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Porsche Le Mans LMP1 prototype revealed

Porsche's racer echoes the quad LED headlight treatment found on many of its road cars.

It’s been three years since we first heard Porsche’s confirmation it would be returning to Le Mans’ premier LMP1 category in 2014, with a brand new works team and car. Porsche has been working overtime since then, in order to get its team ready for the start of the 2014 World Endurance Championship but more importantly for the 24 Hours of Le Mans race that is always the highlight of the season.

Today, we get our first look at the LMP1 prototype that will form the basis of Porsche’s Le Mans assault. The car has just completed its first rollout at the hands of works driver Timo Bernhard. The drive took place at Porsche’s test track in Weissach, Germany and was attended by the whole board of directors.

Developing a new LMP1 is no easy task, especially with rivals as strong as Audi and Toyota, which have already had a number of successes with their own prototypes. Porsche said it needed to expand its Weissach facilities considerably, including building a new workshop and office complex, just to house the 200-plus staff working on its LMP1 project.

Unfortunately, no details on the car have been revealed, though it’s expected to feature a petrol powerplant as its main power unit to help separate it from Volkswagen Group stablemate Audi, which will likely stick with its proven TDI diesel technology. At the same time, there will be at least one form of energy recovery technology in line with the 2014 regulations for the LMP1 category. Don’t be surprised if we see the car’s technology tied with that found in the upcoming 918 Spyder.

“From 2014, the regulations are primarily based on efficiency,” Porsche’s LMP1 project chief Fritz Enzinger said at the conclusion of the rollout test. “This makes the competition amongst engineers more interesting and presents us with completely new challenges.”

As for the driver lineup, so far only two drivers have been named: works drivers Timo Bernhard of Germany and Romain Dumas of France. Bernhard comes from the Porsche junior driver development program and in 2010 won at Le Mans with Audi. Dumas, meanwhile, is both a Porsche and Le Mans veteran, and has several wins under his belt.

Porsche, of course, is a veteran of Le Mans itself, having won overall at the legendary endurance race 16 times. If you’re wondering how Audi will react when a Porsche LMP1 lines up the grid next year, according to its works driver Alan McNish, a former Porsche driver himself, the competition will be as fierce as that between any other brands.

The coming year is certainly shaping up to be a great year for race fans, especially with the new regulations coming in for Formula One and the start of Formula E electric car championship. And with the added competition in Le Mans, road car fans also have reason to cheer as few other forms of motorsport have such a direct influence on the development of new road car technology.

“The engineers were able to start with a blank sheet of paper in the design of the new LMP1,” Porsche CEO Matthias Müller explained. “Hence, they were able to apply many new technologies within the framework of the regulations that will also benefit the customers of our road legal automobiles in the future.”