BMW Talks Again About A Possible Return To Le Mans
Months after Nissan competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race for the first time in 16 years, another automaker that has hinted on its own potential comeback might be a reality. BMW is making these waves, so says marketing boss Ian Robertson, who admitted to Autocar that the company’s return to the most iconic endurance race in the world “is on the agenda.”
News of BMW’s plan to return to Le Mans first surfaced back in July 2015. At that time, it was reported that the Bavarians were considering the possibility of using a hydrogen-powered fuel cell race car in 2018. The idea was to enter the race car in time for BMW to launch its own hydrogen-powered, fuel cell production vehicle in 2020.
So far, Robertson has been coy on elaborating details of the so-called “agenda”, opting only to say that the company is treading carefully on the steps it wants to take in the event it gets the nod from BMW execs to push forward. One prospective issue is the class of racing BMW would put its hydrogen race car in. The two likely scenarios would be to either enter it in an established class or in the ‘Garage 56’ category, a non-competitive category reserved mainly for experimental vehicles like the Nissan Deltawing and the ZEOD race cars. Robertson, however, seems to be apprehensive on putting the hydrogen race car in the latter category, saying that the company has to be conscious of recouping the investments it makes in this undertaking. On the flip side, BMW motorsport chief Jens Marquardt has also thrown in his two cents on the matter, lamenting the lack of competitiveness BMW would have if it dove straight into a category with established competitors.
Right now, it does appear that there are more questions than answers surrounding BMW’s plan to return to Le Mans. Even the company itself, at least from the comments made by its executives, doesn’t appear to be as sure as they should be. Either way, this will be talked about extensively in Bavaria before a decision is made.
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Why it matters
BMW is understandably taking its time to work out the pros and cons of returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That’s well within the company’s rights and quite frankly, it’s the smart thing to do. First of all, there’s no rush to come up with a concrete answer.
There’s no timetable or deadline set by any party other than what BMW sets on itself. So it’s only right that the company take the time to consider every possible avenue before ultimately making a decision.
Robertson is right when he said that this is going to be a huge investment that’s tied into what the company’s plans are for a hydrogen-powered production car. If BMW ends up deciding against building that production model, there’s no point in entering a hydrogen-powered race car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Then there’s the issue of what it actually wants to accomplish in the event it does return to Le Mans. Does it want to actually field a competitive car or is it content with fielding a prototype to showcase what its hydrogen-powered fuel-cell powertrain is capable of? Either way, it’s going to cost a lot of time, money, and resources just to get the prototype race on the track.
I agree that it’s a big decision that could help shape BMW’s future. Not a lot of people are talking about that part, but if the company is serious about bringing hydrogen-powered vehicles onto public roads, the decision to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans could play a big part in that.