Porsche will once again be competing in the highest class of the World Endurance Championship WEC in 2023. With the Porsche 963 LMDh, the Zuffenhausen-based company recently presented its first race car for the new top prototype class. After Porsche withdrew from the top-tier endurance racing at the end of 2017, they are now once again reaching for the endurance racing crown with the 963 LMDh. The new prototype will make its debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona on January 28.
The new Porsche 963 LMDh is undoubtedly following in big footsteps. After all, its LMP1 predecessor, the Porsche 919, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times in a row (2015, 2016 & 2017). Victories are also the clearly proclaimed goal for the newcomer. But motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach doesn’t just want Porsche’s 20th overall victory at Le Mans. He has also set his sights on the title in the World Endurance Championship WEC and the North American IMSA series.
Porsche 963 LMDh – Icon of tomorrow
Porsche itself has already dubbed the 963 the “Icon of tomorrow”. That’s a lot of praise for a car that still has to prove itself on the world’s racetracks. Especially since the car was not even developed by Porsche to a large extent, due to the regulations.
On the powertrain side, an old acquaintance is used. The 4.6-liter biturbo V8 engine in the Porsche 963 LMDh is a further development of an engine that has already earned its spurs both in racing and in road cars. Unlike the discarded 9R3 Le Mans project and the subsequent development of the Carrera GT, Porsche is now much more open about the origins of its new Le Mans racer.
Head of Motorsport Thomas Laudenbach clearly communicates the relationship to the Porsche RS Spyder. Starting in 2005, Porsche used this open-top prototype in the LMP2 class of the American Le Mans Series with great success. The Penske team – also partner in the LMDh program today – celebrated the title in this racing class three years on the trot (2006, 2007 and 2008).
Porsche later developed the powertrain for the 918 Spyder based on its V8 engine with 3.4 liters of displacement. The brand’s third super sports car, built from 2013 to 2015, also featured an assisted hybrid system. A proud 887 hp of peak power thus made the 918 Spyder one of the fastest sports cars ever. Unlike the 963 LMDh, the 918 Spyder did not have to comply with any regulations. That’s why the prototype doesn’t come close to the 918 Spyder’s power output, despite biturbo charging. More than its 680 hp is simply not allowed.
The WEC World Endurance Championship regulations, which have been completely revamped for the 2022 season, were primarily aimed at reducing costs. Following the withdrawal of Audi and Porsche in 2016/2017, more manufacturers were to be lured back into the class. The previous LMP1 prototypes were therefore followed by the LMh/LMDh – Le Mans (Daytona) hybrid. Under this label, Le Mans and Daytona prototypes can race in the same class in the future.
The difference between LMH and LMDh is that in the LMH class each manufacturer can use its own chassis. In the less expensive LMDh class, the manufacturers have to use an LMP2-based chassis from Dallara, Oreca, Ligier or – like Porsche – Multimatic. Hybrid system and transmission are standard parts. The manufacturers therefore only have a free choice of engine concept and silhouette, i.e. aerodynamics.
In addition to Porsche, BMW, Cadillac and Acura also rely on a car based on LMDh regulations. The Porsche 963 LMDh will certainly have to compete with them at the upcoming 24 Hours of Daytona. Alpine and Lamborghini have also announced an LMDh prototype for 2024. But the competition from the LMH class is also notable. Ferrari, Toyota, Glickenhaus, Isotta Fraschini, Peugeot and Vanwall will complete the largest prototype field since Group C at Le Mans.
A Balance of Performance (BoP) ensures equal opportunities. This is a first for prototypes in endurance racing. It offers the rules makers the opportunity to bring the field as close together as possible by adjusting the weight or powerof the cars. This system is tried and tested in GT3 racing already and promises very close racing.
Although the Porsche 963 LMDh’s 4.6-liter power unit is based on the 918 Spyder’s engine, it has been significantly adapted for racing use. Unlike in the production car, Porsche relies on a biturbo system here: “Because being able to vary the boost pressure gives us flexibility when we have to react to BoP adjustments,” said head of motorsport Laudenbach recently, outlining one of the motives. The engine is also capable of running on synthetically produced fuels.
“[…]being able to vary at boost pressure gives us flexibility when we need to react to BoP adjustments.”Porsche Motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach on one of the main motives for choosing the 4.6-liter V8 biturbo in the 963 LMDh
Porsche completely dominating the competition, as in Group C in the 1980s, is certainly not to be expected in view of the possibilities for regulation by the race organizers. The development direction was set from the outset anyway. “We don’t need a ‘pointy’ car, it has to be consistently fast. Because that’s how you win races and championships in series with BoP”, Laudenbach put it in a nutshell. This brought issues such as serviceability and reliability even more into focus.
We are curious to see what Porsche will be capable of after a five-year break in the top sports car class. After the first race at Daytona at the end of January, the Penske Racing squad will enter the hot phase. Although there will certainly be some changes to the BoP before the French endurance classic on June 10 & 11, 2023, all teething troubles must be sorted out by then.
We recommend everyone to mark the weekends in red in their calendars, because the new regulations promise excitement like no other for a long time. Especially if other manufacturers join the fray in 2024. After all, there hasn’t been this much competition in prototype racing for decades. We are keeping our fingers crossed for Porsche Penske Motorsport for a successful premiere at Daytona. (Drivers Porsche 963 LMDh #6: Nick Tandy, Mathieu Jaminet, Dane Cameron, Porsche 963 LMDh #7: Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen)