Audi says it has “largely completed” concept work on its 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours challenger - and has hinted that the machine will be closely related to the new hypercar being developed for the event by sibling company Porsche.
The Ingolstadt-based firm has taken 13 victories in the endurance event, most recently with the R18 in 2014. Audi quit endurance racing at the end of the 2016 season but has confirmed it will return to the category in 2023.
The company will join fellow Volkswagen Group firm Porsche in entering under the new LMDh regulations, which give firms freedom to develop their own powertrains but require them to use a spec hybrid system and one of four control chassis, along with other cost-saving measures.
Notably, Audi Sport boss Julius Seebach said the project is being developed in cooperation with Porsche, suggesting the two race cars will be closely linked. He said: “A great strengh of the Volkswagen Group is the collaboration of the brands in the development of road cars. We are now transferring this proven model to motorsport.”
Audi and Porsche are the two most successful firms in the history of the race. While Audi has 13 wins, Porsche has won the event 19 times, with its most recent win coming in 2017.
Audi has chosen a chassis partner for the project and says it has also settled on an “engine concept”, although it has given no details of the powertrain other than confirming it. The LMDh rules feature strict aerodynamic limits, but Audi Sport is working with the firm’s road car designers on the styling of the new machine.
Audi Sport factory boss Andreas Roos said the firm will offer its new Le Mans challenger to customer teams “right from the start, in parallel to factory entries”. Cars built to the LMDh rules will also be eligible for the US-based IMSA sports car championship, and Audi said it has already received interest from potential customers.
Roos added that the decision to sell the car to customers alongside the works team continues a philosophy adopted with the R8, its first Le Mans winner. Two of that car’s five Le Mans victories were scored by privateer teams.
Audi is also developing a hydrogen-powered off-roader that it will enter on next year’s Dakar Rally and Roos said the firm is working on both projects in parallel.