Audi is continuing to develop its new race cars that will form the basis of its revitalised motorsports programme. As well as a first-time Dakar Rally entry next year, Ingolstadt is also making a long-awaited return to endurance racing, where the company has had a storied history – it won 13 editions of the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans between 2000 and 2014.

It will arrive at a far different landscape from when it last raced in 2016, during which the LMP1 class ruled the roost. Soon, there will be two different categories vying for overall victories – Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) for purpose-built sports prototypes and Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) for more cost-effective racers. Audi’s will be the latter.

Less than six months after its initial announcement, the company has revealed a teaser sketch of its new machine. While all LMDh cars will share the same hybrid powertrain and gearbox, plus a chassis from one of four manufacturers, the teams are allowed to create their own bodywork. Audi Sport factory motorsport head Andreas Roos said that Audi Design is developing a design that would “excite our fans.”

Roos added that the company has already decided on a chassis supplier and an engine concept, which it will also have to build on its own. The company confirmed that as part of the Volkswagen Group partner strategy, the as-yet-unnamed racer will be co-developed with Porsche, itself entering the LMDh category.

Audi last won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014 with the R18

“A great strengh of the Volkswagen Group is the collaboration of the brands in the development of road cars,” said Audi Sport boss Julius Seebach. “We are now transferring this proven model to motorsport. Nevertheless, the new sports prototype will be just as much a genuine Audi as the Audi RS e-tron GT that was launched recently and has also been developed on a platform shared with Porsche.”

With the announcement, Audi has also firmed up its plans to debut the car at the Daytona 24 Hours in January 2023, after an “intensive” test programme the year before. “Our goal is for the first prototype to be on its wheels early next year and to complete its roll-out in the first quarter,” said Roos.

Audi’s entry into endurance racing’s two most famous events will be part of a full works campaign in both the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. And if all goes to plan, the factory team won’t be the only one campaigning the car, as the lower costs of the LMDh category could open up the Audi programme to customer teams.

The LMDh programme will mark Audi’s return to customer prototype racing,
which delivered Le Mans wins in 2004 and 2005

Roos said that the move will hark back to the early days of the hugely successful R8 programme, which delivered two Le Mans overall victories in the hands of customers in 2004 and 2005. “The Audi R8 was not only the most successful prototype of its time from 2000 to 2006, with 63 victories in 80 races, but it was also very successful in the hands of our customers and easy for the teams to handle.

“This is also the premise with the electrification of our new sports prototype. Our goal is to also put the car in the hands of professional customer teams right from the start, in parallel to factory entries. We are currently evaluating internally how this will work in detail.”

It’s good news for enthusiasts and it means that top-tier endurance racing will be jam-packed come 2023. Aside from Audi and Porsche, the year will also see the return of Ferrari after a 50-year hiatus, joining Toyota and Peugeot in the LMH class.