Prior to launching any electric i brand vehicles for sale, BMW invested heavily in marketing and promotion over several years, and building a similarly advanced campaign around a Le Mans bid is considered to be one way of giving nascent hydrogen fuel cell technology more credibility in the minds of potential car buyers.
It is understood that the production car would form part of an expanded BMW i line-up rather than sitting under another sub-brand, or being launched as a derivative of a mainstream model.
The firm already has a hydrogen-powered BMW 5 Series GT prototypes running, and is known to be working in conjunction with Toyota on advancing the technology as fast as possible. The hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai goes on sale in the UK this year.
While Le Mans organisers have traditionally been open to adapting rules to fit new technology, and a topline LMP1 entry would potentially pitch BMW against rivals including Audi and Porsche, it would also be a potentially risky strategy for the firm to pitch itself against more established race teams. It could also put BMW in direct competition with its potential joint venture partner Toyota.
Rumours linking BMW with a return to Le Mans have been rife in recent months, but insiders are known to have questioned the marketing and sales return against the expense of building a car for the World Endurance Championship, which is so heavily built around the annual race at Le Mans.
However, in a recent interview with www.autosport.com BMW motorsport boss Jens Marquardt appeared to leave the door open for a race programme as innovative as entering a hydrogen-powered car, while also playing down an LMP1 entry that would pitch BMW head-to-head with the established competitors.
"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 [after Audi, Toyota, Porsche and Nissan] manufacturer joining in," he said.
BMW took its sole victory at Le Mans in 1999, running the BMW V12 LMR Le Mans prototype that was built in conjunction with the Williams Formula 1 team.
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