McLaren Racing is encouraged by recent developments in the LMDh category rulebook and that interest for a potential program remains, according to company CEO Zak Brown.
The British manufacturer has long been monitoring the course of prototype racing’s future and has shown particular interest in the LMDh formula which is being crafted jointly by IMSA and the ACO.
Brown told Sportscar365 that the unveiling of more LMDh technical details at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago answered “pretty much all the questions” McLaren had about the formula.
But he also suggested that a McLaren LMDh program would only be feasible under the right financial conditions, factoring the state of the coronavirus pandemic, and with an assurance of equal competition with the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMH cars.
Whilst LMDh is a natural continuation of IMSA’s current U.S-exclusive DPi formula, McLaren wants to benefit from the platform’s global eligibility by applying it to the WEC.
“We’ve been at the table for all these meetings and we’re very interested in sports cars,” said Brown. “I think it’s a great fit for the McLaren brand and we like it a lot.
“With LMDh, we want to make sure there will be a true balance between LMH and LMDh.
“One car can be four-wheel-drive and another [LMDh] is not, so it’s one thing to balance two cars in the dry with new tires. But, as an example, how do you balance them at 2 a.m. in the wet at Le Mans?
“I’m very happy with the LMDh rules and I’m very happy about the collaboration and co-operation between the ACO and IMSA.
“I think they’ve got it right and I think it’s going to be successful. I think we need to make sure there’s true parity between LMH and LMDh because that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Brown expressed optimism at the spending plans announced at Le Mans, which priced a single car at around €1 million ($1.173 million US) and confirmed cost caps of €300,000 ($351,000) for the hybrid system and €345,000 ($404,000) for the LMP2 base chassis.
McLaren’s attraction to LMDh over LMH has focused on the lower costs brought on by the former’s more rigid technical criteria including spec Bosch-supplied electric motors.
The company already has two high-level racing programs in Formula One and the NTT IndyCar Series, which it enters in a partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“I would say the racing budget is in line with our expectations,” said Brown.
“What we need to do is focus on the revenue generation side, to raise enough money to cover the costs. But I’m happy with the costs.
“It continues to be under review, and we have pretty much all of our questions answered for us to continue with our evaluation. It’s something we would like to do.
“We just need to see if it’s something we can put together in a way that stands up financially and mustn’t drain or distract our Formula One program. This is priority number one.
“We’ve been able to achieve that with IndyCar, where we’re up to third in the championship.
“It’s complementary to our Formula One program so to enter into the top category at Le Mans, it needs to tick those boxes. It’s a work in progress.”
Brown added that McLaren has been encouraged by Peugeot’s recent commitment to LMH which has provided a further boost to future grid numbers in the WEC’s top class.
“We definitely need competition,” he said. “In my opinion, you need at least three manufacturers, but we’ve got that already in between Toyota’s commitment, Peugeot’s commitment, and I believe the manufacturers in the U.S in DPi are going to come in.
“We wouldn’t be interested in a one or two-manufacturer championship, but I’m very confident you’re going to see four or five which is going to be awesome.
“Our priority would be WEC. America is an important market for us so I would imagine we’d want to show up at Daytona or Sebring, maybe have a customer or semi-works effort there.
“But for us, IndyCar covers the North American marketplace, so it would be a WEC-led program.”
McLaren Entry Timeframe Envisaged
Brown noted that if McLaren commits to an LMDh program, it would be willing to enter in 2023 or 2024 but no sooner or later.
The formula’s full-scale debut has been delayed to the 2023 racing season, as recently indicated by IMSA president John Doonan, while LMDh cars are set to be eligible on a shared grid with DPi machinery in 2022 if any manufacturers are ready by then.
“I think there’s no way we would be ready for 2022,” said Brown.
“If we were to be ready for 2023, we would need to make a decision in the first half of next year. If we were ready for 2024 you could back that decision up 12 months.
“I would not want to compete in the new series for less than three years. If you don’t get it done for the start of the 2024 season, then it’s not going to make sense to do it for two years.
“It’s the first half of next year if we want to go for 2023 and the first half of the following year for 2024, and if you don’t make your decision by then, the clock is making the decision.”