright.
Endurance racing is basically broken in to two segments. There are the prototypes – advanced, dedicated racecars, built from the ground-up with an entirely unique design– and then there are the GT cars – modified versions of road cars. Prototypes are as advanced as Formula 1 cars, while GT cars are based on road cars, albeit with extreme modifications to just about everything.
A certain number of road cars need to be built to compete in the GT class. Even within Prototype and GT racing there are all manner of sub-races. When all the classes take to an endurance race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there are several races happening at once, but usually only the Prototypes have a shot at the overall win.
It is very rare for a GT car to have a shot at the overall win. One of the most notable occurrences was the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, when a McLaren F1 beat out the entire field of Prototype racers. With the LaFerrari, we have a chance to see a road car dominate at Le Mans again.
The LaFerrari is capable of 900 horsepower via a hybrid powertrain. Unlike Formula 1, where the engines have to be very similar in displacement and output, Le Mans racing encourages different powertrains, as to reflect the sensibilities of the consumer car markets, taken to extremes. That’s why Audi has been running diesel and hybrid racecars for years now.
But, according to Autoblog, a racing version of the LaFerrari has been out testing. It is not quite as extreme as the LMP1 prototypes, and does not have certain key elements, but it is evident that Ferrari is taking LaFerrari racing– we hope that means in France.
If Ferrari were to return to Le Mans it would be the first factory-backed team since 1973. When Fiat took over Ferrari in the 1970s, they ordered Ferrari to stop sportscar racing to focus only F1– you could say that plan was a success. Ferrari built the 333 SP for road-racing in the 1990s, but it was only raced by private teams.
A Ferrari return to Le Mans would be a big deal, not only for the Italian brand, but for the sport as well. It could also be the impetus for McLaren and Porsche to get their respective hypercars involved.
Like the LaFerrari, the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder are far more advanced than what would have once qualified for a Le Mans prototype. They are designed like prototypes and utilize powertrains that have been culled from racing experience. The 918 has been racing, but not to the same extent as Porsche’s Prototype presence in other forms of racing. Ferrari has also been racing, as privateers have been at the helm of the 458 for several years now. A LaFerrari racecar, is a whole different ballgame, though.
They say “racing improves the breed,” and for the performance world that means what we see one year in racing, could very well be in a road car the next. Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche all have insanely advanced and blisteringly fast cars at their disposal.
These cars deserve better than to sit in an aging Sheik’s garage. They deserve to run free on the race track. Let us hope that Ferrari’s future racing plans inspire McLaren and Porsche to follow, as we see the fastest cars on the road take to the track.