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Why endurance racing is booming with a new breed of prototype sportscar

Promoted: A new era of endurance sportscar racing is upon us. It’s boom time for the discipline courtesy of a breed of machinery that combines a new look of car with high technology. And crucially the rules allow manufacturers to compete for outright honours in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GTP class and Hypercar category of the FIA World Endurance Championship with the same car design.

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The LMDh prototypes in the 59-car grid at the 62nd Daytona 24 Hours in January when year two of the new era kicked off in North America represent “the most highly-technological, fastest sportscars we’ve ever had in IMSA”, says Porsche factory driver Nick Tandy. “The cars are built to a set of regulations, but they all sound different, they all look different.”

It is that mix of technology and the ability of manufacturers to stamp their own mark on the look of the car with which they go racing that has drawn in global auto manufacturers. No fewer than five manufacturers using LMDh prototypes are now represented across IMSA and the WEC.

The big technological step made with the new LMDh machinery is the incorporation of an energy-retrieval system common to all the cars in which Bosch Motorsport has been one of the key development partners. LMDhs are hybrids: an electric motor on the rear axle helps drive the car together with the internal combustion engine. Getting the most out of the technology is one of the keys to success in the new category.

Jack Aitken, who races for the Action Express Racing Cadillac team, reckons he and his fellow drivers are required these days to be “a bit nerdy” as they strive to make the most of the technological tools in their armoury.

“You have to be involved in the hybrid system, the regeneration, the deployment; how it is all affecting the differential is massive in these cars,” he says. “Even the guys that are from a generation when they didn’t have those tools, they are learning it.”

It’s a challenge that Tandy enjoys: “How you work with the crew to get the best out of the car is just as important as steering the thing and pressing the two pedals driving around the track.”

Jacob Bergenske, director of Bosch Motorsport North America points out that just as in almost every facet of everyday life, electronics are all-important in top-level of sportscar racing. “When people ask what does Bosch do in racing, I say, ‘you know how the computer is essential to your life, so it is to the race car’,” he explains. “It is super-integrated.”

The manufacturers were on a steep learning curve as they developed their new and highly-complex machinery ahead of the 2023 season. Collaboration between the car makers entering the LMDh arena was key, says Urs Kuratle, Porsche’s director of factory motorsport, LMDh.

“We really had a good relationship and were all talking to each other from the beginning,” he explains. “We had our problems open on the table. It was something that helped, I think, come to a good result so fast.”

The electronic systems of an LMDh are also a key to policing the performance of the cars. A level playing field is created by what is known as the Balance of Performance, which can only be as good as the data on which it is based.

“It is our responsibility as the series to create a level playing field so that all the different platforms — and there is great variety — can have that chance at the end of the race,” says IMSA president John Doonan.

IMSA has revived the GTP name of the 1980s and ‘90s for its new top class. It is harking back to one of the great periods of US sportscar racing, but Doonan believes that the one just starting is going to be even better.

“A lot of people talk about the GTP era in the 1980s and ‘90s being the golden era,” he says. “I honestly think we are in the platinum era. One hundred percent."

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