McLaren will return to Le Mans if the racing gets less expensive

McLaren F1 GTR at Le Mans 1995
The 24 Hours of Le Mans and McLaren. They’re two of the most legendary names in motor sports, and they’re both in trouble. But they could help each other out of that trouble.

McLaren is open to returning to Le Mans in the top LMP1 class, but only if certain rule changes are made, boss Zak Brown said in a recent interview with Motorsport.com. Besides being one of the biggest racing stories of the decade, a McLaren Le Mans renaissance could help both parties. McLaren’s reputation has been tarnished by recent poor performance in Formula One, and Porsche’s departure leaves only Toyota competing in the Le Mans LMP1 class.

But things will have to change, Brown said. Current rules for Le Mans and the race series it’s attached to, the FIA World Endurance Championship, are “unviable,” he said. Brown wants to see a cost cap of $20 million, claiming current LMP1 cars don’t offer enough performance to justify the outrageous amounts of money being spent on them. A budget cap could also entice more teams and increase competition, Brown said.

A big part of current LMP1 cars’ hefty price tags is their complex hybrid powertrains. Rules requiring hybrid setups were developed in order to make the race cars more relevant to road cars. Road relevance is important, Brown acknowledged, but if money isn’t spent efficiently to achieve it “there’s no point,” he argued.

McLaren won the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans outright with the F1 GTR, a modified version of its F1 supercar. It was the last time a car based on a road-legal production model won Le Mans, which is usually dominated by purpose-built race cars known as “prototypes.” The LMP1 cars are the fastest of all.

Given that McLaren has already used hybrid technology in its P1 supercar, an LMP1 prototype would at least have some connection to the automaker’s production models. But it would likely take McLaren several years to develop a new prototype into a winning car. That might not be attractive for McLaren, which is eager for good news after several dreadful F1 seasons, but it will be good for Le Mans itself.

Reigning winner Porsche recently announced that it will shut down its LMP1 program, and focus on Formula E electric-car racing instead. That leaves only Toyota in the LMP1 class. Because you can’t really have a race with only one participant, the future of the class is in doubt. So will McLaren save Le Mans, and will Le Mans save McLaren? Watch this space.

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