Le Mans’ LMP1 class may no longer be a two-make race in the next few years, with Porsche vowing to return to prototype racing by 2014, and even Toyota reportedly eying a comeback. The field might grow even more now, as Autosport says Jaguar and parent company Tata Motors are also gearing up for competition in LMP1. Though Jaguar currently participates at Le Mans with an XKR competing in the GT class, its real history lies in prototype racing, with the brand claiming seven overall victories at the famed endurance race. Building an LMP1 racer for Le Mans would end Jaguar’s 20-year absence in the prototype field.
According to Autosport, Jaguar’s management has already made the decision to compete in the LMP1 class. However, the target date Jaguar and Tata are working toward is unclear. Speaking to Autosport, a Jaguar spokesperson said, “We are monitoring developments in motorsport around the world.”
This could mean Jaguar is just waiting to see what other manufacturers join the fray, as it seems several other OEMs are looking to get back into prototype racing. The new rules published by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the sanctioning body that governs the 24 Hours of Le Mans, have brought significant changes to the class structure – possibly explaining the recent surge in manufacturer interest regarding sports car racing.
Under the new rules, the LMP2 class would now favor privateers, as teams are now required to run production-based engines and are subject to development-prohibiting cost caps. That makes LMP1 practically the only class where manufacturers can race prototypes. But that class is made more attractive for OEMs with the institution of the “Adjustment of Performance” clause, which grants the ACO permission to change the minimum weight, air restrictor size, or fuel tank capacity of any competitor to keep performance within two percent of the rest of the class. Such a rule might reduce any advantage the diesel-powered cars of Audi and Peugeot enjoyed in previous years.
As for what kind of prototype Jaguar will field, your guess is as good as ours. With more emphasis placed on efficiency and reliability in modern prototype engines, it’s doubtful we’ll see the same Earth-shaking raw power of the XJR-12 that last won Le Mans in 1990. But that doesn’t make the prospect of a hybrid or diesel-powered Jag LMP any less exciting.