The IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship will welcome another manufacturer to its new premier division as Lamborghini Squadra Corse announced plans Tuesday to join the GTP class via the LMDh prototype in the 2024 season.
It’s a significant leap for Lamborghini, which has competed exclusively in the GT divisions since its return to motorsports and sports cars nearly a decade ago.
The automaker won the GTD class in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for three consecutive years from 2018-20 but now will be competing against big-budget manufacturers Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche while building its first prototype.
“For sure, it’s a double step,” Lamborghini head of motorsport Giorgio Sanna told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “But it’s something we have digested and prepared ourselves for this kind of jump. It’s not something we’re doing just being brave to do it.
“We consider ourselves ready to move into this field considering the experience we’ve done. The results we’ve achieved but much more important with the structure we are putting together to face this kind of challenge. So we are absolutely excited about this opportunity but especially motivated and convinced that we have all we need to do everything in a proper way.”
Lamborghini also will be entering the top Hypercar level of the FIA World Endurance Championship with the move, which will put the company in all of the world’s biggest endurance races such as Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring and Spa as the top divisions in IMSA and WEC can square off starting in 2023.
“This step up into the highest echelon of sports car racing marks an important milestone for our company,” Lamborghini Chairman and CEO Stephan Winkelmann said in a release. “We will be measuring ourselves against the very best, on the most demanding proving grounds. On one hand, this will give our successful motorsports program even more visibility, but it will also allow us to test future technologies: our LMDh prototypes will become our most sophisticated open laboratory on four wheels.”
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In addition to the brand appeal and its impact on production sales, Sanna said Lamborghini is intrigued by the technology spinoffs of LMDh racing and its hybrid powerplant. By the end of 2024, Lamborghini’s street cars all will be hybridized.
“Motorsport is becoming step by step a real asset from the marketing perspective for the company,” Sanna said. “It’s still a very good benchmark to develop technologies and a technical future that could be transferred on street legal cars, as we have already done in the last few years. Motorsport is an opportunity to develop technology, and the LMDh is also a good opportunity to link the experience and technology of hybridization that will be the base of all the product portfolio of our street cars.”
Lamborghini has used a customer approach for its GT program, selling more than 500 race cars in the past seven years. Sanna said the company won’t have a “pure factory team” the way that future LMDh manufacturers such as Acura and Cadillac currently employ in DPi.
But Lamborghini intends to have a “reference customer team” that will help manage the program.
“At the moment, it’s quite early to talk about how many cars or teams we can manage for the simple reason that LMDh is not a GT3,” Sanna said. “It’s a car much more complicated on the technical side. The costs are higher, but more than that, we have to take in consideration the capability that we have to support more than one to two teams, and two to six cars. So it’ll be evaluated with the right time in the future.”
After completing engineering over the rest of 2022, Lamborghini plans to begin on-track testing by March of 2023. The goal is to be racing no later than the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans, but the LMDh car possibly could be ready by Daytona or Sebring in ‘24.
Lamborghini will continue to operate its GT customer programs, which includes its IMSA-sanctioned Super Trofeo North America series whose deal was extended in January through 2026 in another example of Lamborghini’s growth in sports cars.
Super Trofeo started with fewer than 10 cars in 2013 and had a record field of more than 30 cars for its recent Laguna Seca round. Sanna expects to have 40 cars by the end of the season.
“We started from ground zero, especially in America, and had to build up the credibility, and that is something you cannot buy in the supermarket one day,” Sanna said. “It’s something that you have to achieve day by day. The trust from the fans, the drivers, the teams, the partners all together.
“The feedback we see is they like our family feeling we have. We like to manage the business and the racing activities with the same passion as our customers. We share the same passion for the super sports cars. This is something people can recognize easily with us. This kind of passion, vision and attitude is for sure something that is appreciated.”
“IMSA has enjoyed a longstanding partnership with Lamborghini dating back to the introduction of Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America a decade ago and continuing into a successful GTD program,” IMSA President John Doonan said in a release. “We are proud that Lamborghini is confirming plans to grow its IMSA footprint even further in 2024 into GTP and the top category of prototype sports car racing. Having another manufacturer of this caliber make the commitment to race in GTP reinforces the LMDh technical platform that we developed alongside our partners at the ACO, and we cannot wait to see these new Lamborghini prototypes debut in the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.”
The convergence of the top platforms in IMSA and the ACO (sanctioning body for WEC) will allow the series to cross over at Daytona and Le Mans for the first time in decades, harkening back to the “Ford v. Ferrari” era and helping cement Lamborghini’s LMDh decision.
“Absolutely, because it’s the first time that we have a real cooperation between IMSA and ACO to have at least two LMDh cars on a global platform where you can use this kind of car in the entire world,” he said. “This is fundamental for us because we consider ourselves global players. It’s fundamental to invest money in something you can use and capitalize globally.”
With Porsche entering the IMSA GTP category next season with Team Penske, Lamborghini’s arrival will mark two brands under the Volkswagen Auto Group umbrella. Sanna said Lamborghini will work independent of Porsche.
“It’s fundamental within the group,” he said. “Everyone is under the same umbrella to share the strategy and needs of each company and each brand, and we have the freedom to take our decision that has to be shared inside the group, but we are independent, and for this reason also, we decided to develop a standalone project. Because we aren’t looking to do motorsport just to put a badge on the car but really to learn, to experience and to grow, bringing technical know-how and competence in house. That’s the key factor of doing motorsport.”